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These were a period of Saturday morning I will never forget. Apparently there was a wish to bring back real life shows and try to downplay the appeal for animation. These were hokey, but Big John, Little John was pretty good to a ten year old anyhoo. Edelman, Rist and Bullifant made do very well this premise of a man who drank from the fountain of youth in Florida and now grew young and old. Rist was not as annoying here as he was on the Brady Bunch. Jokes worked. An older child would be calling him dad and he would call him son back. Funniest moment I can recall was Big John transforming while wearing a suit of armor for a costume party. Bullifant, as his wife, had to hurry the nosey neighbor or houseguest out the door then get the armor on the couch. She's screaming 'John, John, John?!" as she yanks off the helmet and there is no head. They found little John halfway down. I would die if I saw this again.
I remember watching Herb Edelman's character Big John,become a little boy every episode.I was just 5 years old and thought how great it could be an adult,now over 23 years later I now think different.Look for Robbie Rist as Little John,Rist played on "The Brady Brady bunch" as cousin Oliver for one season then vanishes with no explanation,we now know the truth. Ole Sherwood Schwartz creator of "The Brady Bunch" and "Gilligan's Isand" also created "Big John,Little John"
The best forgotten TV project Sherwood Schwartz ever worked on, it ran
on NBC on Saturday mornings during the 1976-77 season. Just as
"Gilligan's Island" was a sitcom variation on "Robinson Crusoe," this
show spoofed Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth mythology. Herb Edelman
(best remembered as Bea Arthur's jinx of an ex on "The Golden Girls")
plays "Big" John, a junior high school teacher on a trip to Florida.
Thirsty, he gulps some water from a brook which -- wouldn't you know it
-- turns him into 12-year-old "Little" John, a/k/a Robbie Rist (the
Brady Bunch's jinx of a cousin Oliver, and Ted Baxter's genius adopted
son on "Mary Tyler Moore"). However, the effect comes and goes
unpredictably, with "Little" John reoccurring at the most inopportune
times. "Little" John appears in junior high as teacher "Big" John's
nephew, though the principal and other students are slow (make that
real, REAL slow) to catch on that they never see the two Johns in the
same place together at the same time.
Yeah, it's a silly concept, but there's an inherent cheesiness to it I love. As with any Sherwood Schwartz TV production, there's a great theme song summing up the plot, and the opening credit sequence showing the younger versions of Edelman (or, if you will, the older versions of Rist) look NOTHING AT ALL like either of them, as if Schwartz is winking at us and saying, "I'm not taking the premise seriously, either." Some other bits of BJLJ trivia: "Big" John's wife (it's a Sherwood Schwartz kiddie show from 30 years ago, remember, so the grown wife/12-year-old husband theme NEVER EVER EVER gets exploited) was played by Joyce Bulifant, Murray's loyal wife Marie on MTM and the actress Schwartz originally signed to play Carol Brady on "The Brady Bunch," and Schwartz brought on the Zucker brothers and Jim Abrahams to contribute material to this show, around the time they were completing "Kentucky Fried Movie" and beginning work on "Airplane!" The complete series is going to be released on DVD in the fall of 2009 -- it's definitely worth a look.
This series was shown by the BBC apparently, ahead of the US, as we got it around May/June 1976. I got the recent region 2 DVD release by Fabulous and did expect it to be extremely cheesy seen again today, but it's not as bad as all that. The only really bad aspect of the series was it was made on video, but then transferred to film. No idea though if it was copied after it was transferred from NTSC to PAL to film, or if it was copied direct to film from NTSC video and then transferred to tape again, then converted to PAL for the UK, it could even have been just badly telecined to film. Apart from the visual look, which a lot of people don't really notice anyway, it's still enjoyable. Some of it though, as it was made in the mid-70s, can come across as very un-PC and a lot of the story lines are just plain ridiculous too.
I, too, distinctly remember "Big John, Little John." When NBC first
aired the program in the fall of 1976, I was 14 years old and had just
begun 9th grade at Lansing Catholic High School in Lansing, Michigan.
My two favorite episodes I remember are the ones where Big John/Little John performs in the school's talent show ("they" sing "The Man on the Flying Trapeze") and where Big John/Little John and the kids go to a haunted house owned by a Mr. Crabtree; in one scene, a skeleton pops out of a closet and says to Big John and the kids, "Happy Midnight, suckers!," then laughs wickedly. (Maybe one reason I enjoyed the latter episode even more is because when NBC reran said episode for the last time in August 1977, I was visiting my relatives in Derry, Pennsylvania, a small town on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, and I remember watching that episode while I was there. Now *that* would *really* bring back some great memories of my "wonder years!") One member of the cast who went on to stardom was Kristoff St. John, who played one of the kids in Big John's class; as an adult, St. John went on to play numerous roles in daytime dramas.
