Bewitched, one of the most beloved and imitated sitcoms in TV history, aired on ABC from 1964 to 1972. An immediate hit, the show was the highest rated of all new series during its first season, and was consistently in the Nielsen Top 12 for its first five seasons.
Set in Westport, Conn., Bewitched chronicles the comedic misadventures of Samantha and Darrin Stephens, a young married couple portrayed by Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York (after the fifth season York was replaced by Dick Sargent). The Stephenses are an ordinary suburban couple she's a very attractive, charming housewife and stay-at-home mom; he's one of the "Mad Men," a Madison Avenue ad executive. There's just one important caveat: Samantha is a witch. And not just any witch, but the successor to the throne of the Witch Queen and the shining jewel of a large, proud family of witches and warlocks.
Sam agrees not to use her supernatural powers at Darrin's request, and Bewitched's comedy springs from this central tension. Further stirring the cauldron of conflict is Sam's mother Endora, who disapproves of Sam's marriage to a mere mortal and her daughter's denial of her heritage and exceptional abilities. Despite Sam's best intentions, magic permeates the Stephens' lives in the form of Sam's extended family and witch community, the couple's supernaturally gifted children, and Sam's willingness to use witchcraft for the good of her family or to help Darrin.
In a subtle way, Bewitched responded to the turbulence and political tensions of the mid-1960s and early 1970s. The show's pilot episode began production on the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and the show premiered less than one year later. During the years Bewitched was on the air, Sen. Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. were also assassinated. The press and the public were confronted with and heatedly argued about the shifting power dynamic between the sexes, women's' rights, racially motivated violence, the war in Vietnam, and the gay and civil rights movements. In the midst of this painful reality, Bewitched offered America a fantastical vision of a close-knit, mostly cooperative and peaceful community that embraced powerful matriarchs, flamboyant men, all manner of strange and wonderful misfits and a loving, devoted "mixed marriage" between an exceptional woman and an ordinary man. The enduring message of the show is one of tolerance, respect for oneself and others, and loyalty -- tempered with a healthy dose of humility and humor.
Politics aside, Bewitched was an exceptionally well crafted show, featuring scripts by accomplished writers, technically advanced (for the time) special effects and a versatile cast that included Oscar and Emmy-nominated actress Agnes Moorehead as Endora, Paul Lynde as Sam's Uncle Arthur and a host of big-name (and big talent) guest stars. It also had a gimmick: Elizabeth Montgomery would occasionally appear as Sam's identical cousin, Serena, a free-spirited counter-culture type with an edge. Rounding out the show's enormous appeal were a couple of adorable kids, daughter Tabitha and son Adam. (In 1977, ABC attempted a spin-off called Tabitha, in which the grown-up witch, played by Lisa Hartman, works as assistant producer for a California news program. The spin-off failed before season's end.)
Elizabeth Montgomery's real-life husband was William Asher, the director of the series (who also directed I Love Lucy, The Danny Thomas Show, and that icon of identical cousins, The Patty Duke Show) . Despite her association with the show's helmer, Montgomery was not the first choice for the role of Samantha. Stage and film actress Tammy Grimes was originally chosen to play the part, but was let out of her contract when playwright Noel Coward asked her to star in "High Spirits," a Broadway musical directed by Coward based on his Blithe Spirit. About being cast as Sam, Elizabeth Montgomery was once quoted as saying, "I got the role because Tammy turned it down, and I will always be eternally grateful to her for that. I didn't get the part because I beat out hundreds of women in some huge casting call... I was simply at the right place at the right time." Nevertheless, it's hard to imagine anyone else as the lovely suburban witch, and Samantha's particular (and now iconic) method for performing magic the quick twist of nose and upper lip dubbed the "witch-twitch" was actually a nervous habit of Montgomery's, which Asher used to great effect on the show.
Bewitched continues to enchant audiences with its high production values, cleverness, and subtle message about diversity, tolerance, and American culture. Ultimately, Sam is who she is mother, powerful witch, daughter, wife and she loves who she loves her witch family and a man as different from her as can be. Despite its supernatural premise and high comedy, there is a deeply humanist heart at the center of Bewitched, and its magic endures.