It had been over 13 years since the last time The Addams Family was seen on television. Like most things, they had simply fallen out of the public consciousness beyond any kind of reruns airing. Or, so it seemed. During a ride from a movie screening, a van full of 20th Century Fox studio executives broke out into a spontaneous singalong of the theme from the 1960s sitcom by Vic Mizzy. Believing there was enough residual recognition of the franchise, head of production Scott Rudin proposed to studio chiefs Barry Diller and Leonard Goldberg, all of whom had been in the van, that there was potential for a successful Addams Family movie.
And so production began on the $30 million epic. The film was written by Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands) and Larry Wilson (Beetlejuice) and was helmed by first-time director Barry Sonnefeld after previous choices became unavailable (one of them being Tim Burton, who had worked with the two writers on the named films). The film consciously made use of creator Charles Addams’ extensive library of drawings, incorporating many of the strips’ gags into the narrative as possible (such as the opening bit of the family dumping bubbling tar on Christmas carolers), while also taking several cues from the sitcom (the characters’ names, some of their trademark character traits, penchant for dances, etc.). However, some liberties were taken as Fester (Christopher Lloyd) became Gomez’s (Raul Julia) older brother, rather than Morticia’s (Anjelica Huston) uncle, and Grandmama (Judith Malina) was Morticia’s mother rather than Gomez’s.
|All in the Addams family.|
The plot centered around Fester’s 25-year absence after a falling out with Gomez. The Addams’ crooked lawyer, Tully Alford (Dan Hedaya), was in deep debt to Abigail Craven (Elizabeth Wilson) and plotted to help her steal the Addams’ wealth using her “son”, Gordon (Lloyd), who resembled Fester. The film also starred Christina Ricci as Wednesday, Jimmy Workman as Pugsley, Carel Struycken as Lurch and Christopher Hart’s hand as Thing. The film was released on November 22, 1991, and although it was not well-received critically, it was a box office success, taking in over $113 million. Huston was nominated for a Golden Globe, the film was nominated for an Academy Award, and it won “Best Horror Film of the Year” from the Horror Hall of Fame. Additionally, the pinball machine based on the film became the best-selling and highest-produced of all time.
|Meet the new Addases: Lurch, Gomez, Wednesday, Morticia, Pugsley, Grandmama and Fester.|
In the wake of all that success, a sequel, Addams Family Values, was greenlit, but producers decided to keep the momentum going in between with the production of an animated series that tied into the film. Turning to Hanna-Barbera, who made the original Addams Family cartoon in 1973, the new one bore little resemblance to that earlier with a return to the situational comedy elements set in and about their macabre mansion located in the contrastingly bright town of Happydale Heights. Hanna-Barbera’s Philippine subsidiary, Fil-Cartoons, Inc., handled the animation duties on the series.
|It's the little things that make Wednesday happy.|
John Astin returned to reprise his role of Gomez from the 1960s sitcom, of which he was the last surviving member. Joining him was Nancy Linari as Morticia, Debi Derryberry as Wednesday, Jeannie Elias as Pugsley, Rip Taylor as Fester, Carol Channing as Grandmama, Jim Cummings as Lurch and Pat Fraley as Cousin Itt. Unlike previous Hanna-Barbera revival series, all-new character models were used for the show which took Charles Addams’ original designs and combined them with elements from the sitcom and movie. For instance, Wednesday’s voice displayed the lack of enthusiasm and brooding her movie counterpart did, but her physical appearance and movement was more in line with the happy-go-lucky portrayal from the sitcom. Emily Michels and Andre St-Amour served as the series’ character designers.
