The Honeymooners: Short-Lived But Still Successful
The Honeymooners (1956) stands as an example of a seemingly unsuccessful show that would go on to become more beloved than many more successful shows of the same era. Lasting just one season of thirty-nine half-hour episodes, the series (filmed before a live audience) has since become one of the most syndicated series in the history of network television. The cast of The Honeymooners, led by Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden and Art Carney as Ed Norton, along with Audrey Meadows (Alice Kramden) and Joyce Randolph (Trixie Norton) created indelible portrayals of some of the most memorable characters ever to appear in a network situation comedy.
One of the reasons for the success of The Honeymooners is undoubtedly the social status of its characters. Unlike many other sitcoms of the period which featured prosperous middle-class families living in suburbia, the Kramdens and the Nortons are lower middle-class New Yorkers who live in a rundown tenement in Brooklyn. They are also portrayed as constantly squabbling, another contrast to the perfect couples who were the norm in 1950s television. Many of the episodes of the series revolved around Ralph’s get-rich-quick schemes, which would inevitably be frustrated.
The Honeymooners began life as a series of live sketches performed by Gleason during his many variety series. The sketches initially started with just Gleason and actress Pert Kelton as his acerbic wife; Kelton was eventually replaced by Meadows after she developed heart problems and was politically blacklisted. Eventually, Carney and Randolph were added to the sketches, and this became the cast of The Honeymooners show. Although initially a ratings success, the show fell out of the top 10 due to competition from the popular Perry Como Show, and Gleason decided to end the series and return to a variety show format. He sold all rights to the show to the network for just $1.5 million, a move which cost him millions in foregone revenues as The Honeymooners proved a bonanza in syndication.
Since then, The Honeymooners has played almost continuously in syndicated reruns, and has been released as successful DVD box sets, which also include the so-called “lost episodes,” re-edited filmed sketches from Gleason’s personal collection.