Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Forgotten TV: The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine (1971)

Marty Feldman was taken from us too soon when he passed away in 1982 in Mexico, where he was working on the movie, "Yellowbeard".

More than a decade earlier, after appearing on The Dean Martin Show and David Frost's At Last The 1948 Show, among others, Feldman, who'd had another series or two in his native England, starred in his own sketch comedy series, The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine.

The series lasted just one season, debuting in the US as a spring replacement series in April 1972, six months after its launch in the UK. Feldman's writing staff included Irish comic Spike Milligan and a couple of American writers who'd soon launch lucrative film careers behind the camera, Barry Levinson and Larry Gelbart.

If the opening animation looks familiar, it should. It's the work of Terry Gilliam (Monty Python's Flying Circus). Given the rapid pace of the sketches, I'd say Feldman was drawing from the inspiration of the Pythons and other comics.

Following is a sample episode with guest Orson Welles.

Edit, 7/3/2020: This is a different video, still with Orson Welles, but also with Spike Milligan.

Feldman also drew upon his experience with Dean Martin by getting producer Greg Garrison on board for Comedy Machine. Wikipedia claimed the show aired in the US on ABC, but with the Martin-Garrison connection, I'd suspect it was actually on NBC.

No rating.


Mike Doran said...

History Time:

In 1970, Greg Garrison did the Golddiggers summer show in London, to save money.
As part of the deal, he used a bunch of sketches that Marty Feldman had done for his own ATV show, and also contracted with Feldman to do some original spots for the Yank audience.
The Golddiggers In London drew pretty good ratings for a summer show, and Marty Feldman was launched in the USA.
Greg Garrison brought Marty to America for guest spots, meanwhile signing him for a possible US series; NBC was full-up with talent commitments at the time, so Garrison made the series deal with ABC, which always had room …
(By the bye, Dean Martin had nothing to do with this series; from what I've read, Dino didn't care for Marty at all.)
Garrison's deal with Feldman called for an hour-long show, to begin on ABC in fall or winter of '71; it was Garrison who brought in Larry Gelbart, along with Barry Levinson and his then-partner Rudy DeLuca, to steer things toward an American style.
The problem was that Marty Feldman had his own way of doing things, which involved taking his time on setups; ABC made it known that the Feldman show was too drawn-out for their tastes, and demanded editing (their idea was that the sketches had to be "more compact", whatever that meant).
Although The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine aired as an hour on ITV in Britain, the US series was delayed by the heavy editing to half-hours, thus not getting on ABC's air until spring of '72.
This was one of ABC's back-up-the-truck years; the Feldman show became a throwaway.

Greg Garrison, who never threw anything away, managed to salvage some leftover Feldman sketches for reuse several years later, on another of his summer replacement shows, Dean Martin's Comedy World (which as it happened did air on NBC - but that's another story …).

For those who noticed:
The distinguished gentleman that Marty the Photographer was chasing in that filmed sketch was Bob Todd, who was British TV's foil of choice for all the top comics - including mainly Benny Hill, with whom he served for nearly twenty years (and that's yet another story).

hobbyfan said...

Thanks for filling the blanks, Mike, as always.

antoniod said...

There are more COMEDY MACHINE episodes newly posted on YouTube. Many have sketches by John Cleese, Graham Chapman, and Tim-Brooke Taylor repeated from AT LAST THE 1948 SHOW and Feldman's BBC series, MARTY. Thankfully, these are the UK versions, as the ABC broadcasts cobbled sketches from different episodes, replaced the original musical guests with a regular Girl group taped in the US, and added Yank stand-up comedians taped in front of a bare backdrop.In the wake of both Python's and Feldman's new fame in the US in 1975, I expected Feldman's BBC programs to appear in the US, but it didn't happen, either because too many had been erased or Time-Life didn't think to try to sell it in America.