The family sitcom has been a staple of our television viewing habits for the past fifty years, with beloved shows like Leave It to Beaver, The Brady Bunch, The Cosby Show, and Full House. Yet this genre might not have existed without the granddaddy of them all, Father Knows Best. After a few other unsuccessful tries, Fox is now set to bring the Anderson family back, this time on the big screen.
Father Knows Best first debuted on NBC Radio in 1949. Robert Young stars as a conservative Midwestern father, Jim Anderson, who gently but firmly rules the roost in a much simpler time. After five successful years on the radio, the show moved to television on CBS in October 1954. Robert Young stayed on, and was joined by Jane Wyatt as wife and mother Margaret, with Elinor Donahue, Billy Gray, and Lauren Chapin as Betty (“Princess”), James Jr. (“Bud”), and Kathy (“Kitten”) respectively.
Though the show was at the height of its popularity in 1960, Young decided to leave the show after nearly 11 years on television and radio. This was, of course, the end of the first run episodes, as he was the father that knew best, and it couldn’t continue without him. Yet the show continued in primetime reruns for two seasons on CBS and then for another year on ABC.
Young moved on to a seven-year run playing the good doctor in Marcus Welby, M.D., but he and the rest of the cast came together for two reunion movies. Father Knows Best: Reunion and Father Knows Best: Home for Christmas brought the original cast back together in 1977, allowing us to check in with the Anderson clan. Nearly 20 years later, father still knew best. The films were intended as pilots for a new series but, despite good ratings, the networks weren’t interested.
Since then, there have been two serious attempts to bring Father Knows Best to the big screen. Universal made a serious attempt with Young as a consultant, but it never took off. Paramount and Nickelodeon then picked it up and wanted to make it a vehicle for Tim Allen in the paternal role, but this project also never got off the ground.
New Regency and 20th Century Fox are now teaming together, trying their hand at turning the story of the Anderson clan into a film. The husband and wife writing team of Chad and Dara Cresasey have been handed the task of giving the story a contemporary feeling. The current plan is to have the father utilizing modern parenting skills but, once his own father moves in, the two clash over their very different styles.
The picture is being produced by Gary Foster, producer of movie adaptations of comic book characters like Ghost Rider, Elektra, and Daredevil, as well as the upcoming The Soloist movie with Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx. Foster has been apparently trying to secure the rights to Father Knows Best for quite a while, negotiating with the owners of the property, the estates of Young and producer Eugene Rodney.
Unfortunately, Young passed away 10 years ago and Wyatt died in 2006. In addition, it’s unlikely that Donahue, Gray, or Chapin will be offered anything more than cameo roles (if that). Hopefully producers of this new project will find a way to maintain the spirit of the original series and not just another attempt to cash in on the name recognition of a classic show.
Regardless of whatever success does or doesn’t come to this new film project, Young will always be known as the quintessential father that really did know best.