Bewitched, a fantasy situation comedy featuring the suburban life of a witch housewife married to a mortal, aired on ABC from 1964 to 1972. In its first season, it was the highest rated of all the new series and for its first five seasons, the program found itself consistently in Neilsens' Top Twelve. By 1968, its re-runs had sold to ABC for nine million dollars.
Set in Westport, Connecticut, Bewitched chronicles the difficulties Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) has negotiating her supernatural powers and her role as the suburban housewife of advertising executive Darrin Stephens (Dick York, replaced by Dick Sargent after the fifth season). Other major characters include Samantha's mother, Endora (Agnes Moorehead), who enjoys employing meddling witchcraft to complicate her daughter's marriage, a suspicious neighbor named Gladys Kravitz (Alice Pearce, later replaced by Sandra Gould)) and Darrin's neurotic boss Larry Tate (David White). Sporadically, Elizabeth Montgomery would appear as her cousin, Serena, embodied as a teeny-bopper, counter-culture type, with a knack for free-spirited and manipulative sorcery. Eventually, Samantha and Darrin have a daughter, Tabitha, and a son, Adam, both of whom display witchly powers. (In 1977, ABC attempted a spin-off called Tabitha, where the now grown witch [Lisa Hartman] works as assistant producer for a California news program--with Robert Urich as the anchorman. The spin-off failed before season's end.)
Bewitched's formula typically involves a disruption created by either Samantha or Darrin's family, or Darrin's boss Larry. Samantha's responsibility to keep up the family harmony comes into conflict with her vow not to exercise witchcraft. Usually the resolution does come about with witchcraft, but Samantha's role as a "good" wife undergoes re-inscription because she performed her spells for the sake of her family (Morey, 1993).
Samantha generally exercises her witchcraft by twitching her nose and mouth (known at the time of the show as the "witch twitch") or casting verbal spells. Either method may result in making objects and people disappear or appear, granting unearthly powers to herself or others, or turning herself or others into various kinds of animals. She constantly subordinates her supernatural powers at the request of her husband--he is particularly adamant that she not cheat her domestic duties. Samantha could easily have the entire house cleaned and dinner on the table with a single "witch twitch" but, for Darrin's sake, she chooses to perform the labor of housework herself.
At the same time, Samantha takes a keen interest in Darrin's job and gets him out of many a campaign jam with her "imagination" and "intuition"--sometimes attributed to her witchcraft, sometimes not. She often saves Darrin's job by producing sales concepts on the spot for his clients or sometimes even going to the extent of turning his clients into animals to prove a point or buy him time. Her mastery in this area includes shoring up Darrin's ego and making him feel that it was his ideas that saved the day. In this way, Bewitched brings forward a host of questions pressing mid-1960s middle class culture such as anxieties about women's place in the public and private spheres and general mistrust between the sexes: What is the appropriate woman's role? How should a woman exercise her own agency to the best of her abilities? What do we do with female power since it has been relegated to a place outside of culture for so long? Toward the end of the run of Bewitched, Samantha often travels to far away places and times or interacts with historical figures, somewhat displacing the centrality of the home and middle class suburban life.
Notably, Elizabeth Montgomery's real-life husband was William Asher, the director of the series (who also directed I Love Lucy, Danny Thomas, and Patty Duke). Asher and Montgomery owned a percentage of profits of Bewitched as well as a percentage of the merchandising rights which involved the conception of a Samantha doll, jewelry, cosmetics, and a flavor of Bewitched ice cream. The couple's first child was born three weeks before the production of the first episode leading much of the popular press at the time to refer to the initiation of the show as a birthing process.
That series premier remains one of the series' most memorable episodes in many ways. When Samantha reveals to Darrin that she is a witch, he seeks the advice of others (best friend, doctor, bartender), each of whom refuses to take him seriously. So he returns home, resolving "So my wife's a witch. Every married man has to make some adjustments." His conclusion rings true, and continues to define much of the series--marriage may not be what it appears on the surface and the commitment to marriage and family, certainly in late 20th century America, means confronting male fears about women's sexuality and otherness, women's power, and the changing social and cultural significance of domestic institutions.
Samantha Stephens/Serena........ Elizabeth Montgomery
Darrin Stephens (l964-69).............................. Dick York
Darrin Stephens (1969-72)........................ Dick Sargent
Aunt Clara (1964-68)................................ Marion Lorne
Uncle Arthur (l965-72)................................. Paul Lynde
Esmerelda (1969-72).............................. Alice Ghostley
Dr. Bombay (1967-72)............................... Bernard Fox
Harry Ackerman, William Froug, Danny Arnold, Jerry Davis, Bill Asher
PROGRAMMING HISTORY 306 Episodes
September 1964-January 1967......... Thursday 9:00-9:30
January 1967-September 1971......... Thursday 8:30-9:00
September 1971-January 1972..... Wednesday 8:00-8:30
January 1972-July 1972................... Saturday 8:00-8:30
Amory, Cleveland. "Bewitched." TV Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania), 24 October 1964.
Asimov, Isaac. "Beware of Bewitched." TV Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania), 22 March 1969.
Marc, David. Comic Visions: Television Comedy and American Culture. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989.
____________. "Every Witch Way But Loose." Village Voice (New York) 20 August 1985.
Pilato, Herbie J. The Bewitched Book: The Cosmic Companion to TV's Most Magical Supernatural Situation Comedy. New York: Dell, 1992.
Spigel, Lynn. "From Domestic Space to Outer Space: The 1960s Fantastic Family Sit-Com." In Penley, Constance, Elisabeth Lyon, Lynn Spigel and Janet Bergstrom, editors. Close Encounters: Film, Feminism, and Science Fiction. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.
Stang, Joanne. "The Bewitching Miss Montgomery." New York Times, 22 November 1964.