Wednesday, September 13, 2006

'Cause They're Comin' To Your Town

Last week, I mentioned the 40th anniversary of STAR TREK's television debut (September 8, 1966). Well, 40 years ago today, NBC premiered another groundbreaking (and shortlived) series: THE MONKEES.

THE MONKEES is often remembered as a kiddie show, perhaps because reruns aired for many years on Saturday mornings (which is where I remember first seeing it). But it's important to note that its first season was the recipient of two Emmy awards, including one for Outstanding Comedy Series. The other shows in that category were THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, BEWITCHED, GET SMART and HOGAN'S HEROES. All four have been in perpetual reruns ever since, and it was considered something of a coup for those veterans to have been upset by an upstart youth-slanted series that broke the rules of television situation comedy.

It was the first TV sitcom to present teenagers as they actually were. So did THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS to some extent, particularly the beatnik Maynard G. Krebs played by Bob Denver, but The Monkees were the first TV teens to wear their hair long and live on their own without a parental authority figure to chaperone them. Their exact ages were never mentioned, but most adult characters called them "kids" (or "longhaired weirdos"), and they were professionals who apparently felt little need for a college education.

The story of THE MONKEES' origin is quite famous, and I won't go into it here. The stars were four extremely talented comic actors with varied amounts of experience as both actors and musicians. They were, of course, originally hired to portray a rock band in a sitcom, and eventually became a professional band of some talent. Micky Dolenz had been a child actor, Davy Jones had much stage experience, but little on film, Mike Nesmith was a budding folk singer out of Texas, and Peter Tork came to L.A. from the Greenwich Village hippie scene. Considering the actors' various personalities and ages, it's amazing they had as much on-screen chemistry as they did.

Here's the opening titles of THE MONKEES, circa Season Two:



The episode that actually debuted 40 years ago today, "Royal Flush," was the first to be filmed after the pilot. It's also the episode that won THE MONKEES the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy, as well as the Directing Emmy for James Frawley, who continues to work frequently in episodic television.

THE MONKEES lasted only two seasons on NBC, but the group continued to produce records. They starred in one film, HEAD, which was co-written by Jack Nicholson and directed by Bob Rafelson (FIVE EASY PIECES). Shortly afterward, Peter Tork left The Monkees, which continued as a threesome. Mike, Davy and Micky recorded, made commercials, performed concerts, and appeared often on TV variety shows. Here's an interesting clip from a 1969 episode of THE JOHNNY CASH SHOW. It's about seven minutes, but is pretty entertaining. They do a very good rendition of "Nine Times Blue," which is a terrific Nesmith composition that Mike re-recorded on one of his own solo albums later, and join Johnny for "Everybody Loves A Nut".



I once read that Cash got a real kick out of performing with The Monkees, that he found them funny and talented. I think he was correct.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I LLLLLLLLLLLLOVE The Monkees! Cool clip, Mar-dee!

Marty McKee said...

You should pick up both seasons on Rhino's impeccably packaged DVD sets.

Ken Begg said...

The Monkees benefited from songs composed by several of the decade's best pop songwriters, but yes, they were amazingly good together for an ad hoc creation. Remember "The New Monkees"? Shudder.

I've never been much of a music person, and so I probably know more Monkee songs by heart than any other group, just from watching their TV show over and over. I can't say I'm embarrased by this. Many of their tunes hold up as well as any from that time. I just wish Nesmith had done lead vocals on more songs.

Marty McKee said...

Agreed. I've put together compilations of just Nesmith's Monkees songs. I have a few of his solo albums, but have not listened to them all the way through.

Not to take anything away from The Monkees, but it would be difficult to record those Neil Diamond, Mann/Weil, Neil Sedaka, Goffin/King, Jeff Barry, Boyce/Hart, etc. songs and not turn them into hits.