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Friday, June 08, 2012

Who's The Boss?

Last week, I talked about how I felt gender roles were diminishing in importance, and provided a couple of examples about how some broke free of their gender roles. To refresh your memory, I thought that I would repost the link HERE, so you could read what I had to say about it.

The reason why I bring this up is because today's blog entry also deals with the concept of gender roles. In fact, one could say that today's topic features a role reversal of sorts.

Back in the olden days (at least four or five decades ago), households all across North America seemed to have one rule...that the man of the household brought home the bacon, and the woman of the household stayed home to take care of domestic duties. Of course, now we live in a time in which it's almost a necessity to have two working parents in a household, and this has been commonplace since at least the 1990s. As well, there have been a steady increase in stay-at-home fathers over the last twenty years.

Back in the 1980s, however, the idea of a woman going out into the workplace while the man stayed home was a relatively new idea. And, back in those days, it was almost unheard of for a man to assume the role of housekeeper while the woman became an executive.

And that was the idea behind today's topic. A television sitcom where a former baseball player from Brooklyn, New York moves his family to Connecticut where he takes on the role of housekeeper to a female advertising executive.

The show, of course, was ABC's “Who's The Boss?”, which aired on the network for eight seasons, from September 20, 1984 to April 25, 1992. And, here's how the show came to be.

Believe it or not, the show's pilot episode was filmed almost an entire year before the show first aired, in November 1983. Initially, ABC was planning on airing the sitcom beginning in January 1984, as a mid-season replacement. Initially, the title of the show was a bit different, having the original title of “You're The Boss” (it was changed to “Who's The Boss?” just before the premiere). But, due to reported creative differences between the producers and ABC executives, the show was delayed until the beginning of the 1984/85 season.

TRIVIA: While the show was shelved before it officially premiered in September 1984, one of the stars was arrested for fighting in New York City. When the show resumed taping, Tony Danza was still doing community service as a result of this arrest.

The show began as we saw former St. Louis Cardinals second baseman, Tony Micelli (Danza) leaving his Brooklyn neighbourhood for a better life. He was forced to retire from baseball after sustaining a career-killing shoulder injury, and he needed a fresh start. He packed up all the belongings he had, and set out towards the upscale community of Fairfield, Connecticut. Tagging along was his only child, a ten year old girl named Samantha (Alyssa Milano).

MINI-CONFESSION: Alyssa Milano was my first television crush. Nothing you needed to know, just thought that I would share.

Once Tony and Samantha ended up in Connecticut, Tony tried his best to find work, but wasn't having much luck. But then fate brought him to the front door of the Bower residence, where he came face to face with Angela Bower (Judith Light), a career-driven divorced woman who worked in the field of advertising. Tony was hired as the live-in housekeeper, and he and Samantha moved into the Bower household where the shared space with Angela's 7-year-old son, Jonathan (Danny Pintauro). The cast was completed with the addition of Angela's fiesty, sex-crazed mother, Mona (Katherine Helmond).

(Speaking of Katherine Helmond, the show “Who's The Boss?” added another angle that was less than traditional. It showed an older woman who had a very active social and sex life, which was quite unusual at the time, especially when you consider that the program aired a year before “The Golden Girls”.)

The show itself was a brilliant example of showcasing the concept of role reversals, as we saw the struggles and conflict that occurred by having a woman be the main breadwinner and the man staying at home taking care of the household chores. The show also busted open the various stereotypes of Italian-Americans, as Tony Micelli was depicted as sensitive, intelligent, and domestic with a great need and desire to better himself.

On the program, Tony was depicted as easy-going and carefree, a sharp contrast from the self-controlled and serious Angela. But, despite their opposite personalities, the two of them found some common ground, and they grew much closer than even both of them realized. I'll be talking about that a little bit later.

The show also depicted a great bond between the adults and children of the show. Tony would do almost anything for his daughter, but he also ended up being a positive role model for Angela's son, Jonathan. And Samantha really appreciated having Angela as a mother figure to help her deal with the transition towards womanhood, especially since Samantha's mother had died when she was young.

The show also stayed true to Tony and Samantha's Brooklyn roots as well by having several guest stars pop in on the show. Rhoda Gemignani was a frequent guest star, taking on the role of the Micelli's former neighbour, Mrs. Rossini. And, Tony's father-in-law also made a few appearances, played by James Coco. He continued on with the recurring role until his death in 1987, in which his character's funeral was written in the show.

Here's a bit more trivia about the show, courtesy of the Internet Movie Database.

  • When the show was being cast, there was a reported 1,500 girls who auditioned for the role of Samantha Micelli.
  • Who's The Boss?” premiered on the same day as “The Cosby Show”.
  • Who's The Boss?” wasn't the only ABC program to air its final original episode on April 25, 1992. “MacGyver” and “Growing Pains” aired their finales the same night.
  • The 115th episode of the show, “Living Dolls” was meant to be a pilot episode for a new series “Living Dolls”. But, the episode was never shown until the series entered syndication. The decision to pull the 115th episode from the show's original run was due to a last-minute cast change in the cast of “Living Dolls”. Eventually, the show's 123rd episode, “Life's A Ditch”, became the second attempt for the “Living Dolls” pilot, which aired immediately after this episode.

  • In case you were wondering, by the way, “Living Dolls” only lasted one season, but kickstarted the careers of Halle Berry and Leah Remini.
  • There were plans at the end of season three for Mona to spin-off into her own series, where Mona would leave to help run a hotel, and Tony and Samantha would move into Mona's loft apartment. But when producers were worried that Mona's departure would harm the success of the program, the spin-off was cancelled.
  • Who's The Boss?” was in the Top 10 of the Neilsen ratings between 1985 and 1989.
  • At the beginning of the seventh season, a new character was added, a little boy by the name of Billy (Jonathan Halyalkar), who visited the Micellis quite often. He was written out in 1991.
  • Alyssa Milano wanted to leave the show at the end of the seventh season to go to college, but because she was still under contract, she had to stay on throughout the eighth season (which ended up being the last one).
  • In order to combat falling ratings, producers made the decision to have Tony and Angela become a couple during the show's last season. But when the ratings dipped to its lowest ever, the show was cancelled, and Tony and Angela broke up. The final scene of the series was almost identical to the first time when Angela and Tony first met, leaving the ending rather ambiguous.  Originally, the ending had both Tony and Angela getting married!
  • Reportedly during the show's final years, crew members reportedly had to deal with erratic behaviour from Tony Danza. It was rumoured that Danza had gotten disenchanted with the quality of the scripts (something Danza later confirmed as being true), and this lead to Danza walking off the set at the beginning of season six, leaving the other cast members to film scenes without him. Danza returned two weeks later, and offered an apology to the cast and crew, but some crew members wore T-shirts that read “I Survived Week Six” around set.

  • When Tony Danza briefly hosted a talk show in the mid-2000s, he hosted a "Who's The Boss?" reunion with the whole cast.

And that is our look back on “Who's The Boss?”, a program that shattered gender roles, and showed everyone that as long as everyone in the household was happy and well taken care of (as was the case in the Bower-Micelli home), does it really matter what role one takes on?

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