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Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Odd Couple Unexpectedly Meets Bilko. Part Six.

I'm at Newark Airport in 1982, waiting to board my flight back to Ohio.
There is a huge rainstorm, accompanied by thunder and lightning.
I am in the process of shitting in my pants.
Then, I hear the magic words from the podium:
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are in an oversold situation.
Anyone who is willing to give up his or her seat will receive $200 to be applied to a future flight, free lodging at an airport hotel, a meal voucher, and we will guarantee you a seat on the first flight going out in the morning".
They had me at "oversold".
My hand immediately went up.
I raced up to the podium, willing to trample anyone who got there ahead of me.
Fortunately, it didn't come to that.
I got there first.
The transaction was completed, and with a major sigh of relief, I got taken by the shuttle to a nearby airport hotel, courtesy of the airline.
I called my then-wife with whom I shared the domicile in Ohio, to let her know that I wasn't coming home that night.
Then, I settled in, picked up a newspaper which contained the TV listings.
Let me point out at this point that this was before cable.
There were seven local stations that could be found in the New York metropolitan area.
That's it.
Three network stations, one PBS station, and three independents.
I noticed that at 11pm, Channel 9, one of the independents, was showing a Sergeant Bilko rerun.
Bilko reruns were very rare. Even in New York.
They just didn't air them very often.
By now, they have almost completely vanished from the airwaves.
But even in 1982, they were pretty rare.
So life got even better.
I was going to get to see an episode of "Bilko".
I probably hadn't seen one in about five years.

Eleven o'clock rolls around.
The Bilko episode starts.
What do you know?
It's the "$64,000 Question episode.
Bilko in the bandages.
The one I ripped off, er, paid homage to.
I was delighted.

Now, what I'm about to tell you is the absolute truth.
I've mentioned before that Jack Paar, when he was about to tell some outlandish story, would preface it by saying "If we don't have trust, we have nothing".
Then, he would go on and completely bullshit the audience.
But I'm counting on your trust, and I am not bullshitting you.

"The Odd Couple was a huge hit in syndication, and Channel 11 would run two episodes back to back from 11pm to midnight.
It's the way almost an entire younger generation of fans discovered it.
I had no interest in watching the "Odd Couple" episode, having seen all the ones I'd worked on, and not being impressed with the ones I hadn't.
But during Bilko's first commercial, just out of idle curiosity, I switched to
Channel 11, just to see which episode of "The Odd Couple" was being run.
As God is my judge, it was the Theatre Critic episode.
Oscar in the bandages.
They were going head to head.
The original, and the show that borrowed heavily from it.
And I knew that at approximately twenty after eleven, if you flipped back and forth from Channel 9 to Channel 11, and you had to do it by hand because this was even before there were remotes, you would see Bilko in the bandages, and Oscar in the bandages.
Bilko in the bandages, and Oscar in the bandages.
And I realized that I was the only person in the entire New York metropolitan area who would be doing that, because I was the only person in the New York metropolitan area who knew what was going on.
What are the odds?
They made 238 episodes of Bilko, and 165 episodes of The Odd Couple.
That alone makes it nearly impossible for this coincidence to take place.
Add to that the fact that they easily could have shown the Theatre Critic episode in the 11:30 slot, which would mean they weren't going head to head.
Add to that the fact that I hadn't been to New York for about three years and did not expect to stay overnight to see this.
And I wasn't going to be in New York any other night in the near future.
You could call it all a coincidence if you want to, but that night in Newark convinced me to this day that the universe is not random.
What are the odds?
My most optimistic view of it all is that Nat Hiken, always my main comedy God, actually WAS God.
And he was trying to tell me that I did good.
That there was actually room in the comedy universe for two versions of sitcoms that featured a leading character in bandages, and that it was, in fact, homage.
But that's just me being optimistic.
Who knows what the truth really is?
I can only cling to my optimism, and a new-found faith that turned me from an agnostic to a near-Hassidic.
I say near, because I haven't changed my wardrobe or grown a beard.
I've even considered becoming a Baptist.


My book,"Show Runner" and it's sequel,"Show Runner Two", can be found at the Amazon Kindle Store.
You can search by typing in my name, Cindy Williams, Laverne & Shirley, The Odd Couple, or Happy Days.
You might want to check them out.
You don't need a Kindle machine to download them.
Just get the free app from Kindle, and they can be downloaded to an IPhone, IPad, or Blackberry.
The paperback, "Mark Rothman's Essays" is still available for people without Kindle.
I have many readings and signings remaining, and the thing about Kindle is you can't sign one.
If you like one, contact me at
I'll be at the Hollywood Collectors Show in Chicago this weekend, hawking the paperback.
If you're in the area, and would like to say hello, I'd love to meet and talk with you.
I'll probably be resurfacing here on Tuesday.
The website "On Screen & Beyond" has two has two hours of an interview I did on it's podcast in their archives.
Just Google On Screen and Beyond if you're interested.



  1. Why ISN'T Sgt Bilko shown in reruns? It's been a show I've always heard about rather than actually seen, save the odd excerpt shown in documentaries about either sitcoms or Phil Silvers. I know I can now see the show on DVD, and may some day do just that when I get some money in my pocket, but I feel if growing up I got to see others shows from that era, like I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners, I by all rights should have been exposed to Bilko, too.

    Incidentally, even though I've never seen an entire episode of Sgt Bilko, I'm well aware of what a talented individual he was. I've seen him in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Cover Girl, The Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan's Island, and various other things.

  2. On behalf of Baptists everywhere-thanks for that show, it was a very funny one.

  3. we can all exhale now
    it was worth the wait

  4. Greetings from Chicago, home of MEtv.
    ... and its sister station MEtoo.
    Which shows SGT. BILKO almost every night (well, actually overnights) as part of a cluster with Jack Benny and Burns & Allen.
    The MEtv management recently started syndicating their main service nationally, while MEtoo remains available to Chicagoans only (as far as I know; if I'm wrong, someone feel free to correct me).
    As I'm typing this, I've suddenly remembered that MEtv is running CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU? late Saturday nights, two in an hour and another one late in the overnight (early Sunday, if you want to get technical).
    So anyway, BILKO is being shown, for those who've only heard second-hand of Pvt. Harry Speakup, or want to try and spot the first TV appearances of George Kennedy, or the guest shots of Mike Todd and Kay Kendall, or (fill in your fave rave here).
    All you have to do is move to Chicago and develop insomnia.
    Have fun!

  5. Mike, don't know if you caught the blurb under the post, but I will BE in Chicago, live and in person, at the Hollywood Collectors Show over the weekend.
    If you're interested, go to their website.
    Just Google Hoolywood Collectors Show Chicago for more info.
    And I'll try to stay up late to catch a Bilko or two.

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About Me

Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."