One of America’s most beloved comedians, Danny Thomas’ success on television was surpassed only by his well-known philanthropy. Most know him best as the creator and star of Make Room for Daddy (also known as The Danny Thomas Show) which ran from 1953-1964. The series garnered 26 Emmy nominations over the course of its run, winning five.
In a career that spanned five decades, Thomas became a successful producer, attaching his name to some of the biggest hits of the day including: The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, That Girl (starring his daughter, Marlo) and The Mod Squad. Danny never stopped appearing in front of the camera, often turning up as a guest on one of his own shows. By the mid-1970’s, Danny’s son Tony had become a successful producer in his own right. Along with his partner Paul Junger Witt, Tony would produce his father’s next series.
Debuting on January 30, 1976, The Practice stars Thomas as Jules Bedford, an ill-tempered, old school doctor with genuine concern for his patients. Located in a middle-class area of Manhattan, he’s more concerned about healing the sick, than making money. Jules’ nurse Molly Gibbons (Dena Dietrich) has a crush on her boss; she does little to hide it. Didi Conn plays Helen, Jules’ slightly crazy office manager. Fans of Grease might have trouble seeing her character as nothing more than an over-the-top Frenchie. Jules’ son David (David Spielberg), also a doctor, is the polar opposite. His practice is on Park Avenue and making money is important to him. David would also like his father to join him at his exclusive practice, but the elder man refuses. Father and son are constantly grumbling at each other over different approaches to medicine, and money. It’s up to David’s loving, occasionally exasperated wife Jenny (Shelley Fabares, One Day at a Time) to keep the peace. The couple have two young boys. They don’t do a lot; they’re usually seen going to bed.
As demonstrated in the pilot, The Practice was a sitcom, but wasn’t afraid to explore dramatic elements. Jules longtime friend Arthur is diagnosed with terminal a brain tumor. While Arthur accepts his fate, Jules isn’t ready to. One of the funniest episodes, “Jules Vacation,” has David forcing his father to go on vacation, only to have the dedicated doc treat patients in his hotel room. Meanwhile, David finds himself overwhelmed watching over his father’s practice.
Over two seasons and twenty-seven episodes, there were a couple of cast changes. During the first season, noted comedian John Byner plays Dr. Roland Caine, Jules’ associate. By the second season, Dr. Caine is gone. Jules now has an intern named Lenny, played Mike Evans (The Jeffersons) who remained a part of the main cast until the series ended. As you might except with a series starring a legendary entertainer, The Practice features some well-known guest stars (in order of appearance): Marge Redmond (The Flying Nun), Vic Tayback (Alice), Naomi Stevens, Lucille Ball, Marlo Thomas, Matthew Laborteaux (Little House on the Prairie), Jayne Meadows, Bill Dana, Edie Adams, and Jan Murray.
I’ve sang the praises of The Warner Archive Collection. It’s a special treat when they dig into the vaults and pulls out these rarely seen programs. Warner Archive has spread the series over three DVDs. While the standard definition presentation will never be mistaken for high definition, the video quality is impressive for the era. Colors look appropriate throughout and the image shows surprisingly little wear. The mono soundtrack delivers standard playback, but the dialogue is clean, clear and concise.
There are no extras.
The Practice: The Complete Series 1976-77 (TV)
Movie title: The Practice
Actor(s): Danny Thomas, David Spielberg , Dena Dietrich, Didi Conn, Shelley Fabares