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Yellow Dog

Why Samanatha is More Powerful than Jeannie by Scott Viets

Back in 1994 when Nick at Nite acquired the rights to show I Dream of Jeannie they launched a clever little ad campaign involving a cute little poll asking viewers to decide who they thought was more powerful, the belly baring babe of Jeannie or the supernatural sorceress of Bewitched, Samantha. Never mind that both shows up to that time co-existed happily together as part of our 1960's television legacy. Often running back to back on local stations, differentation between the two were often blurred by the fact that not only did both shows involve females with magical powers in an all-mortal world but sometimes even looked similar in production values all the way down to their copycat animated openings (both shows were produced by the same studio, Screen Gems). The notion of officially pitting the two against each other was not an option. They just WERE. That is before N@N stuck in its retro-nose and decided to be silly on a very serious subject. Consequently, the Nickster's tongue-in-cheek teaser sparked a ferocious debate among not only Bewitched and Jeannie fans but the water cooler elite in advertising agencies and space programs everywhere.

With People Magazine and Entertainment Weekly giving exposure to N@N's gratuitous self-promotion, this simple little poll became Officially Big News. Suddenly, people who had never even liked the shows decided they, too, needed to be heard just as much as the die-hard fans who had guarded their beloved show's reputation with the ferocity of Cerberus. Message boards lit up, telephone polls jammed and friendships were suddenly at stake as the whipped up frenzy of "Who's More Powerful" began morphing into the real issue at hand: Which show is better? Samantha won the poll. Bewitched is better. So there.

If you're saying to yourself right now, "Well then, Mr. I-Watch-Nick-at-Nite-and-read-Entertainment Weekly-Bewitched Freak-Geek, WHY is Samantha better than Jeannie?!" I'll tell you...just as long as you put down that broken Jeannie bottle and promise to stay calm.

I must state off the bat that while I of course have an affinity for Bewitched, I do have a fondness for Jeannie as well. With good actors, likable characters, wacky plots and a penchant for slapstick, it's TV candy at its best and deservedly has earned a place in the annals of Classic American Television. But to compare it to (or even worse) rank it alongside Bewitched, as N@N has so erroneously done is a mistake akin to attempting to casually weigh the craftsmanship of Gone with the Wind to that of The Waterboy. It just isn't done! This is why I take a strong stand on the still discussed debate, worsened single-handedly by TV Guide's reckless interference a few years ago when it "jeered" everyone who voted for Samantha in the N@N poll! I'm telling you, TV Guide has gotten pretty darn saucy since Rupert Murdoch took over! But I digress. The point remains that mean-spirited little "jeers" like that only continue to lend undeserving credibility to the notion that Jeannie is on the same par as Bewitched when statistically, aesthetically and artistically, both belong in two entirely different classes.

Bewitched ran for eight seasons (1964-72), ranked #2 in the Nielsens during in its first year, stayed in the Top Ten until 1967 and remained in the Top 25 until after its 6th season in 1970. Along the way it garnered 19 Emmy Award nominations (including Best Comedy Series four years in a row as well as five nominations for Elizabeth Montgomery) winning several awards in other categories. Jeannie appeared one year after Bewitched and ran for only five seasons (1965-70), registered in the Top 25 Nielsens only once (in its first year) and never was nominated for an Emmy in any category. A note to TV Guide: In today's terms, Bewitched = Frasier, Jeannie = Anything on the WB.

Few television sitcoms in history can boast the same pedigree of cast that was assembled for Bewitched's leading and supporting players. By the nature of its fantastical premise, Bewitched could easily have been geared towards the kiddie set. But with sophisticated writing and the classically trained talents of Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick York, Agnes Moorehead, David White and Maurice Evans, Bewitched was able to stretch beyond the "make 'em laugh at all costs" sitcom rule and opted instead to produce a grounded, emotionally truthful love story between a man and a woman who had otherworldly obstacles to overcome. Magic always took a back seat to character development and intense performances were never threatened by a laugh track (Of course, if you've just finished watching the episode where Samantha meets "Brucie", the Loch Ness Monster, everything I'm saying right now probably sounds like a crock of crap...but that's another article).

Jeannie admittedly didn't attempt to be anything other than whimsical escapism. Decidely anti-sophisticated, it revels in taking the kiddie-circuit route by being more Three Stooges than Stanislavsky as its main characters are often found bumbling and stumbling through wacky plots that go beyond anything Gilligan and Co. could ever dream up. In fact, its original prime time slot was 7:30 p.m., known to advertisers as the "family-friendly" hour while Bewitched aired in the more "mature audiences" time slot of 9:00 p.m. for its first several seasons. Where advertisers are concerned, this speaks volumes about the intended target audiences for both.

Bewitched masterfully blended substance with comedy and magic whereby allowing children and adults to enjoy the same show but often for totally different reasons. Jeannie offers a no apologies what-you-see-is-what-you-get entertainment that both children and adults can enjoy, most often for the same reason...usually Larry Hagman tripping or falling over something.

I really do enjoy I Dream of Jeannie. Unfortunately Nick at Nite and TV Guide pushed the envelope on this one, which brings me to the original question that N@N so flippantly asked: Who's more powerful, Jeannie or Samantha? This sends me into a tirade that I'll save for the therapist but in a nutshell...what's THAT all about?! You only need to see both shows to get a good grasp on what the two characters are all about. I once read an interview with Betty ("Golden Girls") White who was asked who she thought was more powerful to which she replied, "Well, Jeannie sure is cute and all. I mean, what an adorable figure. But Elizabeth Montgomery was something else. She had an could just see it in her eyes."

So Betty... if for argument's sake their powers are equal, are you saying then that character traits such as intelligence and common sense must figure in to give one an edge? Okay, let's see...Jeannie was a stereotypical ditzy blonde, prone to jealousy who giggled and acted much like a child to Major Nelson's stern parental figure. Samantha was an independent woman, although married to a mortal who forbade her from using witchcraft, who always had the upperhand because she was smarter. Jeannie often "goofed" and/or misused her powers impetuously, resulting in getting her Master into trouble only to leave HIM to explain his own way out of embarrassing situations. Samantha used her head first and later relied on her powers solely as a means of getting Darrin out of the trouble that someone else had gotten him into.

Jeannie, as played by Barbara Eden, was a Playboy Playmate with powers that haphazardly threatened to erupt if her Master even looked at another girl. Samantha, as played by Elizabeth Montgomery, was the epitome of common sense. Although crowned Queen of the Witches and inheritor of Endora's powerful zap, she is a study in control. Sophisticated yet warm, beautiful but not threatening and yes, extremely intelligent, Samantha is Gloria Steinem, Nancy Drew, Grace Kelly and Hilary Clinton all rolled into one. As Betty said: Powers+Intelligence=Most Powerful. Powers+Chiffon Harem Pants=A Good Time.

ABC's biggest hit ever and a cash cow for Screen Gems, Bewitched was HUGE business and directly responsible for the birth of I Dream of Jeannie. It even relinquished several of its key behind the scenes personnel to get Jeannie's bottle rolling while many of its regular guest stars, scriptwriters, make-up men, music scorers and top executives continued to be involved with either/or. The two shows deserve to stand on their own as two separate contributions to our television heritage. But as long as there is still validation given to this ridiculous poll I will continue to cringe at the thought of young people growing up today being duped into believing that both were ever equal or one and the same.

In my eyes, Jeannie will always be "Jan" to Bewitched's "Marcia". I can hear Jeannie whining, now..."Samantha!Samantha!Samantha!"

Scott Viets "The Bewitched Critic" "The Bewitched Critic"

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