In my brief time doing interviews on the site it’s always fun when the interview isn’t delineated into interviewer/subject, but two people having a conversation about a subject they both enjoy. So it was with my interview with Bewitched Continuum author, Adam-Michael James. In our nearly 45-minute review (not all of which is included here since the final 20 minutes or so were non-classic related tangents ranging from the fun of Showgirls to a mutual hatred for Leslie Howard in Gone With the Wind), we discussed a myriad of topics all stemming from a love of Bewitched.
Kristen: I was so proud of myself. I just finished the book this morning.
Adam-Michael: I’m proud of you. I’ve never actually tried to read it just to read it. I know that 630 pages is a lot for someone to read. I’ve never even read it all the way through, except to edit it.
K: You detailed in the intro what the process was and what inspired you to write this, but for those who haven’t read the book yet, what inspired you to tackle the “continuum?”
AM: I’ve watched the show since I was 8 years old, back when it was shag carpeting and disco. So I’ve had a long, storied history with the show, watching it over and over. I used to record it on cassette tapes when I was a kid. As I got older, and started paying more attention to continuity in shows – there was a Star Trek book, called “The Nitpickers Guide for Next Generation Trekkers,” that was the book that got me into continuity in the first place. I was aware of it but never thought of it as a concept. I started writing script coverage for Hollywood studios. I’ve been writing opinion columns for soapcentral.com for the last six years so continuity’s always been in my head; I apply that same kind of magnifying glass to my own work to make sure everything flows together. As I was watching Bewitched I started noticing some things fit together and other things didn’t. I found it fascinating. I thought, “Well, if there’s anytime to write a book about it, it would be with the 50th-anniversary of the show” which was last September, so that was my target date.
K: You used the term “nitpickers” when discussing the formulation of the book. What would you say to those who immediately look at this book and think it’s just a bunch of nitpicks by a fan?
AM: Everyone’s gonna take away what they want from it. A lot of people would say “Oh, why would you write a book about that?” A lot depends on your feelings about the show, your memories of it, whether you know it exists because we’ve gone into two generations since the show was on. I think it’s a valid question, but, at the same time, Bewitched is a classic television show worth remembering and that was the whole point of the book; for the nostalgic fans to remember the show and explore it, and to introduce it to new audiences.
K: What was the writing and research process like? Was it just watching endless episodes?
AM: It helped that I already knew the show pretty intimately. It was basically me and the laptop, the DVD player. I took all my notes by hand. I’d watch through an episode once to write down whatever came to mind. Then, I’d watch it a second time to write the synopsis and make sure that was clear because I wanted readers to look at the book without having to necessarily look at an episode, although I wanted to encourage them to watch the show. So, doing that for 254 episodes took awhile. It took 8 or 9 months. Fortunately, we had a very intense winter last year, so I had time to devote to it. I’m like a dog with a bone when I start a project, so if I’m gonna do it I’m gonna throw myself in all the way. Herbie J. Pilato [author of Twitch Upon a Star] was very helpful, working as the editor and writing the forward of the book. I could have gotten anybody to be the editor, but he also had such an intimate knowledge of the show and understood what I was trying to do. He was pulling certain things out, and I took it upon myself to do more cutting. Believe it or not, there was a lot of cutting! That was another six months there. It was definitely getting towards the middle of 2014. It was a fascinating process. I discovered the show, myself, in new ways.
K: I found myself pulling my copies of Bewitched out while reading, noticing the changing of the doors and the different furniture based on the mandates of the plot. It definitely inspired me to give the show another look.
AM: And that’s good because that’s the intent of the book!
K: Speaking of Herbie’s book, there’s still such interest in Bewitched to this day, with talk of bringing it back to television. What do you think is the show’s continued appeal? Is it just the combination of the supernatural and the sitcom, or something more?
AM: I like to think everybody wants to believe in magic, to one degree or another. We live a very practical life where people have to be realistic and Bewitched has extraordinary people doing extraordinary things for 22 minutes an episode. Looking back at my own childhood, the thing I got from it, was the sense we could do our own magic, not necessarily witchcraft, but we could do amazing things in our own lives. Bewitched takes those mortal boundaries away, while tackling racism and equality for everyone layered in these supernatural stories. There’s the nostalgic thing too, tying it back to childhood. The fact the show still resonates with audiences in their teens and twenties is awesome. The fact they’re bringing back the show, a continuation, not a straight-up reboot, gives me hope. If they need any help with continuity in the new series, I know a little thing about that!
K: I remember when they did the movie, connected in name only, and then didn’t they do the Tabitha show?
AM: Yes, in 1977 when suddenly Tabitha was in her 20s despite that, in no way, being possible.
K: We have Netflix, Hulu, all these ways to watch television. Has noticing continuity been brought to the forefront more or less with these new technologies?
AM: Definitely more, and it’s not just Hulu, although that was something I hadn’t thought about. I think there’s more of an awareness of continuity. It’s more about social media and the idea you can binge watch, jump on social media and Tweet about the stuff. Even with brand new shows, people jump on Twitter and make comments saying “This doesn’t match up.” Back in the day, they didn’t have to worry about that because it only aired once, you didn’t have a VCR to tape it and watch it over the summer. They could come back a year later and say “Samantha said this;” you’re gonna go with it because there’s no way you’d remember it. That’s why lining the episodes up now is fascinating. It’s never meant to take away from the fun of the show, it’s just another way of looking at it.
