December 01, 2018


(NBC, September 11-December 4, 1976)

D’Angelo-Bullock-Allen Productions, Redwood Productions

Herb Edelman – Big John Martin
Robbie Rist – Little John Martin
Joyce Bulifant – Marjorie Martin
Mike Darnell – Ricky Martin
Olive Dunbar – Bertha Bottomly
Cari Anne Warder – Valerie

Middle school science teacher John Martin (Herb Edelman) got the shock of his life when, while on vacation in Florida, he took a sip from a spring that changed him into a 12-year-old (Robbie Rist). Yes, John found the legendary Fountain of Youth. But because he only sipped from it, the change wasn’t permanent. Unfortunately, neither was its reversal as John continued to shift between both his ages at the most inopportune times. Only his wife, Marjorie (Joyce Bulifant), and son, Ricky (Mike Darnell), knew about the changes.

Big John's first transformation into Little John.

The series’ central focus was on John trying to find a cure for his condition while also trying to hide the fact from everyone (why this was a secret that needed to be kept instead of actively seeking outside help or fame with the revelation of the Fountain is never addressed). To explain the presence of his alter-ego, the Martins called Little John a nephew (also named John) who was staying with them. To further complicate things, Little John attended the same school where Big John worked. As Little John, he was able to gain a unique understanding of what his students were going through since they would befriend and confide in him. Of course, there was also the ongoing avoidance of the suspicions of Big John’s boss, Bertha Bottomly (Olive Dunbar), and an effort to keep Big John employed.

Big John, Little John debuted on NBC on September 11, 1976, at a time when networks were looking for live-action programming on Saturday mornings to fight off the negative stigma cartoons had brought from parent groups because of their content. The series was created by Sherwood Schwartz and served as a way for him to make amends to two stars who had a connection to The Brady Bunch; namely Bulifant, who was set to play Carol Brady until the studio decided on a different direction leading to her replacement by Florence Henderson, and Rist, who was cast as Cousin Oliver in the final season before the show’s unexpected cancellation. To make Edelman and Rist resemble each other better, Rist’s hair was dyed brown and Edelman was given a hairpiece. 

Marjorie learns about her husband's second childhood.

The series also became a family affair as it was written and produced by Schwartz, along with his son, Lloyd, and brother, Albert. Other writers included Philip Taylor, Bruce Kalish, Ron Sellz, William Freedman, Ron Friedman, Alan Dinehart, Herbert Finn, Mark Fink, Sam Locke, Paul Roberts, Ben Gershman, Harry Winkler, Bruce Howard, David P. Harmon, and the comedy team of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker (who would go on to produce their own hit films, including Airplane! which featured Bulifant). The theme, which laid out the plot of the show, was written by John Thomas Lenox and Schwartz and performed by Jerry Whitman. Richard LaSalle handled the rest of the music.

Lucky John now gets to spend even MORE time in the classroom.

Unfortunately, the series didn’t have the staying power of Schwartz’s prior productions. It was made on a very tight budget and the scripts were extremely simplified for the Saturday morning audience. It was also visually unappealing as it was filmed on videotape before being transferred to film. The show was cancelled after a single season of 13 episodes, although Edelman and Rist would reunite the following year for the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. In 2009, Fabulous Films released the entire series to DVD in the United Kingdom, becoming the first Schwartz flop to be released in the format. A North American release was delayed by legal issues until VCI Entertainment managed to acquire the distribution rights in 2012.  

“A Sizeable Problem” (9/11/76) – When John Martin finds and drinks from the fountain of youth, he gains the involuntary ability to shift between his adult and child self.

“Peter Panic” (9/18/76) – John ends up having to play both Captain Hook and Peter Pan in the school play at the same time.

“Very Little John” (9/25/76) – John’s attempt at curing his condition leads his family to believe a baby left in his care is actually him.

“The Great Escape” (10/2/76) – Misplacing his ID leads to John being detained by a sheriff, at least until his form shifts.

“Big Scare, Little Scare” (10/9/76) – When John learns one of his students is afraid to pass by a particular house, he goes to investigate it.

“Big Shot/Little Shot” (10/16/76) – John’s shifting form winds up getting him vaccinated twice, but at least he was asked to join the basketball team.

“Time for Change” (10/23/76) – Believing he discovered the secret of the Fountain of Youth, John holds a press conference that doesn’t quite end up like he hoped.

“The Principal Who Came to Dinner” (10/30/76) – Something happens that ends up putting big and little John’s voices into their respective bodies.

“Bully for You” (11/6/76) – Big John talks about facing down bullies just as his alter-ego ends up the target of one.

“Off the Wall” (11/13/76) – John investigates who’s vandalizing the school.

“The Missing John” (11/20/76) – Little John plays a joke on the principal that lands him in big trouble.

“Speak for Yourself, John” (11/27/76) – Little John gets asked to the school’s Thanksgiving dance that Big John is asked to chaperone.

“Abracadabra” (12/4/76) – One of John’s students prepares a magic act for the school’s annual party.

No comments: