Sunday, December 20, 2009

Episode Guide: George Burns Comedy Week

89-year-old George Burns became the oldest person to host a prime-time television series when GEORGE BURNS COMEDY WEEK premiered on CBS in the fall of 1985. On paper, it sounded like a great concept: a weekly anthology of half-hour comedies hosted by Burns and executive-produced by Steve Martin and Carl Gottlieb, who first worked together as staff writers on THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR in 1968.

Despite an impressive roster of talent both before and behind the camera, GEORGE BURNS COMEDY WEEK didn’t go. Perhaps the format was the problem, as anthologies were already a dead genre in 1985. Or maybe it was the fact it was following Flip Wilson’s dud sitcom CHARLIE AND COMPANY on Wednesday nights opposite DYNASTY, the year’s seventh-highest rated series, on ABC. At any rate, thirteen episodes and gone was GEORGE BURNS COMEDY WEEK, despite some damn fine episodes.

The cream of the crop were “Late for Dinner,” which established the series’ brand of absurdist humor; “The Couch,” which spawned a series of its own, the shortlived LEO & LIZ IN BEVERLY HILLS starring Harvey Korman and Valerie Perrine; “Disaster at Buzz Creek,” a rare foray into episodic television by director John Landis (TRADING PLACES); “The Assignment: A Philip Flick Adventure,” a clever adaptation of Bruce Jay Friedman’s classic short story “The Mission”; and “The Borrowing” with funny lead performances by adept ad-libbers Peter Bonerz (THE BOB NEWHART SHOW) and Michael McKean (THIS IS SPINAL TAP).

Host: George Burns
Executive Producers: Steve Martin and Carl Gottlieb
Producers: George E. Crosby and Paul Perlove
Creative Consultant: Earl Pomerantz
Executive Story Editor: Pamela Pettler
Story Editor: David Axelrod
Associate Producers: Deborah Hwang and William Cairncross
Theme: Charles Fox, Claude Debussy
Music: Charles Fox, David Michael Frank, Ira Newborn, Ernest Gold, Jeff Barry, and Roger Steinman
Director of Photography: Ronald W. Browne
40 Share Productions Inc.
In association with

“The Dynamite Girl”
September 18, 1985
Guest Cast: Catherine O’Hara, Tim Matheson, Ruth Buzzi, Richard Libertini, Mason McCalman, Julie Payne

The only episode of GEORGE BURNS COMEDY WEEK I haven’t seen, so I’m relying on’s plot description: In the series premiere, an escaped mental patient (Catherine O'Hara) uses her pliable mind to react believably to any situation she confronts. When she's mistaken by a police lieutenant as a bomb expert, she proceeds to disarm the explosive.

“Home for Dinner”
September 25, 1985
Writer: Larry Levin & Jonathan Day
Director: Carl Gottlieb
Guest Cast: Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Frank Bonner, Greg Morris, Anne Lockhart, Joe Flaherty, Don Calfa, Jonathan Ward, Susan Powell, Vincent Bufano, Jeanette O’Connor, Merritt Yohnka, Renee Victor

Robert (Eugene Levy) tries to fit in with his new suburban neighbors by accompanying them on a weekend fishing trip. Boy, is he surprised to learn that the boys on the block are really commandos hunting a Latin American dictator (Don Calfa)!

“Death Benefits”
October 2, 1985
Writer: Amy Heckerling & Neal Israel
Story: Irving Newman
Director: Neal Israel
Guest Cast: Joe Piscopo, Deborah Harmon, Robert Klein, Arthur Rosenberg, Gary Riley, Ian Abercrombie, William Boyett, John Wesley, Robert Lussier, Richard Partlow, Pamela Bach, Lee Arnone, Georgie Paul, Twink Caplan, Billy Beck, Arlene Lorre, Ed McCready

After Lou (Joe Piscopo) is prematurely declared legally dead by a physician, he tries to collect his life insurance from the shyster agent (Robert Klein) who sold it to him.

“The Smiths”
October 9, 1985
Writer: James Berg & Stan Zimmerman
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Guest Cast: Martin Mull, Tess Harper, Ken Stovitz, Gigi Vorgan, Candy Azzara, Jon Cedar, Floyd Levine, Michael Ensign, Hank Rolike, Cameron Young, Jeffrey Alan Chandler, Terry Camilleri, Brian Thompson, Mark Burke, Eric Fleeks, Marc Levine, Melanie Gaffin, Randy Norton

A mob accountant (Martin Mull) is put into Witness Protection and is whisked away to Albuquerque, where he discovers not only his new identity as Donald Smith, but also his new wife (Tess Harper) and kids.

