Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Debuting September 24, 1970 on ABC, The Odd Couple is one of but a handful of successful TV-sitcom adaptations of a popular film property. Actually, before the film there had been an extremely successful 1965 stage version, written by Neil Simon and purportedly based on Simon's own experiences while rooming with his recently divorced brother (and fellow writer) Mel Simon. Walter Matthau and Art Carney originally starred on Broadway as compulsive slob Oscar Madison and neat-freak hypochondriac Felix Ungar, who after their wives left them decided to move into the same apartment to share expenses--and drove each other insane in the process. Matthau repeated his role as Oscar in the 1968 film version, while Jack Lemmon took over from Carney as Felix. The TV adaptation headlined Jack Klugman (replacing producer Garry Marshall's original choice, Mickey Rooney) and Tony Randall respectively as slovenly newspaper sportswriter Oscar Madison and ultra-neat professional photographer Felix Unger (whose named was spelled "Ungar" in the play and film, and who'd previously been a TV writer). Beyond granting television rights and collecting a huge weekly fee, Neil Simon exercised no creative control over the series, which softened the abrasive edge of the original (which ended with Felix being booted out of the apartment by an incensed Oscar) and considerably broadened the appeal of the characters. The only actors carried over from the earlier versions were Monica Evans and Carole Shelley, who during Season One were seen as Oscar and Felix's sexy British neighbors, the "coo coo" Pigeon sisters. Cast as Oscar's poker-playing buddies (who retained most of their original character names from the theatrical version) were Al Molinaro as Murray the cop, Garry Walberg as Speed, Larry Gellman as Vinnie and Ryan McDonald as Roy, who was replaced a few seasons later by a cardplayer new to the series, Archie Hahn as Roger. Oscar and Felix's ex-wives, never seen in the film, were played on the series by Bret Somers (Jack Klugman's then-wife) as Blanche Madison and Janine Hansen as Gloria Ungar. Appearingly exclusively in the TV version were such recurring characters as Oscar's lady friend Dr. Nancy Cunningham (Joan Hotchkis) and his ditzy secretary Myrna Turner (Penny Marshall); Felix's daughter Edna (played first by Pamelyn Ferdin, then by Doney Oatman) and son Leonard (first Willie Aames, then Leif Garrett); and Felix's occasional girlfriend Miriam Welby (Elinor Donahue). Initially filmed movie-style with one camera, and overladen with a prerecorded laughtrack, The Odd Couple switched to the traditional sitcom three-camera technique, filming before a live audience, beginning with Season Two. Though never a "top ten" attraction, the series enjoyed an enthusiastic fan following, which remained loyal long after the final ABC telecast in September of 1975. Also in 1975 there was a misbegotten Saturday-morning cartoon spoof, The Oddball Couple, with a pair of misfit talking dogs named "Fleabag" and "Spiffy"; even less successful was a live-action 1983 revival with an all-black cast, headed by Ron Glass as Felix and Demond Wilson as Oscar. However, a 1993 TV-movie revival starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, The Odd Couple: Together Again, fared quite well, despite the fact that Klugman had lost most of his voice to cancer. Additionally, Randall and Klugman occasionally appeared in regional theatrical revivals of Neil Simon's original stage version--and to their credit, they were faithful to the text, resisting the temptation of adapting their characterizations to emulate the markedly different TV version.