Producer Jay Ward and his partner Bill Scott, successful with cartoons and low-budget programming based on silent-film clips, were trying to succeed in live-action programming. "The Nut House!!" was intended as a Saturday daytime series, suitable for children and older audiences. If I'm not mistaken, only a pilot episode was made, and the pilot was never picked up for a series.
What struck me about "The Nut House!!" (besides its very low quality) is its similarity, before the fact, to "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" ... and I think I would have spotted this even if Alan Sues weren't present in both programmes. "The Nut House!!" consists of short skits and blackout gags, similar to "Laugh-In" but without the snappy pacing, flashy graphics and ensemble work (and good scripts) of that later, better-known show. "Laugh-In" was noted for political satire, and for topical jokes about recent events. "The Nut House!!" -- possibly because it was a pilot effort, with no specific air date -- trudges along with generic comedy about nothing in particular. Sort of like "Hee Haw" without the sophisticated urbanity.
I'm an undyingly loyal fan of Jay Ward's cartoons ... even his less funny ones, like "Tom Slick". But Ward's outrageous humour is totally absent here: an odd lapse, since Ward's cartoons -- unlike most other American cartoons -- relied very little on surrealistic impossible sight gags (that can't be done inexpensively in live action) and relied heavily on witty dialogue and characterisation that can be done easily in live action.
What I most recall about this unfunny black-and-white effort was the incredibly low budget. The camera is static: there are no sound cues and no lighting effects. At the end, the ensemble cast take a limp curtain call while each performer holds up a piece of paper with his or her name scrawled on it: a clear admission that the budget couldn't afford title supers.
Bob Arbogast, the credited co-scripter here, later wrote some hilarious song parodies with Stanley Ralph Ross. Too bad none of that hilarity made it into "The Nut House!!".
Jay Ward's name deserves to live in the annals of comedy forever ... but what I saw of "The Nut House!!" was awful. Even that double exclamation mark bothers me ... as if it were saying "We can't afford a good script or graphics, but we've got extra punctuation!!" There's a good premise lurking in this effort, but it didn't achieve its potential until the brilliant "Laugh-In" a few years later. Skip this low point in Jay Ward's career and enjoy some classic Bullwinkle toons instead.