There were two big US fantasy sitcoms of the 1960s that took on board women’s changing roles in society, not by showing them at work but by showing them as more than just ‘mere’ housewives and people with ideas of their own: I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched.
I Dream of Jeannie saw Barbara Eden appear at first to be ‘every man’s dream’ – a sexy blonde genie with magic powers, willing to do whatever he commanded.
However, as a pre-JR Larry Hagman was about to discover, even slaves have minds of their own and Barbara Eden’s Jeannie very definitely had a will of her own, throwing Hagman’s life upside down – the star of the show was clearly Eden rather Hagman and Tony the astronaut spent most of his time keeping up with Jeannie, rather than the other way round.
Here’s a little minisode version of the first episode to give you an idea. Surprisingly, it was written by Sidney Sheldon (yes, the fabulously successful author).
Meanwhile in Bewitched, Elizabeth Montgomery played Samantha, an apparently normal young American woman, who meets and falls in love with a very normal American man Darrin (Dick York at first, then Dick Sargent). Except it turns out that Samantha is a witch and with just a wiggle of her nose, she can make more or less anything happen.
Samantha wants to be a normal housewife but somehow, usually thanks to the efforts of her mother Endora, she always ends up having to use her powers for some reason or other. And as with I Dream of Jeannie, this was a show very much about the female lead rather than the male lead, what she wanted, what she was prepared to do to fit in with society and more.
Here’s the pilot episode:
In both series, the set-ups evolved, with Jeannie eventually marrying Tony and having a family with him, and Samantha also having a daughter, Tabitha, and a son, Adam.
Five years after Bewitched ended in 1972, and we’re in a post-Rhoda world, where the single young, sexually liberated working woman is now a valid subject for a comedy. And although it was just five years later, Tabitha has apparently grown up into a young woman working in the LA television industry. Cue an ABC sitcom called Tabitha starring Knots Landing‘s Lisa Hartman and Robert Urich from Vega$ and Spenser: For Hire. Here’s the opening credits that explain everything.
The show essentially mirrored Bewitched, but updated for the 70s, where dreams of being a normal housewife weren’t exactly on every young woman’s radar.
There were two pilot films produced for the series. The first, which was broadcast by ABC on April 24, 1976 (and was called Tabatha), starred Liberty Williams as Tabatha, with Bruce Kimmel as Adam, her older, mischievous warlock brother. In this pilot, Tabatha was an editorial assistant for Trend magazine, lived in San Francisco, and had a boyfriend named Cliff (Archie Hahn).
As with the pilot episode of Bewitched, Tabatha tells Cliff that she is a witch, who at first doesn’t believe her, but later discovers that she’s telling the truth. Also, much as Samantha did when she used her powers to deflect the unwanted affections of Darrin’s former fiancée, Tabatha deflects rival Dinah Nichols (Barbara Rhoades) from seducing Cliff.
The pilot (directed by Bewitched producer/director William Asher) sold the series, but ABC changed the sitcom’s setting from San Francisco to Los Angeles, recast the main roles, and ordered a second pilot with Hartman instead of Williams and David Ankrum as Adam, who unlike in Bewitched is now mortal and takes on the Darrin role of admonishing her for her use of witchcraft. They also changed the spelling to Tabitha.
Urich plays Tabitha’s boss and romantic interest in the series, and this version also gives Tabitha a previously-unmentioned Aunt Minerva (Karren Morrow) – Samantha’s sister on Bewitched was called Serena and was also played by Elizabeth Montgomery – who pops in frequently to encourage her to use her witchcraft, just as both Endora and Serena did on Bewitched.
About the only big differences between Bewitched and Tabitha were that Hartman and Urich’s characters aren’t married, there’s a bit more sex, and the plots revolve more about the workplace. There’s also a room-mate to deal with.
The revised Tabitha pilot aired on ABC on May 7, 1977 and the series debuted on September 10 of that year. The next episode aired November 12, and the show continued to air regularly, but failed to garner sufficient ratings to be renewed for a full season. The final episode aired on January 14, 1978 for a total of 13 episodes produced and broadcast, including the two pilots.
Unlike Bewitched, it’s unlikely that it did much for female representation on TV screens, but hell, it was nice to see the characters again. While it has been released on DVD in the US, the show remains unavailable in the UK, although it did air here on BBC1. You can view a few clips and episodes on YouTube, though, if you want: