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Early television was filled with bumbling fathers who were not the smartest member of the household. One of the earliest examples of this time-honored premise was Stu Erwin, head of the family, in "Trouble With Father".
One of TV's first filmed sitcoms revolved around the Erwins who lived in an unnamed American town. Stu was a high school principal who, though not stupid, was something of a dullard who found himself in uncomfortable situations with regularity. June (Stu's real-life spouse) was his patient wife who busied herself by managing the household and being involved in numerous "ladies groups". Their oldest daughter was Joyce, a high school student, that was boy-crazy. Youngest daughter Jackie was a tomboy with a smart mouth who delivered most of the actual comedy lines. "Trouble With Father" is the prototype of the "perfect family" sitcom that one thinks of as representing the 1950s. Without the warmth of a "Father Knows Best" or "Leave it to Beaver", this series comes across today as heavy-handed and naive in its depiction of life, social norms, and conformity:
- There are no Eddie Haskells or Walter Dentons at Stu's school; all of the students at Hamilton High are earnest to the extreme.
- Joyce's desire is only to get married once she decides on the boy. Her desire to wear a strapless gown is considered risque.
- Stu regularly gives those types of long-winded speeches that "Green Acres" later made fun of by having "Yankee Doodle" play in the background. He'd pontificate with the utmost seriousness on most anything, from how studying Latin in school is crucial in life to the freedom of the press to the superiority of men.
The one "fly in the ointment" was young Jackie who said what was on her mind and delivered the zingers no one else would dare say.
The series' recurring characters included handyman Willie, a rare Black character for the time, who was often employed in one of Stu's schemes. Though quite toned down, Willie was still in the tradition of the offensive Black servant stereotype: slow-moving, bugged-out eyes, and mumbling. Neighbors Harry and Adele Johnson were regularly seen friends/enemies of Stu and June. George Selkirk was a bossy school official who usually caused headaches for Stu. Actor Martin Milner played two roles in the series. Early on, he was Drexel Potter, a frequent boyfriend of Joyce. In the final season, he played Jimmy Clark, Joyce's new husband.
"Trouble With Father" underwent several title changes during its run, including "Life With the Erwins", "The Stu Erwin Show" and finally "The New Stu Erwin Show". Airing on the then-struggling ABC network, the series aired new episodes in a bizarre fashion designed to get maximum usage out of the reruns. Season One consisted of 52 all-new episodes. Season Two (10/1951-4/1952) aired 26 new shows followed by 26 weeks of repeats. Beginning in the fall of 1952, every third episode was a rerun from previous seasons. For a full 65 weeks beginning in July 1953, ABC showed nothing BUT reruns. The final season was a traditional 26 episodes of new programs. It's during this last season that the series finally acquired a laugh track.