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WHY WE STILL DREAM OF JEANNIE

Updated on July 5, 2018
John Lavernoich profile image

JOHN LAVERNOICH is the author of six published books, as well as a significant number of published short stories and articles.

The 1960's are best remembered for not only the social upheaval that changed the world, as well as the controversial Vietnam War -- but also some of the most off-beat TV shows of that decade, including I Dream Of Jeannie, which helped us escape the turmoil of the times (if only temporarily), and which, ironically enough, would pretty much change the TV industry as a whole as the 1960's gave way to the 1970's.

I Dream Of Jeannie -- Jeannie being the beautiful female genie from the Arabian lamp (and note the clever word-play in the series' title) -- was created by veteran film and TV writer Sidney Sheldon, who won an Academy Award for writing The Bachelor & The Bobby-Soxer (1947), and who would later write a number of best-selling novels (not to mention create the hit TV series Hart To Hart in 1979). Sheldon's idea of a 20th Century man paired with a female genie who had only eyes for him was, to put it mildly, something unusual for its time -- and yet, thanks in part to NBC and Screen Gems executives (Screen Gems being the TV subsidiary of Columbia Pictures), it did become a reality.

I Dream Of Jeannie debuted on NBC in the fall of 1965, and became a tremendous hit with audiences, while forever linking stars Barbara Eden (as Jeannie) and Larry Hagman (as NASA astronaut Tony Nelson) to the TV series itself (though Hagman's role as Captain [and later Major] Nelson in that series would be overshadowed by his other famous TV role as crooked billionaire oilman J.R. Ewing in the long-running TV drama Dallas). Not surprisingly, the idea of a genie causing comical chaos in the 20th Century became the basis for the 1964 feature film The Brass Bottle (in which one of its stars was Barbara Eden).

Many episodes of the TV series during its five-year run focused on Jeannie using her magical powers to help out her astronaut master, with somewhat comical (and embarrassing) results -- which, thankfully, would never happen in the real world (mainly because genies -- no matter which sex they are -- don't exist in the world that you and I live in) -- which explains why Tony Nelson kept Jeannie's presence a secret from the outside world. Adding to the series' appeal was co-stars Bill Daily (as fellow NASA astronaut Roger Healey, who was aware of Jeannie's existence) and Hayden Roarke as psychiatrist Dr. Alfred Bellows, who frequently questioned Nelson's sanity, while ignorant of the cause of many of his predicaments. Barbara Eden even got to stretch her acting talents a bit by playing Jeannie's evil sister, also a genie, who also had eyes for Tony Nelson (while unsuccessfully plotting to do away with her goody two-shoes sister). Among the series' guest stars during its network TV run were Sammy Davis, Jr., Milton Berle, Don Ho, Jim Backus -- and Barbara Eden's husband at that time, Michael Ansara.

By the series' fifth and last season in 1969-70, in an attempt to boost its already-declining ratings, Sheldon decided to have both Jeannie and Tony Nelson get married, thus eliminating one of the series' key elements -- and which, unfortunately, played a role in hastening its cancellation by the spring of 1970, as a new era in the TV sitcom was about to begin, and one where I Dream Of Jeannie was definitely out of place in.

And yet, I Dream Of Jeannie's popularity would live on -- and not just thanks to reruns of the TV series in both syndication and cable (and later, in the home video and Internet streaming markets). In the fall of 1973, both Columbia and Hanna-Barbera produced the animated TV series Jeannie, which aired on CBS, in which the title character was re-imagined as a teenager. What made this animated TV version notable was some of its vocal talent -- including future Star Wars regular Mark Hamill (as Corey Anders) and Three Stooges alumni Joe Besser (as Jeannie's fellow genie Babu). The animated TV version of Jeannie also made a guest appearance on The New Scooby Doo Movies, another Hanna-Barbera animated TV series which also aired on CBS at that time. Babu would later be seen on the Laff-A-Lympics segment of Scooby Doo's All-Star Laff-A-Lympics, which aired on ABC from 1977-79 (partly because Hanna-Barbera couldn't get Jeannie to get appear on that series, since Columbia already owned the rights to the character).

In 1985, almost all of the original cast of the I Dream Of Jeannie TV series reunited for I Dream Of Jeannie: Fifteen Years Later, which aired on NBC -- and yours truly uses the word "almost" very strongly, since the role of Tony Nelson in the TV-movie was played by M*A*S*H alumni Wayne Rogers (mainly because Larry Hagman was already busy playing J.R. Ewing on Dallas -- which Barbara Eden would eventually appear on, near the end of that series' long run). Six years later, Barbara Eden repeated her famous TV role in the 1991 TV-movie I Still Dream Of Jeannie, which was notable for the fact that the title character's husband Tony Nelson didn't even appear in it (probably because no male actor was interested in playing that character). Eden would play Jeannie one last time when she made a cameo in A Very Brady Sequel (1996), based on the popular TV sitcom The Brady Bunch.

Please visit John Lavernoich's official website: johnlavernoich.weebly.com

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