THE DOUBLE LIFE OF HENRY PHYFE. ABC / Luther Davis Productions / Filmways TV Presentation. January 13, 1966 – September 1, 1966. Cast: Red Buttons as Henry Phyfe, Fred Clark as Gerald B. Hannahan, Parley Baer as Mr. Hambles, Zeme North as Judy and Marge Redmond as Florence. Created by Luther Davis. Developed and Executive Produced by David Levy.

   After turning down GET SMART the ABC executives had to watch it become an instant Top Ten hit and the highest rated new series of 1965-66 season (“Broadcasting” November 15, 1965). Adding to their mistake, the ABC executives decided to rush THE DOUBLE LIFE OF HENRY PHYFE on to the air as the network continued to attempt (and fail) to cash in on the James Bond craze.

   January 1966 was an important time in television history. A desperate ABC invented the “second season” and the beginning of the end to a stable TV schedule. The ABC ad in “Broadcasting” (January 10, 1966) promoted the new idea, “Nothing like this ever happened in television before. An exciting new season starting right now in January! In the next two weeks alone, four completely new shows! Shows so great they couldn’t wait till fall.”

   The four chosen were THE DOUBLE LIFE OF HENRY PHYFE, THE BARON (British ITV), BLUE LIGHT (reviewed here ), and two nights of the immediate hit TV classic BATMAN. Not only were these four series introduced in TV’s first official “second season,” the ad also promoted that the new series would be in color as ABC began to switch over from black and white television.

   Ratings were great for all four series in the first week, but that would last only for BATMAN (“Broadcasting” January 17,1966). HENRY PHYFE would quickly fall to last in its time slot on Thursday at 8:30-9pm. CBS’s MY THREE SONS won the time slot and NBC’s LAREDO finished second.

   Below is the premise-explaining theme done by Vic Mizzy (ADDAMS FAMILY) and an opening scene showing how Hannahan would every week convinced patriotic Henry to accept another dangerous mission for the American government.

   A top agent for the bad guys, U31 has been killed and the good guys are keeping it a secret. Henry Phyfe is a double for U31 but in looks only. U31 was an expert in everything while accountant Henry is an expert in none. Adding to Henry’s problems, he can’t tell anyone about his double life, not even the woman he hopes to marry or her disapproving Mother or his boss.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO YESTERDAY (1/27/1966) Written by Ben Starr – Directed by Leslie H. Martinson – Produced by Luther Davis- GUEST CAST: Jerry Fujikawa and Lloyd Kino. *** Henry tries to get his girlfriend’s Mother to like him by throwing her a birthday party. However Hannahan needs Henry to pose as U31 in Japan on the same day.

   The laugh track liked this episode more than I did. This was the third episode to air, and the series was more a family sitcom than spy comedy – that was not a good thing.

   Ben Starr whose writing career spanned from BACHELOR FATHER to ALL IN THE FAMILY turned in a profession old school style sitcom script complete with antique plot and jokes pre-dating TV.

   On the plus side there was some good comedic chemistry between Oscar winner (Best Supporting Actor for SAYONARA) Red Buttons and successful character actor Fred Clark (GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN SHOW).

   The family sitcom spy comedy was ABC’s idea. In “Smart Money” (“Time” October 15, 1965) Mel Brooks discussed ABC’s demands for GET SMART. ABC executives called Buck Henry and Mel Brooks proposal “un-American” and wanted a “lovable dog to give the show more heart.” According to Brooks, ABC wanted Max to “come home to his Mother and explain everything.” Brooks objected and wanted to do a crazy comedy that did not include a family. (Source: Wikipedia)

   HENRY PHYFE proved Brooks was right. Because as HENRY PHYFE was doing ancient family sitcom jokes, GET SMART was a top ten hit for NBC as it satirized James Bond and the very popular at the time spy genre.

   Episode seven hinted at the problems the show was having with the writing and the lack of development time for HENRY PHYFE. Pointless Fact: The “&” used in writers’ credits mean a writing team.

THE UNFRIENDLY PERSUSION. (2/24/1966) Teleplay by Phil Leslie and William Raynor & Myles Wilder. Story by Charles Marion & Monroe Manning. Directed by Leslie H. Martinson. Produced by Luther Davis. GUEST CAST: John Aniston and James Seay. *** Henry is needed to pose as U31 for a meeting of villains. Problem is the meeting will be at a golf course. U31 was a great golfer while Henry has never played. The predictable family co-plot had Henry getting a sick day and then his boss and girlfriend learned he spent the day at the golf course.

   The script was a complete mess – a random collection of old bad gags at times drifting off plot. Even worse was watching the attempt at romance between forty-seven year old Buttons as Henry and his girlfriend Judy. Twenty-eight year old Zeme North played Judy and did what she could with the cliché unbelievable character.

   The production values of HENRY PHYFE were typical of the 50s-60s sitcom. Filming rarely left the studio stage and never the studio lot. The series look, with its static camera and overuse of the master shot wasted the talents of its directors such as Leslie H. Martinson (BRADY BUNCH, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE) and Howard Morris (ANDY GRIFFITH, DICK VAN DYKE SHOW). The filmed stage play style was not uncommon for the sitcom but was behind the times for a TV comedy such as GET SMART.

   Apparently somewhere along the way not only were the girlfriend and Mother phased out, creator and producer Luther Davis was replaced by Nat Perrin. Perrin got his start writing for Groucho Marx and produced THE RED SKELTON SHOW and THE ADDAMS FAMILY.

   JAILBIRD PHYFE was the thirteenth episode (of seventeen) and showed signs that the series was finding its direction by focusing on the spy comedy.

JAILBIRD PHYFE. (April 7, 1966) Written by Sloan Nibley & Bill Lutz – Directed Howard Morris. Produced by Nat Perrin. GUEST CAST: Henry Corden, Vincent Beak and Jackie Russell. When Hannahan decides to take a vacation both he and Henry looked forward to some free time. But then the Butcher, killer and fan of U31, arrives needing U31 help.

   I liked this one. The shift away from the family sitcom to spy comedy made Henry a stronger and more likable character – no more lying to the girlfriend and others. The humor and story seemed fresher without the dated plots of the family sitcom of the 60s.

   It would be interesting to watch the entire series as it grew and developed over time. GET SMART with the better premise would always have been a better series, but THE DOUBLE LIFE OF HENRY PHYFE could have existed along side GET SMART much like THE MUNSTERS and THE ADDAMS FAMILY did.

   In “Broadcasting” (April 18, 1966) president of Filmways TV Production Al Simon blamed the failure of THE DOUBLE LIFE OF HENRY PHYFE on ABC for rushing it to the air too soon and cancelling it too soon before it could discover what worked and what didn’t. It would not be the last time a cancelled TV series would use that excuse, nor the last time it would be true.