Monday, March 10, 2014

Sam and Diane: The Delayed Romance Strategy


Television critics often refer to the trendsetting romance of Sam and Diane from the 1980s sitcom Cheers.  Sam and Diane (Ted Danson and Shelley Long) were sexually attracted to one another, but they never stopped fighting long enough to get together.  Just when it looked liked they might hook up, the volatile couple would have an argument that would again keep them apart.  Fans of the series got caught up in the "will they or won't they?" relationship, rooting for the characters to finally settle their differences and break the sexual tension between them.  Author David LaRocca called this the "delayed romance strategy."


But the same idea was used decades earlier in Mr. Peepers, which ran on NBC from 1952 to 1955.  It sparked the interest of television viewers when high school science teacher Robinson J. Peepers (Wally Cox) fumbled in his efforts to approach pretty music teacher Nancy Remington (Patricia Benoit).  People tuned into the show hoping that Peepers and Remington would finally get together.  In those days, though, the question of "will they or won't they?" did not relate directly to sex as it did with Sam and Diane.  It related to courtship and marriage, which of course meant a honeymoon and a lusty roll in the sheets.  Peepers and Remington got married in a 1954 episode.  Wikipedia referred to the episode as a "blockbuster ratings event."  Unfortunately, though, ratings for the series declined afterwards.  Bob Costello, the series' production manager, discussed the show's downfall after the wedding in an interview with the Television Academy Foundation.

The delayed romance strategy was also adopted for the Jackie Cooper sitcom Hennesey, which ran on CBS from 1959 to 1962.  At the start of the series, romantic feelings developed between a Navy physician,  Lt. Charles Hennesey (Cooper), and his yeoman nurse Lt. Martha Hale (Abby Dalton).  But Hennesey believed that it would be unprofessional for them to pursue a personal relationship.  The series focused on Hale's continuing interest in Hennesey and it also focused on the gradual manner in which Hennesey finally warmed up to his beautiful young nurse.  The series ended with an episode in which the couple finally married.

The very next year, a similar plot device was employed for an ABC sitcom, The Farmer's Daughter.  This time, a widowed U.S. Congressman (William Windom) and his lovely Swedish housekeeper (Inger Stevens) develop romantic feelings for one another, but the two are hesitant to admit their feelings due to their professional relationship.  It took 71 episodes for the couple to come to terms with their feelings and become engaged.  Ratings for the series declined once the couple became married in a third season episode called "To Have and to Hold" (1965).

The torch for the delayed romance strategy was passed to I Dream of Jeannie, which ran on NBC from 1965 to 1970.  Baby boomers are familiar with the premise of the series.  Astronaut Tony Nelson (Larry Hagman) releases Jeannie (Barbara Eden), a beautiful 2,000-year-old genie, from a bottle that he discovers on a desert island.  The two are immediately attracted to one another, but Jeannie is not the sort of girl that a man can ask on a date.  She blinks her eyes to grant wishes, she lives in a bottle, and I think I mentioned that she is 2,000 years old.  Tony believes that the only reasonable thing to do under the circumstances is to grant Jeannie her freedom.  Jeannie, who has fallen in love with the handsome astronaut, refuses to leave him.  Tony comes to feel protective of Jeannie, who is childlike in many ways, and he relents to let her move into his home, but he sees his relationship with a genie as a threat to his career and continually resists Jeannie's efforts to win his affections.  It wasn't until the fifth season that Tony finally admits that he loves Jeannie.  The series ended shortly after the couple finally married in a fifth season episode called "The Wedding" (December 2, 1969).

Additional Note

I wrote recently about what I called "stuck" routines.  I forgot about an episode of Mr. Peepers in which Wally Cox spends most of the story stuck in a basketball hoop. 

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