A new golden age of U.S. TV comedy began in the 1970-1 season, with shows like Mary Tyler Moore and All In the Family that took advantage of, among other things, a loosening of network censorship, an increased willingness to learn from (and remake) the comedy shows of the UK, the rise of new independent producers, and network executives like Fred Silverman who wanted to appeal to younger, urban viewers. But the season before, there had been some transitional shows, that at least suggested where US TV might eventually go. One was Room 222, whose producers wound up bringing its sensibility to Mary Tyler Moore and M*A*S*H. And another was a fondly-remembered one-season cult flop called My World and Welcome To It.
This was a one-camera comedy, executive-produced by Sheldon Leonard (Dick Van Dyke, Andy Griffith, I Spy). It was created by Melville Shavelson, a former writer for Bob Hope who had become a successful movie director — and the idea of a successful movie director making a TV series was much less normal then than it is now. The producer, and what we would nowadays call “showrunner,” was Danny Arnold, a former stand-up comic whose work on Bewitched and That Girl had made it clear that he was probably the best and most interesting sitcom writer-producer in the business.
It was based on the works of James Thurber, the famous humourist/cartoonist whose works had not been well served by the movies or TV (the hit movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty had almost nothing to do with his story). Shavelson and Arnold tried to put together a show that would really have the Thurber sensibility, incorporating animated sequences based on Thurber’s cartoons, titling most of the episodes after Thurber stories, and incorporating ideas from his work into their stories and dialogue. The show also tried to incorporate storytelling devices that weren’t usually seen in the staid U.S. comedy of the late ’60s, like having the lead character (William Windom) break the fourth wall and blur the line between reality and his own fantasy life. Apart from Windom, the cast included Joan Hotchkis, who went on to The Odd Couple, and Lisa Gerritsen, who went on to Mary Tyler Moore and Phyllis. Arnold, of course, wound up finally creating a hit with Barney Miller.
The show suffers from the standard look and feel of one-camera shows in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the rather generic shot setups and undercooked performances, that help explain why there was a mass migration to multi-camera (try saying that three times fast). It also suffers from the sexism that’s inevitable when you combine Thurber, with his scary wives, with the format/stories of late ’60s comedy; expect to see hacky jokes about women who love shopping and charge accounts. But it’s an interesting show, unusually ambitious for U.S. scripted TV in 1969, and many people remember it very fondly. After it was canceled, it won the Emmy Awards for best Comedy and best Actor.
Though it isn’t the episode that I’m embedding here, there’s another episode on YouTube that was co-written and directed by Arnold, which that makes liberal use of the kind of “this didn’t really happen, the narrator was making it up” device that shows like How I Met Your Mother use all the time. (Also a scene where the hero gratuitously imagines a catfight involving his wife. Which I suppose How I Met Your Mother will get around to one of these days.) But the quality is bad and the sound is out of synch. So I’ll instead start with the only other episode on YouTube, “The War Between Men And Women,” written by Rick Mittleman (one of those guys who freelanced for virtually every comedy in the ’60s) and directed by the veteran Alan Rafkin. The upload is from a print that includes the original commercials.