Ellison’s Two ‘Worlds’

(Clockwise from left above, the main cast of ‘It’s a Man’s World’: Michael Burns, Randy Boone, Ted Bessell, Glenn Corbett)

Sci-fi legend Harlan Ellison often wrote about extraterrestrial worlds, but was also enamored of a couple of terrestrial TV Worlds.

Following Ellison’s recent death, we reread our dog-eared copy of The Glass Teat, his collection of TV criticism from 1968 to 1970.

Ellison didn’t like much of what he saw on the tube in those days, so we were intrigued when he wrote – on Halloween Day, 1969 – that NBC’s then-current show My World…and Welcome to It had more “charming cynicism and unabashed joy in life” than any series since NBC’s It’s a Man’s World (1962 to 1963).

We’d seen the former but had never even heard of the latter. We soon discovered a New York Times column from 2001 that described It’s a Man’s World as a comedy-drama about the “angst of young adults” that was way “ahead of its time.” It even starred a pre-Route 66 Glenn Corbett and a pre-That Girl Ted Bessell.

It’s a Man’s World

So of course, we just had to watch It’s a Man’s World, and were happy to find at least 18 of the series’ 19 hour-long episodes on YouTube.

Frankly, though, the pilot episode struck us as overly sentimental. However, it did have plenty of angst — plus, ahead of its time, a major unresolved plot element.

So we continued on to episode two. And voila!

The first few minutes had us laughing out loud and feeling joyful. Then Bessell’s character, a “free spirit” named Tom-Tom, starts enthusiastically reading the poetry of one “Ellsworth Pax,” having managed to obtain a copy of his book, New Poems of Despair. “For an American poet, this guy is so far out,” explains Tom-Tom. “He’s had 18 volumes printed in Europe, but can’t get one stinkin’ quatrain printed over here.”

That was cynical enough to hook us for good. So, before moving on to My World…and Welcome to It, here’s episode two of It’s a Man’s World, appropriately titled “Stir Crazy.”

Oh, we forgot to mention: The show is ostensibly about male bonding between four roommates: two college students, a ninth grader, and a drifting folk guitarist. They all live together on a houseboat, listen to cool music, and, according to that Times article, will encounter premarital sex, feminism and the emerging generation gap during future episodes.

My World…and Welcome to It

My World…and Welcome to It is better known than It’s a Man’s World. It lasted a bit longer – 26 half-hour episodes – and won Emmy Awards for both best comedy and best actor (William Windom).

Officially, Windom plays John Monroe, a writer and cartoonist. Unofficially, he plays legendary humorist James Thurber, who once wrote a book similarly titled My World — And Welcome To It. Much of the show concerns interactions between the cantankerous and overimaginative, but loving, Monroe and his highly intelligent and inquisitive 10-year-old daughter, Lydia, played by the captivating Lisa Gerritsen before she became Phyllis’ daughter Bess on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

In episode one, Monroe reluctantly agrees to help Lydia with her history homework – and proceeds to skewer two US Presidents. General Ulysses S. Grant, he relates, was drunk throughout the Civil War, even as General Robert E. Lee surrendered to him, and George Washington fell into the Delaware because he “stood up in the boat to try to catch a glimpse of a certain [Trenton] barmaid.”

The show uses an imaginative mix of Thurber’s own quotes and drawings, plus original animation, and yes, we found joy amidst the cynicism.

How to binge Ellison’s two TV Worlds

You can binge both My World…and Welcome to It and It’s a Man’s World on YouTube, but it will take a bit more effort than, say, watching a Netflix series, since subsequent episodes won’t pop up automatically.

For It’s a Man’s World, we recommend using this YouTube link in conjunction with the show’s iMDB episode guide. Unlike almost all other TV series from its era, there’s actually some continuity, so order does matter!

For My World…and Welcome to It, you can consult these YouTube search results.

Finally, if you want to see these two shows better curated, in better quality – perhaps on one of the over-the-air classic TV channels — you could ask NBCUniversal to dig them out of its vaults. Of course, if there’s enough interest in that direction, you can expect both shows to be blocked from YouTube.

About Les Luchter

Les Luchter is a former managing editor of Multichannel News, editor-in-chief of Cable Marketing, and news editor of Broadcast Week.

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