I read over at TV Shows on DVD.com that the small, independent company Virgil Films and Entertainment was supposed to have released the entire 13-episode DVD box set of "Big John, Little John" on April 8th of this year after numerous delays, but unfortunately has delayed release of the box set *again,* with an official street date *still* to be announced. (According to the TV Shows on DVD.com article, Virgil is still deciding the appropriate "channel" - most likely meaning "distribution venue" - to release the box set under. I can only hope Virgil gets whatever external "stops" that are keeping the box set of "Big John" from being released pulled out *very* soon). If and when Virgil ever does announce a formal release date, they will *certainly* have a customer in me!
During the decade of the 1970's,there was a period of Saturday Mornings
that basically dominated children's television. Apparently,you have a
choice of the usual animated shows or the shows that was entertaining
but also appealing to older children and adults well. Some of these
live-action shows were a bit hokey,but fairly decent.
D'Angelo Productions was just that...a low-budget company that was catered to live-action shows that were part either comedy or the usual action-adventure routine that was designed to be shown to children for Saturday Mornings. Under the production of William D'Angelo,his production company cranked out a bunch of these shows during the 1970's. Shows like the action-adventure,mystery suspense series like "Westwind", "Thunder","Run,Joe Run!",and not to mention the usual live-action comedies too like "The Monster Squad","McDuff,The Talking Dog",and not to mention "The Kids From C.A.P.E.R" that were all over the Saturday Morning landscape of television during the 1970's. Most of these shows lasted no more than one season on the air.
But the one show that stood out from all the rest was the short-lived comedy series "Big John,Little John",which was one of the more forgotten children's shows. This was the best project Sherwood Schwartz ever worked that lasted one season for NBC-TV from September 11, 1976 until August 30, 1977. This series came from the genius of Sherwood Schwartz,who brought us "Gilligan's Island",and "The Brady Bunch",and this was his only attempt at doing a live-action comedy series for the Saturday Morning crowd,mainly directed at older children and adults. Just as "Gilligan's Island" was a sitcom variation on "Robinson Crusoe",this show spoofed Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth mythology. "Big John,Little John" starred Herb Edelman(who was best remembered as Murray the policeman in the 1968 theatrical feature of "The Odd Couple" that starred Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau,and was also remembered as Stanley Zbornak,Dorothy's jinx of an ex-husband on "The Golden Girls")as "Big" John,a junior high school teacher who takes a trip to Florida. Thirsty and exhausted,he gulps some water from a brook which transforms him into---wouldn't you know it---turns him into 12-year old "Little John",played by Robbie Rist(the Brady Bunch's jinx of a cousin Oliver,and Ted Baxter obnoxious genius of an adopted son on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show",and Suzanne Pleshette's nephew of a brat on "The Bob Newhart Show").
However,the effect comes and goes unpredictably,with "Little" John reoccuring at the most inappropriate times. What makes things worst is that "Little" John appears in junior-high school as teacher "Big" John's nephew,even though the school principal and other students(who are extremely slow-REALLY)never catch on that to this as they see the two "Johns" in the same place at the same time. Yeah,this was a silly concept,but there's an inherent cheesiness to it,not to mention within some of the plots contrived into the episodes. As with any Sherwood Schwartz production,there's a great theme song summing up the plot,and the opening and closing credits of the show showing the younger versions of Edelman,and the older versions of Rist,that basically look NOTHING AT ALL like either of them. Not only Sherwood Schwartz helm the duties as producer but also was one of the writers for several episodes along with his son Lloyd Schwartz,but brought along for this series the writing them of R.S. Allen and Harvey Bullock(who were writers for the animated series "The Flintstones",and also for "The Andy Griffith Show")to serve as executive producers along with Schwartz.
"Big" John's wife is played by actress Joyce Bulifant(who was a regular panelist during the 1970's on the CBS' daytime game show "Match Game" with Gene Rayburn as was also Murray's loyal and faithful wife Marie Slaughter on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"),who originally was signed on to play Carol Brady on "The Brady Bunch",not to mention Schwartz brought on the Zucker brothers and Jim Abrahams to contribute to the writing and other material for this show. "Big John,Little John" was scheduled on Saturday Mornings at a later time so that it would appeal to older kids and adults,but due to the competition against the animated "Scooby Doo",the live-action series was off the air by August of 1977,after 22 episodes.
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