Two of television’s legendary sitcoms, You’ll Never Get Rich, a.k.a. The Phil Silvers Show, (1955-59, CBS) and Car 54, Where Are

Two of television’s legendary sitcoms, You’ll Never Get Rich, a.k.a. The Phil Silvers Show, (1955-59, CBS) and Car 54, Where Are You? (1961-63, NBC), were the brainchildren of Nat Hiken, without a doubt the most fertile comic mind in TV history. Hiken, in the 40’s, had been acerbic comedian Fred Allen’s head writer on his radio show-a job that proved frustrating, as it was largely assumed that Allen wrote his own material. He then went on to write and direct comic actress Martha Raye’s weekly TV variety show, to much acclaim. In 1955, he became television’s first comedic auteur, creating, writing, producing and directing You’ll Never Get Rich, a vehicle for the inspired comic dynamo Phil Silvers. Silvers portrayed Master Sgt. Ernest G. Bilko, an ingenious, money-hungry, always charming con man, a role well tailored to Silvers’ real-life personality. The weekly plots (many written by Hiken discoveries such as the young Neil Simon) revolved around the world of Bilko’s Machiavellian money-making schemes. The regular group of supporting characters was ethnically diverse-a Hiken trademark, and a rarity in the white-bread world of 50’s TV. It included the incredibly homely Maurice Gosfield as Private Duane Doberman, Bilko’s ultimate patsy, who women inexplicably found irresistible. You’ll Never Get Rich remains one of the great classics of the Golden Age of Television. Car 54, Where Are You?, filmed on location in the Bronx, depicted the goings-on of the fictional 53rd Precinct. The stars were Fred Gwynne, long of body and sad of face, as Officer Francis Muldoon, and Joe E. Ross as his partner, Gunther Toody, short, squat and lovably stupid. The two stars had perfect chemistry-Toody with his endless ramblings (“Nobody swears vengeance like John Wayne”) as Muldoon drove on in a dreamlike stupor. Just like Bilko, Car 54 utilized an ethnically diverse cast (which included, among others, Ossie Davis) and many Runyonesque Bronx characters, such as Molly Picon as Mrs. Bronson. The supporting cast was unforgettable, notably Paul Reed as the exasperated Captain Block; Beatrice Pons as Toody’s shrewish wife, Lucile; and Al Lewis as the combustible Patrolman Leo Schnauser. The show ran for only two seasons yet became a beloved cult favorite, fondly remembered for its hilariously clever episodes. After several years of creative inactivity due to the changing tide of network TV, Nat Hiken died in 1968 at the age of 54. Once the most celebrated creator of television comedy-and also winner of eight Emmy Awards-today he’s largely forgotten. His two masterpieces richly deserve to be discovered by today’s laughter-deprived generation, yet neither show is available on DVD. Which is why we ask …

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