“The Couch”
October 16, 1985
Teleplay: Ed Scharlach
Story: Steve Martin & Carl Gottlieb
Director: Steve Martin
Guest Cast: Harvey Korman, Valerie Perrine, Carrie Fisher, Bronson Pinchot, Michael Ensign, Michael McManus, Jay Robinson, Jack Heller, Fritz Feld, Ken Olfson, Susan Powell, Michael J. Pollard, Phil Rubenstein, Ivor Barry, John Findlater, Arnold Turner, Dick Patterson, Marlena Giovi, Greg Collins, Gracia Lee, Parker Whitman, Mark Steen

The misadventures of Leo (Harvey Korman) and Liz (Valerie Perrine) and the very expensive sofa they purchased for their daughter’s wedding. Spawned the shortlived sitcom LEO AND LIZ IN BEVERLY HILLS.

“Disaster at Buzz Creek”
October 23, 1985
Writer: Andy Breckman
Director: John Landis
Guest Cast: Don Rickles, Don Knotts, Fannie Flagg, Stephen Collins, Jack Blessing, Paul Brinegar, Lana Clarkson, Paul Barselou, Linda Hoy, Craig Berenson

A small town on the verge of bankruptcy fakes an earthquake in order to qualify for aid, but must outsmart a government inspector (Stephen Collins).

“The Assignment: A Philip Flick Adventure”
October 30, 1985
Teleplay: Bruce Jay Friedman
Story: Bruce Jay Friedman’s “The Mission”
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Guest Cast: Telly Savalas, Elliott Gould, James Avery, Severn Darden, Diane Salinger, Michael Ansara, Freddye Chapman, Louis de Farra, John Hamelin, Bernard Kuby, Milt Jamin, Brian Thompson

Humorist Bruce Jay Friedman adapts his celebrated short story “The Mission,” which appeared in the March 7, 1964 issue of THE SATURDAY EVENING POST. A great white hunter (Elliott Gould) and his guide (Telly Savalas) set out into the African jungle to bag a very rare game animal.

“Dream, Dream, Dream”
November 6, 1985
Writer: David Simon
Director: John Fox
Guest Cast: Patrick Duffy, Colleen Camp, Geena Davis, Anthony Holland, Raymond Singer, Charles Fleischer, Beverly Hope Atkinson, Eve Brenner, Frank Birney, Kirk Wall, Bart Baker

An accountant (Patrick Duffy) escapes the drudgery of his life within his daydreams, where he has created and become fixated on his perfect woman (Geena Davis).

“Boris and Ivan in Las Vegas”
November 13, 1985
Story: Carl Gottlieb
Teleplay: Paul Perlove
Director: Carl Gottlieb
Guest Cast: Dave Thomas, Candy Clark, Bronson Pinchot, Vladimir Skomarowsky, Howard Witt, Len Lesser, Michael Rider, Danny Wells, Kimberly Ross, Adam Gregor, Harry Woolf, Mike Muscat, Bill Cort, Jim Doughan, Larry McCormick, Waldemar Kalinowski, Michael Yama

Two cosmonauts (Dave Thomas, Bronson Pinchot) crash their space capsule near Las Vegas and try to assimilate while dodging American soldiers and the KGB, which is disguised as a bowling team.

“The Honeybunnies”
November 27, 1985
Writer: David Cohen & Roger S.H. Schulman
Director: Peter Bonerz
Guest Cast: Howard Hesseman, Laraine Newman, David L. Lander, Casey Kasem, Sandy Baron, Joyce Little, Al Pugliese, Kat Sawyer-Young, Nick DeMauro, Merritt Olsen, Nicole Rosselle, Ted Pitsis, Charles Quertermous, Connie Danese, Renee Victor, Carol Androsky, Thomas Brunelle, Caroline Ducrocq, Anna Mathias, Robert Neuwirth, Jack Scalici, Paul Willson

A struggling playwright (Howard Hesseman) who can’t sell his depressing plays is embarrassed to find fame and fortune as the creator of a cutesy TV cartoon show.

“The Funniest Guy in the World”
December 4, 1985
Writer: Pamela Pettler
Director: John Korty
Guest Cast: Jack Gilford, Paul Reiser, Victoria Tennant, Peter MacPherson, Howard Allen, Gerry Bednob, Lois Bromfield, David Glickman, Darryl Sivad, Joey Villa, Bob Zany

A grumpy, rich old man (Jack Gilford) puts up $100,000 to anyone who can make him laugh. Along comes a nerdy crossword puzzle enthusiast (Paul Reiser) to try to charm the old man’s heart.

