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For the musical group, see The Monkees.


The Monkees is an Americanmarker situation comedy that followed the adventures of the then-fictional pop-rock quartet of the same name. The stars were hired to play fictionalized versions of themselves and put a face on the records released to tie-in with the show. The musical content of the series was initially created by experienced producers and session musicians with only vocal contributions from the stars. The show introduced a number of innovative new-wave film techniques to series television and won two Emmy Awards in 1967. Behind the scenes, the actors eventually gained creative control over the music and some input into the content of the show. The program ended in 1968 at the finish of its second season and has enjoyed a long afterlife in Saturday morning repeats and syndication.

Conception and casting

In the early 1960s, aspiring filmmakers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider had formed Raybert Productions and were trying to get a foot in the door in Hollywood. Inspired by the Beatles' film A Hard Day's Night, the duo decided to develop a television series about a fictional rock 'n' roll group. In April, 1965, Raybert sold the series idea to Screen Gems, and by August, a pilot script titled The Monkeys was completed by Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker. Rafelson has said that he had the idea for a TV series about a music group as early as 1960, but had a hard time interesting anyone in it until 1965, by which time rock & roll music was firmly entrenched in pop culture.

On September 8, 1965, trade publications Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter ran an ad seeking "Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers for acting roles in new TV series." As many as 400 hopefuls showed up to be considered as one of "4 insane boys." Fourteen actors from the audition pool were brought back for screen tests, and after audience research, Raybert chose their final four.

Micky Dolenz, son of screen actor George M. Dolenz Sr., had prior screen experience (under the name "Mickey Braddock") as the 10-year-old star of the Circus Boy series in the 1950s. He was actively auditioning for pilots at the time and was told about the Raybert project by his agent.

Englishman Davy Jones was a former jockey who had achieved some initial success on the musical stage (appearing with the cast of Oliver! on The Ed Sullivan Show the night of the Beatles' live American debut). Already appearing in Columbia Pictures productions and recording for the Colpix record label, he had been identified in advance as a potential star for the series.

Texan Michael Nesmith had served a brief stint in the U.S. Air Force and had also recorded for Colpix under the name "Michael Blessing." Nesmith was the only one of The Monkees who had come in based on seeing the trade magazine ad. He showed up to the audition with his laundry and impressed Rafelson and Schneider with his laid-back style and droll sense of humor. Nesmith also wore a woolen hat to keep his hair out of his eyes when he rode his motorcycle , leading to early promotional materials which nicknamed him "Wool Hat." The hat remained part of Nesmith's wardrobe, but the name was dropped after the pilot.

Peter Tork was recommended to Rafelson and Schneider by friend Stephen Stills at his own audition. Tork, a skilled multi-instrumentalist, had performed at various Greenwich Village folk clubs before moving west, where he was a dishwasher before becoming a Monkee.

Development

Rafelson and Schneider wanted the style of the series to reflect avant garde film techniques—such as improvisation, quick cuts, jump cuts, breaking the fourth wall, and free-flowing, loose narratives—then being pioneered by European film directors. Each episode would contain at least one musical "romp" which might have nothing to do with the storyline. In retrospect, these vignettes now look very much like music videos: short, self-contained films of songs in ways that echoed Beatles' recent ventures into promotional films for their singles. They also believed strongly in the program's ability to appeal to young people, intentionally framing the kids as heroes and the adults as heavies.

Rafelson and Schneider also conceived of heavy cross-promotion and product placement, such as has become common today, with prominent promotion of sponsors such as Gretsch (for musical instruments), Kellogg's breakfast cereals, and Yardley's shaving supplies. Television programs are normally produced under the loss-leader model, with heavy investment in initial production paying off only years later when shows are syndicated in reruns. Rafelson and Schneider hoped that their cross-promotion and cost-cutting measures would represent a model through which a television show could profit sooner.

Rafelson and Schneider hired novice director James Frawley to teach the four actors improvisational comedy. Each of the four was given a different personality to portray: Dolenz the funny one, Nesmith the smart and serious one, Tork the naive one, and Jones the cute one. Their characters were loosely based on their real selves, with the exception of Tork, who was actually a quiet intellectual. The character types also had much in common with the respective personalities of The Beatles, with Dolenz representing the madcap attitude of John Lennon, Nesmith affecting the deadpan seriousness of George Harrison, Tork depicting the odd-man-out quality of Ringo Star, and Jones conveying the pin-up appeal of Paul McCartney.

