No Time for Sergeants (TV Series 1964– ) Poster

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Another Grand Scale, Titanic Storyline of an Idea, dashed on the Rocks of Shallow Sitcom Sea.
redryan647 December 2007
After success as a Novel, then as a one hour Play on the prestigious, live UNITED STATES STEEL HOUR in 1955, the stage play of NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS finally followed that highly unorthodox path to Broadway and to 796 successful performances between October 20, 1955 and September 14, 1957. With success like that, surely Hollywood would and did call.

Warner Brothers Pictures took the screen rights to the property and put it in the capable Directorial hands of solid comedy veteran, Mervyn LeRoy. The written pages of Mac Hyman (Novel) and Stage Play (Ira Levin) were given over to Screenwriter John Lee Mahin for the necessary adaptation and tune-up. The film boasted of having Andy Griffith as Will Stockdale, Myron McCormick as Sgt. King and newcomer Don Knotts as Cpl. John C. Brown (Physical Dexterity), all reprising their roles from Broadway. Once again, it was an overwhelming success.

So, about 5 or 6 years down the road, someone at Warner Brothers/Television Division came up with the bright idea of transforming the story to the Land of the TV Sitcom. After all, Phil Silvers had done the military comedy thing with his interpretation of SGT. BILKO in Nat Hiken's "YOU'LL NEVER GET RICH", aka "THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW". The same decade would see "McHALE'S NAVY", "ENSIGN O'TOOLE", "F TROOP" and even "BROADSIDE" (a female equivalent of McHale's Navy.). And even as they spoke, Sheldon Mayer, along with Danny Thomas Enterprises and in association with the CBS TV Network were preparing a spin-off from "THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW" to be called "GOMER PYLE, U.S.M.C." Obviously Andy Griffith would not be available to once again step into the Stockdale Shoes, and probably would be too, too expensive now. So, they set about rounding up a cast fit for this, yet another incarnation of the "Hillbilly Draft Dodger Saga." They cast amiable, general purpose actor Sammy Jackson as Will Stockdale. Harry Hilcox got the nod as Sgt. Orville King. Kevin O'Neal appeared as Will's closest friend, Ben Whitledge. The rest of the cast was rounded out by: Laurie Sibbald, Sennett Veteran Andy Clyde, Frank Ferguson (as Will's Paw), Hayden Rourke as the Colonel and others.

This time around, it was no dice! The show did not connect. And this couldn't be blamed on the Star, Sammy Jackson who tried and seemed to give it his all. Sammy, who had been in the movie cast of NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS (seen as an unnamed, uncredited recruit on board the same bus as Will and Ben.) The problem lay with the tenderizing and "dumbing down" of the humor and situations in order to make the story fit for family viewing. Hence, Will's position of Permanent Latrine Orderly, or "P.L.O.", became "Permanent Kitchen Police" as presumably family people do not have bladders or bowel movements. The character and personality of Will Stockdale is hence transformed from a good, but extremely naive, backward and uneducated Hillbilly lad into a male version of a helpful Hannah or Goodie Two-shoes. This transformation and characterization just wasn't very workable, not very appealing nor was it very funny. And that is the bottom line in any comedy.
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Gomer Pyle meets Soldier Schweik
F Gwynplaine MacIntyre13 October 2003
In the mid-1960s, I worked for a TV production firm in London that occasionally bought the British syndication rights to American TV programmes. Consequently, our staff's underpaid dogsbody (me) had to deal with kinescopes and tapes from Yank TV producers who hoped to get their programmes shown in Britain. In this capacity, I had the dubious privilege of watching three episodes of 'No Time for Sergeants'.

The sample episodes came with a promo reel, in which George Burns (of Burns and Allen) meets a self-effacing young man and says to him "I know you! You're Sammy Jackson, star of 'No Time for Sergeants'!" Jackson modestly admits as much, and then they start talking about what a wonderful show 'No Time for Sergeants' is. I was a bit naff in those days, so I assumed that Sammy Jackson must be somebody important if a showbiz veteran like George Burns recognised him. I didn't realise that Burns was just reading scripted lines to collect a payday. (Years later, I learnt that this sitcom was produced by Burns's production company.) Too bad that George Burns never guested on 'No Time for Sergeants'.

'No Time for Sergeants' was originally an unfunny and episodic novel by some guy named Mac Hyman, that somehow got turned into a hit Broadway play by Ira Levin: yes, the Ira Levin of 'Rosemary's Baby' and 'The Stepford Wives'. The play became a hit movie, then the movie provoked this dumb TV sitcom (with none of the actors who had made the play and movie a success).

'No Time for Sergeants' premiered on America's ABC-TV network in September 1964, running for 34 episodes and lasting just under a year. All 34 episodes eventually landed on Britain's ITV network, transmitting from February '65 through November '69. Why did the same number of episodes last so much longer on Britain's airwaves? Because ITV never scheduled this series for a regular time slot; instead, it was used as filler to plug gaps in the schedule when no intelligent programming was on offer.

Sammy Jackson (with a thick cornpone accent) played Will Stockdale, a Georgia yokel who gets conscripted into the Air Force. He's very eager and hard-working, but he's too trusting and gormless with it. No matter how hard he tries to do right, he always incurs the wrath of Sergeant King. Will's fellow squaddie Ben (slightly more intelligent) tries to keep him out of trouble but seldom succeeds. As we all know, servicemen have plenty of free time all day (at least in bad TV sitcoms), so Will has plenty of time to visit with his hillbilly dad and with his girlfriend Millie.

One very big drawback to 'N.T.f.S.' is that it's nearly identical to another Yank sitcom that premiered the same month in 1964, on a rival network: 'Gomer Pyle USMC'. They're set in different branches of the US military, but both programmes have the same relationship between a gormless squaddie and an irascible sergeant ... with the minor difference that 'Gomer Pyle' is much funnier and better written, with better production values. Mind you, I'm no huge fan of 'Gomer Pyle' nor of Jim Nabors, but ... well, let's just say that 'No Time for Sergeants' lacks the subtle underplaying and deft social commentary of 'Gomer Pyle USMC'. Also, in the dramatics department, Sammy Jackson makes Jim Nabors seem like Sir John Gielgud.

A bigger problem is that 'No Time for Sergeants' AND 'Gomer Pyle' BOTH ripped off their premise from 'The Good Soldier Schweik', a novel that is very famous in Europe but which appears to be utterly unknown to everyone in America (except the guy who ripped it off for these two TV shows). Schweik is a moronic klutz of an army private who just wants to be 'a good soldier', but his efforts to please his sergeant only reap disaster.

The TV version of 'No Time for Sergeants' had a decent supporting cast, most notably the Scottish-born silent-film comedian Andy Clyde as Millie's grandfather. The American TV producer who tried to sell this series to my bosses in London kept hyping Andy Clyde's nationality, without realising that Andy Clyde spent his whole film career in Hollywood and he was unknown in his native Britain. Harry Hickox, a character actor who deserved better roles (and who was brilliant as the villain in 'The Music Man'), does a splendid slow-burn here as Will Stockdale's exasperated sergeant. Hayden Rorke, in a colonel's uniform, gives the same dull one-note performance here that he would repeat a year later (in a different uniform) on 'I Dream of Jeannie'.

Some great old sitcoms are languishing in TV Limbo, but 'No Time for Sergeants' is unworthy of resurrection. About turn, forward march!
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