“Christmas Carol II: The Sequel”
December 11, 1985
Writer: Carl Gottlieb & David Axelrod
Director: Carl Gottlieb
Guest Cast: James Whitmore, Roddy McDowall, Samantha Eggar, Ed Begley Jr., James Widdoes, Conrad Janis, Carolyn Seymour, Paul Benedict, Severn Darden, Larry Hankin, Shawn Southwick, Dean Dittman, Bernard Kuby, Stuart Rogers, Jerry Supiran, Hy Pyke, Martin Clark, Signy Coleman

One year after his reformation on Christmas Eve, Ebenezer Scrooge (James Whitmore) has become such a pushover that Bob Cratchit (Roddy McDowall) and the rest of the townspeople now take advantage of his generosity, requiring the spirits to return.

“The Borrowing”
December 25, 1985
Story: Merrill Markoe
Teleplay: Pamela Pettler
Director: Alan Myerson
Guest Cast: Peter Bonerz, Candy Azzara, Michael McKean, Florence Halop, Anna Mathias, Julia Jennings, John-Michael Williams

Two con artists (Peter Bonerz, Michael McKean) decide to try kidnapping to pick up a quick $100,000 ransom, but the victim (Candy Azzara) refuses to cooperate.

Here is a CBS promo for the premiere episode guest-starring SCTV's Catherine O'Hara:

Another CBS promo for “The Assignment: A Philip Flick Adventure”:

And a couple of minutes from "The Couch":


Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

I have fond memories of this show and even still have "Disaster at Buzz Creek" on a tape somewhere. Obviously, some of the episodes listed ring a bell more than others but I can recall thinking "The Assignment" was a particularly good one and wonder how that holds up.

Marty McKee said...

Stephen Collins, who had forgotten doing "Buzz Creek" until I reminded him via Twitter, also has fond memories of it. He even forgot kissing the late Lana Clarkson in it! Ah, the chaotic life of an actor. He did tell me Rickles was a riot on the set, and that it was shot on the Universal lot (which I had already guessed).

Along those lines, "The Assignment" was definitely shot at Universal, as it uses the exterior of the South Seas bar seen every week on Collins' previous series TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY!

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

So that's what Twitter is good for...reminding actors of long-forgotten guest shots!

TALKING MOVIEzzz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hal said...

Was pretty well done, and I remember that fall season being touted as a revival of anthology television, what with TWILIGHT ZONE also making a CBS comeback on Fridays and Spielberg getting a two year committment for the disappointing AMAZING STORIES.

GEORGE BURNS COMEDY WEEK was something different, and I watched it several times before THE EQUALIZER on Wednesday nights, but the time slot was a killer. I especially liked the CHRISTMAS CAROL which showed Scrooge to be generous to a fault. BLACKADDER'S CHRISTMAS CAROL would use this same idea, but BURNS COMEDY WEEK got to it three years earlier.

Marty McKee said...

And James Whitmore is extremely good as Scrooge.

Max Allan Collins said...

CHRISTMAS CAROL II was a minor classic -- on a future Christmas, Scrooge discovers everyone he has helped is unappreciative, greedy and generally a jerk. I taped it off the air way back when. Wish this series were available on DVD. With great comedy players like SCTV's O'Hara and Levy, it has to be worth a look.

Guybrarian Will said...

Every December, I think of the Christmas Carol episode. It is the only one I remember. My wife loves the story of A Christmas Carol. I wish I could show it to her. I hope they put it on DVD someday.

Thanks for posting the info.

Booksteve said...

It was like the "AMAZING STORIES" of comedy and like that anthology it inexplicably offered more promise than it seemed to be able to deliver on.

mbecktel said...

Ah yes, here it is Christmas a year after this post, and I too grow nostalgic for the "Christmas Carol Part II" episode. I remember so well just literally rolling on the floor at it's clever concept and great lines. The best was, after the third ghost brushes the snow from the grave stone, Scrooge exclaimed "Ebenoozer Screege for all eternity!" I sure wish they'd make this series available on DVD. I'll bet it's still fresh after 25 years.

kamagra said...

GEorge Bruns was a great host! He made history in TV. By the way, it's been almost four months that I visited your blog the last time! Now I found where I had it bookmarked and finally I'm back! Hahaha, let's just say that I'm an every day reader of your place here! Keep up the great job you're doing with your personal space of communication!

Anonymous said...

What episode did John Barry score? I know it wasn't any of these, because I've seen the end credits for all these via Youtube:

"The Assignment" (Ernest Gold)
"Boris and Ivan in Las Vegas" (David Michael Frank)
"Christmas Carol II the Sequel" (David Michael Frank)
"Disaster at Buzz Creek" (Ira Newborn)

Marty McKee said...

Not John Barry. Jeff Barry.