Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Bewitched Continuum: An Interview with Author Adam-Michael James

There are episode guides to popular television series--and then there's The Bewitched Continuum. Adam-Michael James' new book contains plot summaries and entertaining trivia about each of the 254 episodes of Bewitched--but James doesn't stop there. He explores the "world" of Bewitched, uncovering intriguing connections and inconsistencies among the episodes. For example, in episode #190, Super Arthur, "Samantha suggests that Uncle Arthur brush up on his driving in case he’s grounded – but forgets that he was already made earthbound on her behalf in Samantha’s Power Failure (#165)." Author James also acts, wrote the book for the musical The Nine Lives of L.M. Montgomery, and pens a column on The Bold and the Beautiful for Amazingly, he still found time to stop by the Cafe to discuss The Bewitched Continuum: The Ultimate Linear Guide to the Classic TV Series.

Café:  You've been a Bewitched fan since age 8. What drew you to the show as a youngster and what continues to attract you as an adult?

Author Adam-Michael James.
Adam-Michael James:  Well, it’s funny--it was 1977; I can remember sitting in the den that afternoon, what it looked like, and what episode I saw [it was “I Confess” (#135)], but not why I was in front of the TV in the first place. All I remember is seeing this lady making a bucket of water appear over a man’s head and dumping it on him. From there, I was hooked. I’m sure as a child it was the people popping in and out and the spells and the sound effects that captured my imagination. I’ve only recently been able to articulate it as an adult: it’s still the magic, but not the fictional kind. I guess I saw extraordinary people doing extraordinary things, and it made me feel like I had a magic of my own, which the show clued me in to. I don’t mean witchcraft magic, but an “I can do anything” kind of magic. I guess it spoke to me and still speaks to me, living in this very rational, practical world of ours that imposes limits on us. Of course, the appeal of the show today is also a certain nostalgia, remembering deep down how the show made me feel as a kid. But that “magic within” message is still there--and, since the show was written for adults, I pick up on many more things from that perspective than I did as a child watching people disappear.

Café:  Watching, documenting, and comparing 254 episodes must have been a massive undertaking. How long did it take you to write The Bewitched Continuum? What were some of your biggest challenges?

Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha.
AMJ:  I tend not to do creative projects unless they’re massive undertakings. (laughs) At least with Bewitched, I already had an intimate knowledge of the show from childhood, so it’s not like I had to discover every episode from scratch. I mean, my Dad showed me how to record the show on cassette by the time I was 10--and how to fix tapes, since I was always coming to him to fix them. So I had that heightened familiarity going in. I would watch an episode, write down anything I observed, and then go back and watch a second time to write the synopsis. Then I split the continuity and story issues into four categories: “Good!”, “Well?”, “Oh, My Stars!” and “Son of a Gun!” which are all pretty self-explanatory and of course catchphrases from the show. Deciding what to include and what to cut had its challenges. I’d say it took me about eight months to do the first draft. Then I did a two-month round of proofreading and editing before taking on Herbie J. Pilato as my editor. Herbie, as you know, started it all in terms of books about the show with The Bewitched Book. The guidance he gave me was more about changing the tone of some of my observations, because in my soap columns I’m free to be snarky, but that wasn’t something that was necessary with this project. And from there, I spent another month or so changing and cutting and moving quotation marks and making sure commas were where they were supposed to be. I would call that the most challenging. The creative process is often glorious, but editing and proofreading can get very laborious and tedious before it becomes liberating.

Café:  You've come up with some fabulous lists, such as all 31 relatives of Tabitha that appear on Bewitched (to include cousins once removed such as Miranda). Which of your lists were the most fun to compile?

AMJ:  I wasn’t even going to do lists at first, but as I was going along there was such a treasure trove of biographical information and trivia, I had to include them. “Square Green Spots and Sick Headaches,” where I chronicle both mortal and witch diseases, was fun because it was fairly simple. But I think “By the Numbers” was fulfilling in addition to being fun. I really was curious to count up how many episodes Samantha *didn’t* use her powers, how many times Larry fired Darrin, how many times Endora called Darrin “Durwood,” and all that. I knew I was going to tackle that list early on, so I wrote its info in the corners of my episode notes to make the counting easier. I double- and triple-counted everything, so it’s accurate to the best of my mortal knowledge. (laughs) I found the character bios, which you mentioned, particularly fascinating as well. They were all taken from random information revealed during the show. I compile bios for characters on, too, so that’s where I got the idea.

Café:  “Sisters at Heart” (#213) tops your list of the best Bewitched episodes. But what is your personal favorite and why?

