Thursday, May 15, 2014

Classic TV: Gomer Pyle, USMC (1964)

As they say in their advertising, the Marines are looking for a few good men. In 1964, they found one.

Gomer Pyle, USMC was spun off from The Andy Griffith Show after Gomer (Jim Nabors) spent one year on the parent show. In a way, series creator Aaron Ruben riffed on the movie, "No Time For Sergeants", which, in turn, helped mold Griffith into the icon he would become. That movie was adapted into a sitcom itself, for ABC, instead of CBS, but lasted one season. Viewers identified Sergeants with Griffith and Don Knotts too much to give that series a chance, and ABC was looking for a service comedy to complement McHale's Navy. We'll take a look at Sergeants another time.

After season 4 of The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer left his gas station behind and joined the Marines. His naivete didn't exactly endear him right away to Gunnery Sgt. Vincent Carter (Frank Sutton), but in time, Carter would warm up to the well meaning Pyle. Y'think maybe it might be the fact that Gomer could also deliver a show-stopping number every so often? After all, Nabors was a million selling recording artist for Columbia back then.

After 5 seasons, Nabors, taking his cue from Griffith, decided he'd gone as far as he could go with Gomer, and swapped the series for a self-titled variety show. Sutton and co-star Ronnie Schell came with Nabors for the new show, which, unfortunately, didn't last long. The fluid ensemble of Gomer Pyle, at times, also featured a couple of other familiar faces. For example, Ted Bessell left after the first two seasons to co-star on That Girl, and before he was cast as Father Mulcahy on M*A*S*H, William Christopher was a series regular on Pyle. Like, who knew?

These days, Gomer Pyle can be found on Me-TV on weekends. Of late, for some unknown reason, the network has bumped Green Screen Adventures on Sundays in favor of Gomer, although their website still claims that Green Screen is on the schedule. I've a feeling this may be a case where Green Screen has run out of gas in terms of ratings, and if Me-TV is allowing it, affiliates may be subbing in Gomer for that reason.

Let's take a trip back to the final season (1968-9) for a talent show at Camp Henderson, where Gomer is clearly the star, and the MC is special guest star Carol Burnett (in her 2nd appearance on the show). Nabors, of course, would be a frequent guest on Burnett's variety show, which we'll cover another time

Rating: B+.

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