A pilot episode was shot in San Diego and Los Angeles on a shoestring budget—in many scenes the Monkees wore their own clothes. However, initial audience tests (which were just then being pioneered) resulted in very low responses.

Given just two days to try again, Rafelson decided that before screening the pilot, he would show the audience clips from Nesmith and Jones's screen tests. These successfully conveyed the actors' likable personalities and prepared the viewers to be sympathetic to the characters they would be seeing in the disjointed presentation to come. The second round of tests resulted in spectacular responses.

Music

During the casting process, Screen Gems head of music Don Kirshner was contacted to secure music for The Monkees pilot. Kirshner assigned Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart to the project. The duo contributed four demo recordings to the pilot, featuring their own voices.

When The Monkees was picked up as a series, development of the musical side of the project accelerated. Columbia-Screen Gems and RCA Records entered into a joint venture called Colgems Records primarily to distribute Monkees records. Raybert set up a rehearsal space and rented instruments for the group to practice playing, but it quickly became apparent they would not be in shape in time for the series debut. By June 1966, Don Kirshner was called upon to recruit an experienced producer to generate musical material for the show.

Kirshner initially allowed Nesmith to produce sessions, provided he did not play on any tracks he produced. Nesmith did, however, start using the other Monkees on these sessions. Kirshner came back to the enthusiastic Boyce and Hart as regular producers, but he brought in one of his top east coast men, Jack Keller, to lend some experience to the sessions. Within one month, Boyce and Hart had recorded what was to become the first Monkees single, "Last Train to Clarksville," which was released on August 16.

Production

The Monkees debuted September 12, 1966, on the NBC television network. The series was sponsored on alternate weeks by Kellogg's Cereals and Yardley of London.

The series was filmed by Columbia Pictures, and many of the same sets and props from The Three Stooges short films made by the studio were used on The Monkees: A pair of pajamas with a bunny design on the front that had been worn by Curly Howard in shorts such as Cactus Makes Perfect and In the Sweet Pie and Pie were the same ones worn by Peter Tork in various episodes such as "A Coffin Too Frequent" and "Monkee See, Monkee Die".
The Monkees performing "What Am I Doin' Hangin' 'Round" in 1967.


To keep noise on the set down during filming, any of the four Monkees who was not needed in front of the cameras was locked into a converted meat locker. In DVD commentary, Tork noted that this had the added benefit of concealing any marijuana use that might be going on, although he admitted that he was the sole "serious 'head'" of the four of them. (In the early 1980s, Tork gave up alcohol and marijuana use and has volunteered time to help people recovering from alcoholism.) In a studio outtake included in the 1990s re-release of Headquarters, Nesmith quips, before launching into "Nine Times Blue": "Only difference between me and Peter is I'm just stone legal."

Due to the loosely scripted nature of the series, some episodes would come in too short for air. The producers decided to fill time with various "extras", including the Monkees' original screen tests and candid interviews with the group. During one such interview, Davy reported that a fan had actually mailed herself to him. Another exchange between Mike and "Bob" (one assumes it was Bob Rafelson), Bob asks Mike why he feels it is so important to own a house. In his own classic style, Mike replies "To keep the wind off of me!...when it rains you get wet if you live in a parking lot."

Dolenz said in a 2007 interview on the Roe Conn radio program that, while inspiration did come from the Beatles, the band's image was not meant to be a rip-off of them. He said that the Beatles were always depicted as superstars with legions of fans, whereas the Monkees were always depicted as unsigned and struggling to make a buck. This is reflected numerous times throughout the series, such as in the pilot where Mike is seen throwing darts at a Beatles album sleeve, and in the episode "Find The Monkees (The Audition)" where the Monkees struggle to see a famous television producer who is looking for a rock act for use in commercial advertisements; in the episode "I Was A 99-Pound Weakling" Micky is tricked into signing onto a bogus weight-training program but objects by noting, "Where am I gonna get that kind of money? I'm an unemployed drummer."