|The family that plays together...|
While the macabre elements of the characters had to be toned down for Saturday morning television, many of their antics were still present. Fester maintained his penchant for blowing things (and himself) up, as did Gomez with his trains. Fester was also given a new desire to make comic books centered around his superhero alter-ego, Festerman. Morticia maintained her love of horticulture with wild, man-eating plants, but was also depicted as a painter. Grandmama was given the added occupation of running a psychic hotline, which was frequently the recipient of wrong number calls. Grandmama and Fester often butted heads as he doubted her psychic abilities. Thing maintained his ability to pull almost anything out of the box in which he dwelt, but was given the seeming ability to defy gravity more than other versions. Torture devices, sharp weapons, and other implements of death also made frequent appearances, although most of the time their use was depicted through sound effects off-camera.
|The Normanmeyers, meant to be the "normal" ones.|
Populating the town was a host of new characters created for the show. Their next-door neighbors were the incredibly normal family, the Normanmeyers. Norman (Rob Paulson, impersonating Paul Lynde), was the CEO of an underwear company called Normanwear and almost everything he did led back to underwear in some form or other. Norman often engaged in plots to foil anything the Addamses were doing or get them evicted from their house with the help of his wife, Normina (Edie McClurg). Only their son, Norman, Jr., or “N.J.” (Dick Beals), liked the Addamses and often spoke out against his parents’ attempts against them. Despite their best efforts, the Normanmeyers’ plans usually backfired and the Addamses saw all their actions as a term of endearment; particularly Fester, who regarded “Norm” as his best friend.
Recurring characters included the villainous Spy Twins (both Cummings). They were identical twin criminals who frequently went up against Itt on his missions as a secret agent and set their sights on the Addams’ fortune. They frequently spoke together, alternating between words in a sentence. Thing had his own nemesis in Harry Palmer (Cummings, impersonating William Shatner), a hand model whose hand lost in an audition to him causing Palmer to develop a grudge and seek revenge.
The Addams Family debuted on September 12, 1992 on ABC. The series used a reworked version of Mizzy’s theme, and the ending version had all-new sound effects in place of the snapping. The rest of the series’ music was by Matt Muhoberac, John Zuker and Guy Moon. The Lady Colyton, Addams’ ex-wife who had received some of his copyrights in the divorce settlement, served as a creative consultant on the series.
|The contents of Fester's coat.|
Most of the show’s episodes were single stories, but several were broken up into three segments. Each episode would end with the Addamses looking to celebrate with a family dance. The first suggestion was usually rejected due to a weird requirement they couldn’t meet at the time, resulting in their going with the second one. Bill Matheny and Lane Raichert were the principal writers or story contributors, with additional scripting by David Schwartz, Earl Kress, and Ron Myrick. Myrick also served as one of the producers and directors. By 1993, The Addams Family was ABC’s top-rated Saturday morning program, and one of the highest rated programs of its kind on any of the four major networks. The series was renewed for a second season and ended after 21 episodes. It continued on in reruns until the spring of 1995 when it finally left ABC’s schedule.
|Lurch poses with his latest catch.|
Playmates released an unsuccessful line of figures based on the show in 1992, making only six figures of the family members (excluding Wednesday) before it was cancelled. The video game Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt was released by Ocean Software for the Super NES and NES, with Enigma Variations Ltd. releasing the Game Boy version (although the NES and Game Boy versions were just The Addams Family game reworked with Pugsley as the playable character). Golden Books also released a sticker fun book and a Sight N’ Sound book based on “Sir Pugsley”.
It wouldn’t be long before the Addamses returned to television, as Warner Bros. released a direct-to-video movie called Addams Family Reunion in 1998 that served as a pilot for a new live-action show, The New Addams Family. Despite only running a year, the series ran one episode longer than the original. In 2010, a stop-motion animated film from Illumination Entertainment failed to be produced, but a musical version of the franchise hit Broadway. In 2019, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the current rights holders of the property, released a new animated movie through Universal Pictures with a sequel arriving in 2021. Although we won’t likely see another Saturday incarnation of these creepy and kooky characters, chances are The Addams Family will find a way to stay unburied.
Originally posted in 2016. Updated in 2021.