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Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB: "Chuck at College" (1957)


LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW: "Chuck at College" (CBS-TV/Laurel-McCadden Productions 1957)  Original Air Date: February 28, 1957.  Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Rosemary deCamp as Margaret MacDonald, Ann B. Davis as Schultzy, Dwayne Hickman as Chuck MacDonald, Jeffrey Silver as Jimmy Lloyd, Dan Tobin as Bassett, Olive Sturgess as Carol Henning, Jody McCrea as Madison, Leon Tyler as Jones. Written by Shirl Gordon, Paul Henning and Phil Shuken.  Directed by Bob Cummings.

Series overview for LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW is at this link.

Moving day for Chuck, who is about to start his freshman year at Gridley College for Men.  Bob's reputation precedes Chuck.  No, not the vocational one--everyone from Assistant Dean Bassett to the upperclassmen expects young MacDonald to be the "Heir to Mulholland", with sophomore Madison expecting Chuck to find him a date from neighboring all-girl Beaumont College.

"So you're the new campus Casanova, huh?"

As for the Assistant Dean, he establishes that he will have "the famous nephew of the famous uncle" under particular surveillance if he doesn't keep his nose clean.  (Well, at least it isn't Double Secret Probation.)  Roommate Jimmy Lloyd aspires to climb the ivy-covered twelve foot wall separating them from Beaumont, and Chuck might have to if he seeks to avoid a freshman hazing at the hands of Jones and the other sophomores.  What's an incoming freshman to do?

"If you guys ever need any dates, just call on Chuck!"

Ever-enterprising Bob Cummings was apparently the first to propose what would become a time honored sitcom tradition: the backdoor pilot.  Laurel (Cummings) and McCadden (George Burns) hatched the idea of a LOVE THAT BOB spinoff starring Dwayne Hickman centered on Chuck's college adventures, and used this episode of the parent series as a preview, somewhat bypassing the usual pilot process and using the entire country as a test audience.  While future backdoor pilots usually turned up at the tail end of a season, Chuck at College aired on the last day of February 1957.

Schultzy, Margaret and Bob all appear, but the LOVE THAT BOB adults step aside after the ten minute mark and let the new show unfold.  The titular playboy still looms large, unintentionally causing havoc for his nephew with a legend established that Chuck will clearly struggle to live up to.  Chuck at College shows that preceding reputation creating complications with the assistant dean (Tobin is perfect casting) and his steady (Carol slaps Chuck for something Jimmy said!) right away--the ritual of inclusion from the upperclassmen would naturally take place with or without the hype.

Hickman excelled at playing the straight man, and the table is clearly set in Chuck at College for Jeffrey Silver to be the comic lightning rod.  With the actor's diminutive stature and the character's perpetual horniness (Bob the Chaperone) it's hard not to think of Pee Wee from PORKY's as he gleefully embraces campus life with Beaumont so near (and yet so far).  He's a perfect sidekick for the setting, just like Bob Denver would be for our star later.  The former child star is the horniest man on campus, really funny in drag, and you can see the possibilities with letting him loose at Gridley for a full season.

Silver is so effective, in fact, that CHUCK GOES TO COLLEGE would struggled without him--and had the series sold, he would have been unavailable.  The actor later recounted that he was unaware that this episode was being marketed as a pilot and entered the U.S. Army in January 1957 for a two year hitch.  That's the reason this was the last of his nine LOVE THAT BOB appearances, and by the time he resumed his career in 1959 he was aging out of youth roles. Silver only had three TV appearances ahead of him, none after 1961.  (Learn more about Jeff Silver's career here.)

Cummings and Burns were right that the youth audience was underserved on television in 1957, and CHUCK GOES TO COLLEGE was marketed to all three networks but the pilot didn't sell.  Burns ironically tried again by producing a DOBIE GILLIS pilot in the college setting later that year with his son Ronnie, but this was also the wrong mix.  DOBIE of course finally sold a little over a year later with creator Max Shulman supervising and Hickman as the star, and Cummings' observation that Dwayne would soon have his own show came true in 1959, just two weeks after BOB's final bow.

With Chuck at College turning out to be a one-off, Hickman returned to LOVE THAT BOB for the remainder of the show's run, and Sturgess remained through the end of the 1957-58 season as Chuck's longest-running steady.   The episode gives an interesting glimpse of what might have been, and is funny enough on its own to be an amusing diversion for not only BOB fans, but DOBIE fans as well.  Hickman would continue playing straight man for the next decade, and would cross paths with fellow future BEACH movie fixture McCrea (son of Joel) again in HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI. 


If this had become a series, Bassett obviously would have been the MVB.  More of one than that twelve foot wall, you can tell.  While there wasn't really anything to block ("Gertrude" in the dorm?  Dude looks like a lady) he was doing it with gusto.  Jimmy Lloyd gets a mention too, since he probably blocked Chuck for at least a day or two with his ill advised recruitment of Carol.


For once, it wasn't the objective.  Too bad!  No one scored at college either--probably for the best that McCrea didn't get his date with "Gertrude", I'd imagine.

A solid pilot that would have had great potential with McCrea, Silver and Tobin as combustibles in the comic mix, but one can see that Silver's Jimmy Lloyd would have been very hard to replace.  Chuck at College is a pretty funny episode in its own right, spotlighting some of the show's secondary characters in a new setting.  It was certainly the best spinoff possibility from the parent series, but since key changes would have been inevitable and we eventually got the classic DOBIE GILLIS starring Hickman, all was good in the long run.  (**1/2 out of four) 



hobbyfan said...

I know Jody McCrea had worked on a series or movie with his father. Didn't think he'd do comedy, but what do I know?

I've uncovered something for you in re.: Forrest Tucker. He appeared in the 2nd season premiere of "Bracken's World" w/Leslie Nielsen, who'd been brought over from Bold Ones to star.

Hal said...

McCrea does a pretty good job as the potential BMOC foil here.

I've seen the Bracken's World, that's the one where Tuck plays a John Wayne type who clashes generationally and politically with a young co-star if memory serves. Good episode.