Monkeemobile

The Monkeemobile was a modified Pontiac GTO designed and built by designer Dean Jeffries. The car featured a tilted forward split two-piece windshield, a touring car T-bucket-type convertible top, modified rear quarter panels and front fenders, exaggerated tail lamps, set of four bucket seats with an extra third row bench where the rear deck should have been, and a parachute. The front grille sported the GTO emblem.St. Antoine, Arthur. - "Interview: Dean Jeffries, Hollywood legend". - Motor Trend MagazineKeefe, Don. - "The History of the MonkeeMobile". - Pontiac Enthusiast Magazine. - (c/o monkees.net) - 1997

Legacy

The Monkees won two Emmy Awards in 1967: Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy (James Frawley). Frawley was nominated for the same award the following season. Its win for Comedy Series was considered somewhat of an upset, as it bested long-time favorites The Andy Griffith Show, Bewitched, Get Smart and Hogan's Heroes.

The final new episode of the series aired on March 25, 1968, with the final prime time airing on September 9, 1968 (see List of The Monkees episodes). Its time slot on NBC (7:30 [EDT] Mondays) was bequeathed to I Dream Of Jeannie, the very Screen Gems sitcom which followed it in 1966-1967.

The Monkees enjoyed a resurgence on Saturday afternoon television on CBS from September 1969 to September 1972, and on ABC from September 1972 to August 1973. To coincide with the releases of the The Monkees Present and Changes albums during this time period, many episodes replaced the older songs with tracks from these recent releases. The 58 episodes were then sold to local markets for syndication in September 1975, where they typically appeared on independent television stations on weekday afternoons.

A second, massive resurgence occurred when a Monkees marathon aired on 23 February 1986 on MTV. Within months, the 58 episodes were airing throughout the United States. Dolenz, Tork and Jones, already reunited for a "20th Anniversary Tour", went from playing small clubs to playing stadiums as the series caught on, and the tour drew critical praise.

In 1995, Rhino Home Video issued the complete series as a deluxe VHS boxed set, containing all 58 episodes, plus the pilot and the 1969 special, "33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee", in a total of 21 videotapes, along with a specially created full-color photo book that tells about the history of the series, information of each episode and a variety of photographs from the series. First-run issues of this set also included a limited-edition wristwatch.

In 2003, Rhino Home Video released the complete 2 seasons of the original television series onto the DVD market, for the very first time. Seasons 1 and 2 were each released separately. Each set features 6 DVDs for Season 1 and 5 DVDs for Season 2. The discs are housed in side-loading cardboard jackets that are specially created to resemble reproduced record picture sleeves. All of the episodes are presented in their original broadcast order, and are all digitally remastered from the original 35 MM prints of the series (the same was also done for the VHS set). Special features in these 2 DVD sets include the sound in 5.1 Audio, a "Play Songs Only" option, an interview with songwriter Bobby Hart, a Monkees discography, the Monkees pilot (from a 16 MM print), a memorabilia gallery, trivia for each episode, vintage Monkees Kelloggs commercials, the 1969 special "33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee" and separate audio commentaries for select episodes from Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, director James Frawley, series co-creator and co-producer Bob Rafelson, songwriter Bobby Hart and "33 1/3" guest star Brian Auger. Each DVD set also includes an 8-page mini-booklet with chapter index information for each episode and "Behind The Scenes" notes written by noted Monkees historian Andrew Sandoval.

Notes

  1. Lefcowitz (1985), pp.6–7
  2. Sandoval (2005), p.23
  3. Sandoval (2005), p.25
  4. Sandoval (2005), p.26
  5. Documents reproduced in booklet of VHS box set, Rhino Records, 1995
  6. Baker (1986), p.10
  7. Lefcowitz (1985), p.3
  8. Sandoval (2005), p.27
  9. Sandoval (2005), p.40
  10. Sandoval (2005), p.36
  11. Sandoval (2005), p.37
  12. Sandoval (2005), p.39
  13. The Three Stooges Journal, Fall 1987; published by the Three Stooges Fan Club


References



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