The First American TV Sitcom

June 16, 2013 in Trivia

Mary Kay and Johnny With Baby

Mary Kay and Johnny are seen with their newborn on “Mary Kay And Johnny”, circa 1947. Source: Landov/CBS.

“Mary Kay and Johnny” aired originally on the DuMont Network as a 15 minute live domestic comedy in 1947. It was an immediate hit and ran from November that year until March 1950 on DuMont, NBC and CBS. Media websites sitcomsonline.com, snopes.com, emmytvlegends.org and virginmedia.com all credit the program as the first American televised situation comedy.

New York City newlyweds Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns resided in a Greenwich Village apartment and worked their way through a variety of screwball situations and everyday challenges — a domestic comedy formula which would be emulated by many subsequent television programs. Unlike taboo-averse sitcoms to follow, in this forerunner program the couple on television shared a bed — another “first” of its kind in American television according to snopes.com.

In real life, the show’s players actually were married. During the show’s run the couple had a baby boy, Christopher. Thus the show added a third player. Baby Chris appeared on the program in a brand new bassinet before he was even one month old.

Recalling show coverage of the day, emmytvlegends.org cites “Variety’s October 13, 1948 review opined: ‘Much of the show’s charm is traceable directly to the femme half of the team, who displayed a pleasant personality that prototyped the average conception of a young American housefrau…Storyline picked them up with Mary Kay making plans for her first baby, which is due in a couple months, and her difficulties in buying the right baby carriage. It was that simple, but also that good. Whether the gal is actually going to have a baby wasn’t made clear, but it would be a neat idea for the series…’”

Mary Kay and Johnny was widely known for its sponsor Anacin. According to sitcomsonline.com, Anacin had no idea at first if anybody was watching the program. Lacking any ratings information, they invited audience viewers to send in their comments, and offered a free mirror to the first 200 respondents. They ordered 400 mirrors just in case responses exceeded their expectations. They received more than 8,000 letters.