THE BLOG
06/19/2013 01:56 pm ET Updated Aug 18, 2013

The Odd Couple - and Even Odder

I have just found out that a script I wrote with my partner, Ed Scharlach, for The Odd Couple, entitled "The Fight of the Felix," was named as representative of the series upon the occasion of TV Guide, in conjunction with the Writers' Guild of America, naming the "Best 100 Best Written TV Series". We -- and the show -- were listed as #78.

You can go here to get the complete list, which was voted on by members of the Writers' Guild, which is my professional union. I am sure that many, many people will disagree with the list -- what is the population of the US? Honored as I am, I would do some shuffling of the order myself as well as some inserts, and I have to point out that much of what has been best on television has been real, not scripted. And only living WGA members were allowed to vote, which means many writers who were around for what is still called The Golden Age, represented by Playhouse 90, Rod Serling and Sid Caesar, for me at least, aren't with us any longer.

But I sincerely thank the Guild for giving Ed and me this small place in history. The bigger thanks however, must go to Neil Simon, the creator of Oscar and Felix, two of the most indelible comic characters in the history of the theatre. Walter Matthau won the Tony for playing Oscar, and Art Carney played Felix. (The play also won Best Play, Best Director and Best Writer). Interestingly, Jack Klugman, who was to play Oscar in the TV series, with Tony Randall as Felix, replaced Matthau on Broadway.)

Jack Lemmon was Felix to Matthau's Oscar in the film, which remains a classic and was one of the highest grossing movies of 1968. There were so many other well-known performers (including before they were well-known) who played both roles -- including Tony Randall.

So there was a lot of history and a lot of talent before Ed and I wrote "The Fight of the Felix" in 1970, a pun, of course on "The Flight of the Phoenix." Ed and I loved to use bad puns as the titles of episodes of the sitcoms we wrote. We weren't ever allowed to actually get away with using one in a script. The rather convoluted plot wound up with Felix (who was a boxing champion at CPA school) getting into a sleazy fight ring with a guy who was really out to beat up Oscar, who, of course, had asked for it.

Role reversal was a device often employed by Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson, who had adapted The Odd Couple for television and were producers and show-runners. This particular episode is noted as "Episode #1;" what is known as the "back-up" pilot. Garry had put Ed and me together as a team and the two of us worked with him and Jerry on four shows, also doing the back-up pilot for Happy Days and for Sheriff Who, still known as one of the best shows that never went on the air.

I was writing about two guys, but Ed and I comprised our own odd couple - he was the neat one and I was the one who knew all about football. I am from Texas, after all, and it's practically a religion there. There are a lot of variations on the theme, and Neil proved the point, actually re-writing the play at one point to be about two women.

I have the pleasure of knowing Neil Simon. I was introduced to him by my girlfriend, Elaine Joyce, when she married him in 1999. Since I also had a show business husband quite a few years older than I, she thought the guys could be good playmates. The TV show (which Neil had nothing to do with) was off the air by then for quite a few years, but I felt embarrassed to tell him that I had made my living off his creation.

Sidebar: I peeked into Neil's office in their home in Bel Air: in 1999, he was still using a typewriter.

I saw Elaine and Neil in New York in early May this year, before the list of the top 100 was announced. I owe him big time and I think I will screw up my courage and give him my personal thanks -- and admission. I'll let you know how it went.

We're #78!

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