Old School Americana & Nostalgia


‘I Dream of Jeannie’: Why the Magical Sitcom is the Pinnacle of Classic TV

‘I Dream of Jeannie’: Why the Magical Sitcom is the Pinnacle of Classic TV

Classic TV fans all have their favorite shows. For many, that show is I Dream of Jeannie.

Sure, this NBC sitcom starring Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman did not set the ratings world on fire. It never placed in Nielsen’s top 10 during its five-season run between 1965 and 1970. But in this case, we’re talking about classic TV — the shows that have longevity in the world of reruns.

I Dream of Jeannie‘s initial premise of a master (Hagman’s Tony Nelson) owning his genie (Eden’s Jeannie) would never fly in today’s world. In the world of 1960s sitcoms, though, there was space for it.

Let’s also not forget Jeannie’s magical qualities which were both problematic (for Tony) and funny (for us). All the times that Jeannie thought she was doing something good for Tony… and they backfired. She had her moments when getting revenge on Tony’s behalf overtook her senses, too.

But these magical qualities had to be hidden. No one except Tony really knew what was going down when he found himself back on land. Yeah, when he’s supposed to be in space! The crossover between fantasy and reality just gets suspended, to a degree, in I Dream of Jeannie. That’s one element that makes this show the pinnacle of classic TV.

‘I Dream of Jeannie’ Had Wild Storylines

Look at how many times Jeannie (Barbara Eden), Tony (Larry Hagman), Roger Healey (Bill Daily), Dr. Bellows (Hayden Rorke), or even Mrs. Bellows (Emmaline Henry) are involved in strange storylines.

Strange in the sense that they would not occur with everyday people. These sitcom-only situations fit within the confines of I Dream of Jeannie. The Blue Djinn? Come on, man. Then there’s Djinn Djinn, Jeannie’s dog that went nuts tearing up Tony’s uniform. Seeing Jeannie put herself in a pencil holder, which she “shrinks” herself down to fit in there? Funny stuff. It does make sense within this sitcom’s world. Not so much in the modern-day world, circa 1960s, or even in the present day.

To reach the pinnacle of classic TV, a sitcom also needs some solid guest stars. I Dream of Jeannie packed them in through five seasons. One memorable show is The Greatest Entertainer in the World, when Tony asks Sammy Davis Jr. to sing at an event for General Peterson (Barton MacLane). Davis said he couldn’t do it because of another gig out of town. Jeannie comes up with the brilliant idea of creating a double for Davis. While one Sammy is out of town, the “other Sammy” can entertain General Peterson and the audience assembled.

Again, this is a sitcom situation.

What A Guest Star List For A Sitcom

But the guest-star list is just getting started. Paul Lynde, Jackie Coogan, Billy Mumy, Jamie Farr, Bernard Fox, Groucho Marx, Milton Berle, Don Rickles, Richard Deacon, Bob Denver, Rosey Grier, Joe Flynn, Farrah Fawcett, Jim Backus, and others popped up. Heck, some of these cats are associated with other classic TV shows.

Yet their appearances added a little extra “pop” to these episodes. They helped I Dream of Jeannie along the way. Yes, having these stars show up does matter. Some can point fingers and say the show did it because of bad ratings. OK, well, even shows with good ratings in their heyday had guest stars.

Let’s also look at the relationship between Jeannie and Tony. As mentioned earlier, the initial master genie structure would not pass in today’s world. But Tony developed a fondness for Jeannie, probably from the first time he set his eyes on her on the beach. Jeannie, of course, was forever grateful to be freed from her bottle after many years.

The Jeannie-Tony Relationship Had Its Moments

She, too, developed a love for her master. It was not until near the series’ end after Tony married Jeannie that she called him by his first name.

Hearing her call him “Master” all the time also added a confusing touch to their relationship. There was respect between them. Jeannie did have a sense of humor about herself, which came out in bits and spurts. Put that up against the at-times manic behavior and nervous laughter pouring out of Major Nelson. Over the sitcom’s run, Jeannie and Tony warmed up to one another. Having this underlying romantic tension between the characters proved to be a connecting thread.

This magical, funny, wild, wonderful sitcom had all the elements there for a funny show. Again, though, I Dream of Jeannie, which was created as an answer to ABC’s smash hit Bewitched, just couldn’t get up in the TV ratings. The show, in its original run, only hit No. 26 as its top level. But here’s another nugget for classic TV fans. When the show reportedly premiered in reruns on WPIX in New York City, it scored a big number. People loved seeing I Dream of Jeannie even after NBC canceled the show. This popularity led to TV movies based on the series.

Eden, Hagman, and Daily all went on to appear in other TV shows and movies. Eden is now 92 and remains the last living star of I Dream of Jeannie. And no, she does not mind fans from all over the world remembering her as Jeannie. That’s even six decades after she first appeared in the role.

I Dream of Jeannie, in its purest form, is the pinnacle of classic TV. No, it’s a different series from I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, Gilligan’s Island, and other classic TV favorites. Taken in its basic format, though, the magical sitcom more than holds its own against tough competition.