A scene from "Sisters at Heart"
AMJ:  My best and worst lists are a pretty accurate reflection of my personal favorites. Of course, that’s not to say my pick for number one worst is a horrible episode; I just felt it didn’t fit the overall tone of the show. Conversely, “Sisters At Heart” (#213) does--it tackles racism and tolerance and acceptance, which was really the central message of Bewitched. Any time a show or a movie or a song can entertain, then educate without hitting me over the head, I’m all for it. Plus, I just can’t resist a Tabitha episode. Another really good episode is “Samantha’s Good News” (#168), which I suspect was intended to be that season’s finale because Samantha reveals she’s pregnant. What’s really cool about that episode is that there’s not a single mortal to be found in it! It’s the first and only time that happened. It was just a neat look into the witch world--which I think, in a lot of ways, is what intrigues fans most about the show.

Café:  Who was the better Darrin:  Dick York or Dick Sargent? You gotta pick one!

Dick York and Dick Sargent.
AMJ:  Ooh, I always get asked this! (laughs) It’s kind of a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t question because no matter which one I pick, the other fan base will be annoyed. To be honest, it’s not a particularly fair question, because Dick Sargent gets such a bum rap for replacing Dick York, when he was just doing his job as an actor, and Dick York had no choice but to give up the role because of his back injury (which he sustained making the 1959 film, They Came to Cordura). I guess given my own personal history, if I really have to pick one, I will say Dick Sargent, but only by a hair. Perhaps I sensed a kindred spirit in him at a young age, and he took over in 1969, which was the year I was born, so his Darrin’s world is more familiar to me. But that’s not to take anything away from Dick York. In fact, doing The Bewitched Continuum made me appreciate what he brought to the role even more. So maybe in the Battle of the Darrins, it would be Dick Sargent, 50.1%, Dick York, 49.9%.

Café:  You mention that many TV series today have "bibles" that serve as a reference document used for information on a series' characters, settings, and plot points. Do you have a tendency now to notice more continuity errors despite the writers' efforts to prevent them?

AMJ:  I think television dramas with continuing storylines always had those bibles; it’s just that they weren’t really necessary for sitcoms when Bewitched was on the air. It’s pretty obvious that today’s sitcoms use them: look at Big Bang Theory and Modern Family. Their episodes are self-contained, but they constantly refer to other episodes and bring back recurring characters and other elements. There’s definitely a forward motion and a sense of things being tied together. Actually, I started noticing continuity errors long before now. My book was largely inspired by Phil Farrand’s The Nitpicker’s Guide for Next Generation Trekkers, which started me on continuity in the first place. And then doing script coverage for Hollywood studios heightened my awareness of continuity, as has dissecting The Bold and the Beautiful in my columns. I’m terrible to go to the movies or watch TV with! I’m always like, “Wait a minute…” (laughs) Though I do realize shows and films have deadlines and scenes get cut, so inevitably things are going to slip through the cracks.

Café:  What do you think about NBC's announcement to produce a Bewitched pilot about Samantha's granddaughter Daphne?

AMJ:  I’d heard about potential reboots for years, where a new Samantha and Darrin would be cast, and I just cringed, because reboots tend to be awful as a general rule. With Bewitched, I always thought a continuation would be better, so I find it encouraging that that’s the direction this pilot is going. The big thing is, they have to bring Bewitched into the 21st century while being true to its roots. That’s why the Tabitha spinoff failed in the ‘70s--that show just threw out the rules set by Bewitched and did its own thing. This continuation will have to find that balance. If they need someone who knows a thing or two about the original series’ continuity, I’m available. (laughs)

Café:  Do you have any plans for future TV- or film-related books?

AMJ:  Well, I’m not thinking too far ahead at the moment, because now that The Bewitched Continuum is out, I have to focus on doing PR for it, which is pretty well a full-time job by itself. Some people say this book is only for hardcore fans, but I hope that new fans will use it as well, to get to know Bewitched better. I only know a few other shows as intimately anyway--Dynasty and V in particular--so writing about another one would be on-the-job training. Besides, I do want to get The Nine Lives of L.M. Montgomery back on the stage, and there’s more acting and music and videos I want to do. But you never know. I never planned to write The Bewitched Continuum until about two years ago. I think projects pick us, not the other way around. If a similar project picks me, I will be ready for it!

The Bewitched Continuum is available from Amazon and other booksellers.


  1. Great interview, Rick! I was curious to see how he would handle the Darrin vs. Darrin question, but he was very diplomatic. (And I agree with his choice.)

    I loved this show as a kid. A local station would play re-runs after school and I tried to never miss it. My fave character was Agnes Moorehead – I thought her makeup and wardrobe was incredibly brave.

  2. Lapses in continuity in films always fascinate me. I think this sounds like an interesting read for that reason alone.

  3. Rick, thank you for this bewitching interview! Adam-Michael James sounds like a remarkable researcher and gifted continuity person. I enjoyed "Bewitched" when I was young, especially because of Elizabeth Montgomery. It made me smile to see that James had tackled another Montgomery (Lucy Maud) project. Prince Edward Island was one of my favorite vacation places I have visited and I have read and truly enjoyed many of L. M. Montgomery's books. I think it would be awesome to see this musical.