K: Well, let’s open it up to the fun stuff. Do you have a continuity mistake that frustrates you the most? One that was never definitively answered in Bewitched’s history?
AM: Ooh, that’s interesting! There are a few that come to mind: Samantha’s family tree. They only hinted at who’s related to who, and they didn’t have all the relatives on at the same time. (They probably could only afford to have one guest at a time.) You mentioned in your review, whether a witch could undo another witch’s spell; they were a little clearer about that as they went along. A big question was does a witch have power over another witch? They answered that vaguely. I loved that you mentioned Jonathan Tate.
K: That’s my big one!
AM: That probably is the biggest one, because they went through all the trouble of having Louise be pregnant in a whole episode; she had Jonathan off-screen [and he] showed up off-screen once or twice, and that’s it. It’s bad enough when a main character’s kid is in the background – that happened too – but, at the same time, why bring it up if you’re not going to follow through on it? I hope he figures prominently in the new series.
K: Have him be the unseen neighbor!
AM: He could be running McMann and Tate!
K: I was also bothered by Darrin’s numerous opportunities to go out and strike it rich, but he never did.
AM: (laughs) I know, it was so annoying! I think the reason for that is you have an ensemble cast. You have to keep Larry in the mix, so it was part of the device to have Darrin decide to leave. But he always came off like a doormat about the whole thing. It would have been cool for Darrin to open his own agency, even for three or four episodes, to get an idea and have Larry get what he has coming to him for treating Darrin so badly. It’s a sitcom, it’s not a soap, but that was my feeling. There was one sequence in the fifth season where Larry fired Darrin three episodes in a row!
K: You start to analyze it psychologically.
AM: He was like “Oh, he’s my best friend!” But what best friend gets fired every two days?
K: Darrin, too, was always threatening to leave Samantha and the kids.
AM: I hated that! That made me so mad. Right in the fourth season you kept saying “What about Tabitha?”
K: That brings me to the immortal question – Who’s your Darrin? Do you prefer one over the other?
AM: People always ask me that. The thing about it is I tend to not prefer one over the other. There are things I like about each, but it’s almost unfair to put them side-by-side and say which is better. I like to say Dick York is the Darrin of the ’60s and Dick Sargent is the Darrin of the ’70s. Maybe it’s harder to see Dick York going into the ’70s and Dick Sargent being in the ’60s.
K: Dick York always came off more slapsticky, while Dick Sargent seemed more mellow.
AM: That makes sense. And it also came through in the writing. Darrin was starting to mellow out before the recast because you can’t keep doing the same schtick; they were married at five years by that point, he’d be used to witchcraft. To me, Dick York’s Darrin was a little more of a hothead, but that’s not his fault, that’s the way it was written and directed. I don’t think Dick York wanted to play it that way. It was an interesting segue when Dick Sargent took over.
K: I heard Dick York’s autobiography recounts how much he loved Elizabeth Montgomery and how depressed he was about leaving the show. When you rewatch those episodes – Elizabeth Montgomery could have chemistry with anyone – but it seemed to effect him long after he left.
AM: I hadn’t heard that until last year when I went to Bewitched Fan Fare in L.A. But when you look back at the interactions between Dick and Elizabeth, you can see it. And yet the interactions between Dick Sargent and Elizabeth are different; Dick Sargent being gay and being best friends with Elizabeth, you pick up on that. I think Elizabeth was just such an awesome person and I got confirmation on that at Fan Fare. She did a television movie in 1984, I was 14-years-old, she played a blind woman in this movie called Second Sight. By that point I’d been following Bewitched like crazy. I got it in my head to write her this fan letter, and a few months later I got an autographed, personalized picture, so I always had this thought of “Wow, how cool. She didn’t have to do that.” Going to Fan Fare and listening to people who worked with her, it was validating.
K: And I think why she worked so well with the character of Samantha because both are modern women. She was so refreshing in that Samantha was an equal partner in her marriage with her own personality.
AM: I completely agree. In the black and white years Samantha was a bit more “Yes, dear, whatever you say.” As the whole Civil Rights Movement went on with Women’s Liberation, the show embraced it and Elizabeth’s own beliefs and sensibilities got warped into the show. It was great to embrace that and show television audiences you had a strong woman, not just because she was a witch but because she was her own person.
K: My last question is the one you must know is coming – Do you have a favorite episode?
AM: I do! In the back of the book I include my ten best and worst. My favorite, and I have many, is “Sisters at Heart,” the seventh season Christmas episode. It’s where Tabitha has a friend, a little girl that’s African-American, and she wants them to be sisters so badly that she accidentally gives them different pigmented polka dots. At the same time, Darrin has a client who’s a racist and assumes the African-American girl is Darrin’s daughter and drops the account. It’s the show’s most direct attack on racism. The episode has so much heart and it’s also fun and magical. You gotta remember, this is 1970, and it’s pretty renegade. I think the fact it’s so progressive for the time is why it stands out.
K: That’s on my ten but I love “Tabitha’s Very Own Samantha.”
AM: That’s one of mine, too. “What baby?”
As mentioned above, the rest of the interview goes through a litany of barely classic film related topics that left me laughing. Adam-Michael James’ book is immense, but it’s an expertly written compendium written with all the fervor only a true fan can muster. And considering how in-depth James and I talked about Bewitched, the man knows his stuff. You can visit Adam-Michael James’ official website here and purchase The Bewitched Continuum at the link below.
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