A Little History
In 1961, TV producer Leonard Stern (Get Smart) was having his house remodeled. As he observed the construction workers building a hood over his fireplace, he noticed they had sealed their steel ladder inside. It took hours for the workers to deconstruct the fireplace to retrieve the ladder. While watching otherwise intelligent and talented men endeavor to hastily rectify their incompetence, a light bulb lit up inside Stern’s head.
With this incident in mind, Leonard Stern approached the ABC television network. With classic TV credits such as Sgt. Bilko, The Honeymooners and The Steve Allen Show under his belt, Stern’s new show was not a hard sell. I’m Dickens He’s Fenster, starring John Astin (The Addams Family) and Marty Ingels (The Dick Van Dyke Show) was ultimately given the green light for the 1962-63 TV season.
Initially, the show was not a ratings bonanza. Playing opposite stiff competition — Route 66 on CBS and Sing Along with Mitch on NBC — and airing on a struggling network, D&F had difficulty finding its audience. However, one audience was finding the show and loving it-the television critics. Instead of Singing Along with Mitch, newspaper and magazine scribes from coast to coast were singing the praises of this hilarious little show about two skillfully etched, hilariously delineated construction workers named Dickens and Fenster.
One reason for their enthusiasm, and that of the show’s relatively small but loyal audience, was that the show wasn’t simply a series of slapsticky skits. While the emphasis was always on comedy, almost every episode commented on issues such as greed, mob mentality, conformity, and social inequality. But unlike the title characters, the audience wasn’t hit over the head with the hammer of a preachy polemic every week.
Ironically, just as D&F was gaining popularity and winning its time slot, ABC cancelled the series after only one season of 32 episodes. Without enough episodes for syndication, unfortunately, this little gem of a TV comedy show quickly faded from the public’s memory.
But now, the ‘condemned’ notice has been been lifted. Having recovered the film after a lengthy excavation in various Hollywood studio basements, tracked down the cast members and production staff, and lovingly restoring the images to their former glory, we’re aiming to release I’m Dickens He’s Fenster on DVD in 2011!
But a word of warning…just don’t let them build your fireplace!