Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Seven Things to Know About "The Jimmy Stewart Show"

In support of National Classic Movie Day on May 16th, we are participating in the Classic Movie Blog Association's Big Stars on the Small Screen blogathon. This blogathon focuses on classic film stars who appeared in TV series, miniseries, variety shows, made-for-TV movies, and even commercials. Check out all the blogathon entries! Our post takes a look at the short-lived 1971-72 TV series The Jimmy Stewart Show.

 James Stewart in Fools' Parade.
1. The year 1971 was a pivotal one in the career of James Stewart. He appeared in Fools' Parade, the last theatrical film in which he'd be the principal star and made his debut in his own weekly TV series. The Jimmy Stewart Show premiered on NBC on September 9, 1971 while Fool's Parade was released the following month. The film received mixed reviews (I'm a fan...read my review here), but was a box office disappointment. I suspect the 63-year-old Stewart knew that he was at a career crossroad and when Warner Bros. offered to make him one of TV's highest paid stars, he seized the opportunity.

2. Film director and writer Hal Kanter created The Jimmy Stewart Show. Kanter must have seemed like the perfect choice, having received acclaim for his popular Emmy-nominated TV series Julia (1968-71). Plus, Kanter worked with James Stewart on the theatrical film Dear Brigitte (1963). Indeed, Kanter had tried to lure Stewart to TV in the mid-1960s. The goal was to develop a half-hour family comedy with Stewart playing an anthropology professor who taught at Josiah Kessel College in the quaint California town of Easy Valley. 

3. The original intent was that James Stewart's wife, Gloria, would play his TV spouse. However, according to Marc Eliot in his 2007 book Jimmy Stewart: A Biography, NBC "decided she wasn't good enough an actress to pull it off." After an extensive search, Julie Adams, who co-starred with James Stewart in the 1952 Western classic Bend of the River, was cast as the professor's wife. She was 18 years younger than Stewart.

4. When I interviewed Julie Adams in 2013, she told me: "As I recall, a lot of women read for the role of Martha Howard, the wife of Professor James K. Howard (Stewart). The day I tested for the part with Jimmy, I brought into play my genuine friendship and admiration I had for him as a person. I think that came through on the screen; we had nice chemistry together. After the screen test, he gave me a little nod and as I walked back to my dressing room I thought: "I think I have this part!" I was so thrilled. The show was not a success, and only lasted 24 episodes. But, as I've often said: My idea of heaven was going to work with Jimmy Stewart every day for six months." 

5. Each episode opened and ended with James Stewart speaking directly to viewers. Here's an example: "This week, we have that distinguished actor, Vincent Price, with us. So we called this episode Price Is Right. You know, fair is fair." Each episode ended with Jimmy telling the television audience: “My family and I wish you peace, and love, and laughter.”

Veteran actor John McGiver.
6. In addition to Julie Adams, the other notable cast members were John McGiver, who played Jim Howard's faculty colleague Dr. Luther Quince, and Mary Wickes (who appeared in four episodes). The guest stars included a nice mix of veteran actors and up-and-coming talent: Vincent Price, Cesar Romero, Jack Soo, Kate Jackson, Will Geer, Gloria DeHaven, William Windom, Jackie Coogan, Beulah Bondi, Regis Philbin, M. Emmet Walsh, Nita Talbot, and Pat Buttram. Gloria Stewart may not have gotten to play her husband's wife, but she did appear in the show's first episode "By Way of Introduction."

James Stewart in Hawkins.
7. Despite being sandwiched between Top 20 shows The Wonderful World of Disney and Bonanza on Sunday night, The Jimmy Stewart Show was a ratings disappointment. Its cancellation after a single season was not a surprise. Allegedly, James Stewart was relieved as the film schedule was more work than he anticipated. The famed actor wasn't done with television, though. In 1972, he reprised his performance as Elwood P. Dowd in a Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Harvey. Its cast featured Helen Hayes and his Jimmy Stewart Show co-star John McGiver. The following year, Stewart starred as as homespun lawyer Billy Jim Hawkins, who took on headline-making cases in the 90-minure drama Hawkins. The episodes were rotated with the Shaft TV series and CBS made-for-TV movies so that only eight episodes of Hawkins were aired. You can read our review of Hawkins here.


  1. Interesting that Stewart's wife, Gloria was supposed to play his on screen wife. John McGiver was always a joy to watch.

  2. I never knew that James Stewart had a TV show! Were you able to see episodes from the show? I'd love to know what you thought of it. Thank you for sharing this program for the blogathon, and for your unwavering support of National Classic Movie Day, Rick!

    1. I saw one episode to prep for this review, but I remember The Jimmy Stewart Show was when it first aired. Henry Fonda had a TV series around the same time, The Smith Family. It co-starred Janet Blair and Ron Howard.

  3. I'm thinking I may have seen an episode or two of Stewart's show, even though I wasn't watching a lot of TV at that point in time. Too bad it didn't click with viewers. I'll always remember Stewart and McGiver in Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation. Love them both and they were great together.

  4. I don't remember too much about the show, but I do remember how big of a deal it was that Stewart was going to have his own show. It was good of him to grace us with his presence on the small screen, but he really always belonged up there on the big one. By the way - missing your annual event here!

  5. THE JIMMY STEWART SHOW was the show that NBC and Procter & Gamble chose to fill the final year of the 8:30-9 PM timeslot between Disney & BONANZA. I understand that P&G was the sole sponsor of all the programs at this time for 11 seasons. Though Disney & BONANZA were hit shows, the shows between them mostly didn't do as well, and none of them lasted more than 2 seasons. CAR 54 and MOTHERS-IN-LAW may be the best-remembered of these programs, and a lot of these shows had integrated ads for P&G products done by the cast members. MiL has a few ads by cast members included in its DVD set. After this season, NBC moved its Mystery Movie to Sunday nights and moved BONANZA to Tuesday nights, where, coupled with the loss of star Dan Blocker, the show's ratings fell, and the show was cancelled 4 months later after 13 1/2 seasons on NBC.

  6. It was John McGiver, not Stewart, who made me search for episodes of The Jimmy Stewart Show. I so adored McGiver's scenes opposite Stewart in Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation that I couldn't wait for more.

    Anyway, thanks for all the great behind-the-scenes tidbits.