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The Donna Reed Show

The Donna Reed Show is an ABC network sitcom series created by William S. Roberts and, starring Donna Reed in the lead role.

The show aired from September 24, 1958 to March 19, 1966, lasting for eight seasons & 275 episodes.

It was sponsored by Campbell Soup Company, with Johnson & Johnson as the principal alternate sponsor (succeeded in the fall of 1963 by The Singer Company).

Plot

The series centered on the adventures of housewife Donna Stone, her pediatrician husband, Alex and her two kids, Mary & Jeff.

Cast

Main Cast

  • Donna Reed as Donna Stone
  • Carl Betz as Alex Stone
  • Shelley Fabares as Mary Stone
  • Paul Petersen as Jeff Stone
  • Patty Petersen as Trisha

Recurring Cast

  • Bob Crane as Dr. David Kelsey
  • Ann McCrea as Midge Kelsey
  • Charles Herbert as David Barker
  • Jack Kelk as Dr. Bo
  • Darryl Richard as Morton "Smitty" Smith
  • Stephen Pearson as Zachary Blake
  • Tommy Ivo as Herbie Bailey
  • Jimmy Hawkins as Scotty
  • Jan Stine as Roger
  • Candy Moore as Angie
  • Melinda Plowman as Babs
  • Howard McNear as Mr. Wilgus
  • Kathleen Freeman as Mrs. Wilgus
  • Mary Shipp as Lydia Langley

Production

The series was created by William Roberts and developed by Donna Reed and her then husband, producer Tony Owen (the production company "Todon" is an amalgamation of their first names.)

Roberts intended the show to respectfully picture the many demanding roles a stay-at-home woman was expected to master: wife, mom, companion, housekeeper, cook, laundress, seamstress, PTA officer, choir singer, scout leader, etc., all the while being "effervescent, immaculate, and pretty."

Reed stated, "We started breaking rules right and left. We had a female lead, for one thing, a strong, healthy woman. We had a story line told from a woman's point of view that wasn't soap opera."

In addition, Reed described her show, accordingly: "I would call The Donna Reed Show a realistic picture of small town life - with an often humorous twist. Our plots revolve around the most important thing in America — a loving family."

In its first year on the struggling ABC network, the show was up against Milton Berle's popular Texaco Star Theater and Reed ratings were low.

ABC nearly cancelled the show, but it was renewed and the ratings improved when it was moved from Wednesday to Thursday nights. The series flourished for the next seven years, but made television's top 25 only in 1963-1964.

In a 1964 interview, Reed said, "We have proved on our show that the public really does want to see a healthy woman, not a girl, not a neurotic, not a sexpot...I am so fed up with immature 'sex' and stories about kooky, amoral, sick women."

On February 1, 1962, Fabares debuted her single "Johnny Angel" in the episode "Donna's Prima Donna." The song became a hit, peaking at #1 and sold over a million copies.

Petersen introduced his single "My Dad" eight months later on October 25, 1962, which peaked at #6

By 1962, Reed felt that the writers were running out of fresh ideas and had exhausted plot devices. She also wanted to spend more time with her family and was worn out from producing nearly 30 episodes a year.

To coincide with Fabares's plans to leave at the end of season 5, Reed and her husband decided to end the show.

Since the series was still very popular ABC offered her a more lucrative contract with an extension of three seasons, to which she agreed. Their new contract called for fewer episodes and other incentives to allow Reed more personal time.

Beginning in Season 6 there was a reduction in the number of episodes produced, and work hours were shortened to please Reed

In the fifth season, Mary left for college, reducing Fabares's appearances, something which continued yearly with her role becoming a minor character. She left the full-time cast to pursue opportunities in films and eventually returned seven times for guest appearances.

Following Fabares's departure, Petersen's real-life sister, Patty Petersen joined the show as Trisha, a runaway orphan who was eventually adopted by the Stones.

"The Donna Reed Show" achieved its highest Nielsen ratings in Season 6, reaching #16 after Fabares' departure.

A possible reason for higher ratings was the addition of new characters, Ann McCrea and disc jockey-turned actor Bob Crane as the Stones' neighbors, Midge and Dave Kelsey. This not only provided both Donna and Alex with best friends, but co-conspirators, as well. It was so popular were their roles that by the fall of 1964, both McCrea and Crane began receiving billing in the opening credits of the program.

Crane left the series in 1965 to star in the CBS sitcom "Hogan's Heroes" and as a result, he was written out of the show although his character continued to be referred to and McCrea's character remained with the program.

Also, towards the end of the series, actor Darryl Richard was regularly featured as Jeff Stone's best friend, Morton "Smitty" Smith. Richard first appeared in 1962 and "Smitty" became a major character after Season 6.

In the spring of 1966, Reed had grown tired of the weekly grind and wanted to retire. The program was rated #89 during its final season.

After 275 episodes and eight seasons on ABC, "The Donna Reed Show" ended its prime-time run. Reed expressed no interest in taking on another series, declined television guest appearances, and shunned films because she thought their depictions of women vapid.

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