The WGF Blog:

Dispatches from the far reaches of the WGF.

Halloween Script Cavalcade: The Munsters

by

The following anecdote is from a development / pitch document for The Munsters (1964):

In honor of Halloween, I’m here to make a different kind of pitch for The Munsters. The WGF Archive recently processed a bounty of scripts and materials relating to the zany, ghoulish family. Most of this collection hails from Norm Liebmann who is credited with developing the show alongside his writing partner Ed Haas and creators Allan Burns & Chris Hayward. The Munsters collection is expansive and features many useful highlights like the aforementioned pitch document—items that will appeal to writers of all stripes as well as TV history fans and scholars.

Newspaper clippings from the collection tell us that The Munsters premiered on CBS the very same week in September as another show about a strange, macabre family living in a large and ominous house at the end of a suburban, neighborhood street. That other show was, of course, The Addams Family, which premiered on ABC. As it happens, Bewitched also made its series premiere that same fateful week. It might seem strange or coincidental for three shows of similar ilk and like themes to hit television airwaves within mere days of each other.

David Levy, creator of the TV Addams Family, didn’t seem to think so. In a Los Angeles Times article dated August 11th, 1964, Levy, a former head of programming at NBC, states that:

Ideas float like confetti over Madison Ave. and it is not surprising that when the time is right for a particular type of show that two networks might decide to go with it.

The 1960s in America became a time of counterculture and unprecedented pushes for civil rights. We can see this reflected in shows about unconventional families trying to assimilate with “normal” people in the suburbs. Indeed, the Munsters, the Addams, or Samantha Stephens become stand-ins for any group of people who might feel marginalized or on the outs in American society or family life, calling ideas of normalcy and conformity into question and possibly making an argument for wider acceptance.

In addition to commentary, the idea of monsters or a slightly off-beat, deathy family trying to interact with or fit in with regular folks produces a lot of comedy.

Shows like The Munsters gain legs on the strength of their concepts. What makes the WGF Archives’ Munsters collection so informative is that those who mine it for information and inspiration can see how a show evolves from mere idea to full-fledged television program—how it moves from a successful pitch to a TV microcosm that fans are able to relate to and take part in.

Munsters Concept Illustration, Norman Liebmann Collection, Writers Guild Foundation Archive

Liebmann & Haas put the concept across in such a cogent way on paper that one visualizes the series and how it will work on screen from week to week. Furthermore, most of the episodes from the show’s two-season run, are available as outlines, step outlines, rough drafts and final drafts so one can trace the full process of an episode’s writing. This kind of information can be helpful even to writers working in today’s current streaming atmosphere.

It’s particularly fascinating to examine the evolution of certain jokes within an episode. Having written for such late night and variety show luminaries as Johnny Carson and Jerry Lewis, Liebmann & Haas are quintessential joke masters with endless ideas brought forth onto the page and even more refinements. (See my earlier blog post about Liebmann’s contributions to The Roast of Bette Davis here).

No part of the writing and show-creating process is spared from this collection. In addition to scripts, there’s correspondence and notes from the show’s other writer/producers Joe Connelly & Bob Mosher who, prior to joining The Munsters, produced Amos ‘n Andy and Leave It to Beaver. Because Universal Studios produced The Munsters, the show had almost unfettered access to Universal’s most well-known scary creatures. This is the reason the show was able to include characters like Herman molded on Frankenstein or Grandpa molded on Dracula. In fact, the recognizability of such characters is a likely part of the show’s appeal.

Munsters Promotional Material, Norman Liebmann Collection, Writers Guild Foundation Archive

Norm Liebmann took great care to save most of his writing-related documents. The Munsters materials shine a light on everything from how the writers negotiated their contracts to how early Fred Gwynne had to be in his make-up chair every day on set. There’s even fun paraphernalia from the show’s fan clubs like this membership card from the The Jeepers Keepers Fan Club.

Norman Liebmann Collection, Writers Guild Foundation Library

It’s an ideal collection for anyone looking to gain a greater understanding of a classic sitcom’s evolution from script to screen. For more information on this collection and others available in the WGF Archive, please visit our website.

And if you’re looking for other spooky fair to get you in the mood for Halloween, try checking out some scripts from the library’s collection of features. We recommend:

  • John Carpenter‘s script for Halloween
  • Hocus Pocus written by Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert
  • Charles Schultz‘s dialogue script for It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown