Gomer Pyle, USMC

Gomer Pyle, USMC is an American situation comedy that originally aired on CBS from September 25th, 1964, to May 2nd, 1969.  The series was a spin-off of The Andy Griffith Show, and the pilot episode was aired as the season finale of the fourth season of its parent series on May 18th, 1964.  The show ran for five seasons and a total of 150 episodes.

Gomer Pyle, USMC was a hit, never placing lower than tenth in the Nielsen ratings, and ended its run as the second highest-rated series in the United States.  It has enjoyed continued popularity through reruns and recorded media.  The series was created by Aaron Ruben, who also produced the show with Sheldon Leonard and Ronald Jacobs.  Filmed and set in California (originally set in North Carolina), it stars Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle, a naive but good natured gas station attendant from the town of Mayberry, North Carolina, who enlists in the United States Marine Corps.  Frank Sutton plays Gomer’s high-octane, short fused Gunnery Sergeant Vince Carter, and Ronnie Schell plays Gomer’s friend Duke Slater.  Allan Melvin played in the recurring role of Gunnery Sergeant Carter’s rival, Sergeant Charley Hacker.  The series is well known for its consistently not discussing nor addressing the Vietnam War, despite its military theme.
Everett Greenbaum and Jim Fritzell, writers for The Andy Griffith Show, are credited with creating the character of Gomer Pyle.  The character was based on an incompetent gas station attendant whom Greenbaum met and named after Gomer Cool (a writer) and Denver Pyle (an actor on The Andy Griffith Show).  Jim Nabors was cast to play Gomer; he had been performing for a Santa Monica nightclub, The Horn, when Andy Griffith discovered him.  Though originally intended to appear only in one episode, Gomer proved popular, and after one year on the show, Nabors was given his own spin-off produced by Aaron Ruben.  The pilot episode of Gomer Pyle was filmed in 1963 as part of The Andy Griffith Show, but was not aired until 1964, as the finale of The Andy Griffith Show’s fourth season.
The 1960s saw a return to “the more mundane sensibilities of comedy”, due to viewers’ wishes for television programming to be a “cultural antidepressant.”  Thus, fantasy and rural-oriented comedies gained popularity and dominated the Nielsen ratings.  Like other comedies at the time, Gomer Pyle was a “deep escapist” show; it avoided political commentary and offered viewers a distraction from the social changes of the 1960s.  Despite being a military-themed show and airing during the peak of the Vietnam War, the show never discussed the war.  Instead, the show focused on “Gomer’s innocent simplicity and Sergeant Carter’s frustration and later concern for Gomer’s well-being”.  This, compounded with the popularity of rural comedies in the 1960s, made the show popular.  Frank Sutton, who played Carter, also ascribed the show’s popularity to its concentration on its two main characters, the plots being built around their respective personalities.  The program remained in the Top Ten of the ratings throughout its run—in the top three for all but its third season when CBS moved it from Fridays to Wednesdays.  Nabors quit because he desired to move to something else, ‘reach for another rung on the ladder, either up or down.’
After Gomer Pyle left the air, Jim Nabors hosted his own variety show, The Jim Nabors Hour, from 1969 to 1971.  As well as showcasing Nabors’ singing and rich baritone voice, the show included comedy sketches that featured Nabors’s Gomer Pyle co-stars Frank Sutton and Ronnie Schell.  Though told that he should not leave Gomer Pyle, Nabors felt that the show would still be exciting and noted that every character he portrayed in his sketches “turned out to be Gomer.”
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