Hollywood! Adapt This: THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS

     February 3, 2013

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Last week on Hollywood! Adapt This! we brought up the idea of the global phenomenon of Pokémon for a live-action feature reboot.  This week we’ll go way more obscure and talk about a series of short stories from the early 1950s that were previously adapted into one feature film and a television series in the early 1960s.  At the center of the comedic stories about failed relationships was a teenage boy and his beatnik friend.  Over half a century later, it’s time for a fresh look at this property.  Hit the jump to find out more. Hollywood! Adapt this: The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.

dobie-gillisNot everything on Hollywood! Adapt This! needs to be a feature adaptation.  In this case, we’ll make an argument for a fresh take on the Dobie Gillis TV series, either as a contemporary re-imagining or a retro sitcom set in the 50s.

What It’s About

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis began as a series of short stories written by Max Shulman in 1951.  They centered on the title character, an average teenager who aspired to popularity, riches and relationships with attractive girls, all of which were well beyond his means.  The first adaptation came in 1953 with the feature film titled The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, starring Bobby Van and Debbie Reynolds.  The better-known adaptation was the CBS series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis that ran from 1959 to 1963 and starred Dwayne Hickman as the title character.  It also featured Bob Denver as Dobie’s best friend and TV’s first beatnik, Maynard G. Krebs. (Denver would later star in Gilligan’s Island after Dobie Gillis ended.)  The show also featured such lovely leading ladies as Tuesday Weld, Yvonne Craig and Joyce Jameson. 

The rest of the supporting cast was made up of Dobie’s Great Depression/World War II-era parents: the hard-working grocery store owner Herbert (Frank Faylen) and his doting mother Winnie (Florida Friebus).  Dobie’s modest upbringing wasn’t his only obstacle to landing a rich and popular girl.  Two of Dobie’s main antagonists were the rich kids Milton Armitage (Warren Beaty) and his cousin Chatsworth Osborne, Jr. (Steve Franken).  Rounding out the cast was Sheila James Kuehl who played Zelda Gilroy, a girl who was hopelessly in love with Dobie but lacked the flair to attract his attention.

dobie-gillis-dwayne-hickman-bob-denverHow Could / Why Should It Be Adapted?

There are two possible avenues for a series reboot of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis: a contemporary re-imagining or a 50s period retro sitcom.  Let’s take a contemporary approach first.  The closest thing to The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis is currently How I Met Your Mother.  The wildly successful CBS comedy series is framed as a father in the year 2030 telling his children about how he met their mother, with each episode taking place in the current day leading up to the eventual reveal of the woman who plays the mother.  The show doesn’t focus just on the central character, but his friends as well, and has branched out into more of an ensemble comedy.  With How I Met Your Mother renewed for a final season, CBS will need a fitting replacement.  The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis could be a worthwhile idea.  Each episode of the original series more or less focused on one failed relationship of Dobie’s, along with the hassles from his parents, conflicts with rich kids and the support of his friends.  A contemporary reboot could take the exact same template just applied to a modern setting and cast of characters.  Instead of an average high schooler, maybe Dobie is now a hard-working student at a small college.  Instead of a bongo-playing Beatnik, perhaps Maynard could be an equally counter-culture hipster.  Or, the show could take the retro route altogether.

With the success of AMC’s Mad Men, I’d be willing to bet that a 1950s/60s set sitcom could find an audience.  Using a retro approach, the original story wouldn’t have to be changed at all.  Even better, the writers could play around in the world of mid-twentieth century comedy without having to resort to today’s brand of low-hanging fruit.  If nothing else, the period costumes and language would give the show a different look from the rest of the sitcoms currently competing for prime time audiences.  One part nostalgia, one part retro history lesson, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis could entertain a whole new generation of TV watchers if done correctly.

The Final Word

I remember loving this show on Nick-at-Nite as a kid and I’d be happy to see a series reboot.  I think I’d prefer a retro approach rather than a contemporary reboot, but I’d be excited to see the show in any iteration.  Hickman’s delivery of Dobie’s lines was key to the show (along with Denver’s laid-back beatnik), and a leading actor would need to capture that essence.  Take a look at one of the episodes of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis below.

This may sound odd, but Daniel Tosh came to mind when watching Hickman’s performance.  At 37, he’s clearly too old to play a high school or college student, but a younger thespian with a similar delivery could pull it off.  If you were a fan of the original, let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Next week on Hollywood! Adapt This! we’ll get back to the high-octane action and comic adaptations you’ve come to know and love.  Let’s hunt some dinosaurs!

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