Hummingbird tongues and voracious ravenousitis: Inside “The Bewitched Continuum”

Bewitched Continuum Book CoverExactly how many times did Endora call Darrin “Durwood”? How come the Tates only occasionally remembered they had a son? How far away did Darrin’s parents live? If you’ve watched a lot of Bewitched, these questions may have crossed your mind.

So who has the answers? A continuity expert with a passion for Bewitched, that’s who. That expert is Adam-Michael James, whose book, The Bewitched Continuum: The Ultimate Linear Guide to the Classic TV Series, examines the consistency and logic of every single episode of the series’ eight seasons.

Adam-Michael James
Adam-Michael James, author of The Bewitched Continuum

While other Bewitched books devote attention to behind-the-scenes information and actors’ bios, James’s book sticks to the fiction. It’s a hefty tome, packed full of details and insights that range from the observations about the arrangement of the Stephens living room furniture to questions about the appropriateness of the dialog between characters in the context of their evolving relationships.

If you like detail, there’s plenty to like in The Bewitched Continuum. The back section of the book provides a handy reference guide including indexes of who was transformed into what and who had what disease (both witch and mortal illnesses), a database of McMann & Tate’s clients, and other goodies.

I spent some time talking with James, whose enthusiasm for Bewitched comes across just as much in conversation as it does in his book.


Bewitched is one of my favorite shows, and when I got your book, it was very exciting to read it. It’s quiet a hefty volume!

We call it the Bewitched phone book now.

Well, I’m sure it took quite a bit of work to put that together, so I wanted to ask you: What inspired you to do that? And how long did it take?

Bewitched has been a part of my life since I was eight years old. Back in 1977 is when I discovered the show for the first time, and I remember everything about that moment. It’s really weird. I remember which episode it was, what the room looked like—it’s just the show had this effect on me from the very, very beginning, to the point that I recorded it on cassette tapes, because this was before VCRs, and eventually I started working with continuity in my adult life.

I did script coverage for Hollywood studios, and also I write opinion columns for soapcentral.com, and I would analyze the soap The Bold and the Beautiful. So there’s things involved with that, analyzing continuity. And what else got me into continuity was this book that I read in the ’90s called The Nitpicker’s Guide for Next Generation Trekkers by Phil Farrand. That was the first time I’d seen somebody point out how things did or did not match up in episodes of a show, like, “Oh, well if you look, Tasha Yar is in the turbo lift waving at the camera,” and I never would have noticed that!

That’s what got me down the road of continuity, and then, of course, the show—when I could videotape them in the ’90s, and when they came out on DVD. You start watching them back to back, and you do start noticing that things do match up, or they don’t match up. And as I said, I noticed that on The Bold and the Beautiful and other shows that I watch, and I thought: Back in the day they did not have to pay as much attention to the continuity because you had a show that would be on maybe once during a season, twice if it reran. It was on little 13-inch screens. Producers and writers of the TV shows knew that they could throw an actor that had been on a month before and have them play somebody different and the audience would not realize it.

They knew that they could change a rule that they had set up two years ago because the audience wasn’t going to remember it. That’s just how television was. And of course now, we’re live-tweeting during a show. We are picking things apart as it’s airing. We’re looking at spoilers and making our predictions even before show airs. It was kind of under that microscope that I thought it would be fun to go back and look at Bewitched that way and see how things did or did not match up. So the impetus was there, and I thought, “Oh, I don’t know, is anybody going to find this interesting?” And then when I realized the fiftieth anniversary of the show was coming up last year, I thought, “If I I’m going to do it, I’d better do it now.”

Dick York and Elizabeth Montgomery as Darrin and Samantha
Dick York and Elizabeth Montgomery

I sat down with the first season; I started taking my notes. All my notes were handwritten. I don’t know why I just didn’t use a laptop, but it felt better handwritten, and I guess it was more appropriate with the show, talking about a show that took place in the ’60s and ’70s. I would say the first draft took about eight or nine months where I just pretty much sat there and did almost nothing but, because there’s 254 episodes, and that’s why the book is so hefty.

Did you ever reach a saturation point where you thought, “Okay, as much as I love Bewitched, I’ve just had enough”?

Yes, and then not only a saturation point, but you get to a point where, how petty am I being? How much is too much? Yeah, usually, around the middle of the eighth season, “Okay, enough already.” Maybe that’s what they were feeling too with Bewitched, because sometimes some things in the episodes feel like they don’t have their heart in it as much. But then you would go back to the beginning and start editing and get all fired up again. And then, of course, you get back to eighth season and it’s like, “Oh geez.”

I heard you say in another interview that since it’s linear, by the time you get to the end of the series, you have so much data from the beginning to factor in—would you say that makes it harder to write about the later seasons?

Definitely, yeah, because when you’re in the first season or two there’s not as much to throw back to and by the time you’re at episode 250, you’ve got 249 episodes before that that you could potentially link back to, and your brain kind of … I think that’s why the saturation kicks in, because your brain just goes into overload, and it’s like, “What do I include?”

Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick Sargent as Samantha and Darrin
Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick Sargent

I do have a tendency to be a little verbose in my writing, and I’ve gotten progressively better at cutting, but I was very lucky—lucky and honored—because I got to work with Herbie J. Pilato, who started the whole Bewitched book thing in 1992, actually with The Bewitched Book. I had it in my shelf for 20 years before I even met him, and I had approached him to find out some other things, and it led to him obviously writing my foreword and also being a consultant. He came up with the title; I had such a hard time coming up with the title, and he just said, “How about The Bewitched Continuum?” and I went, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

And of course as an editor he was wonderful. I mean he wasn’t so much concerned about length; he was more concerned with tone, because with my soap opera columns, I can be kind of snarky. It’s fun to look at a show that way, and sometimes I was a little less forgiving with Darrin than I could have been, and Herbie just suggested that I kind of just kind of change that tone a little bit.

And that’s what led to editing a lot of other things out, not because they were snarky, but just because I kind of got into mercenary mode with my red pen and said, “Okay, well this is silly, let’s just cut that, nobody is going to care about that detail, let’s just cut it…” For as long as the book is, it could have been a lot longer!

What would you say most surprised you when you were doing this?

A lot of things surprised me. I tended to prefer Dick Sargent over Dick York, which is not the popular opinion, by the way. It was nothing against Dick York, it’s just I think because… I mean, I was born in 1969, that’s the year Dick Sargent took over from Dick York, and I think that world was more familiar to me because I was around then, and coincidentally Dick York’s world was before I was born so, so it seems a little more foreign, but, one of the things the I was surprised by was just by how much I like Dick York’s performance throughout his first few years. I mean, he did get—Darrin, not Dick York—get rather belligerent there for a while. I think that was a writing choice and a directing choice; I don’t think that had anything to do with Dick York. I thought that was interesting.

I was fascinated by the rules of witchcraft that they established—how they stuck to some and not others. For example, they couldn’t make up their mind at first over whether a witch could undo another witches’ spell, and then finally in the third season they established that a witch could not, and I thought that was a much more interesting device in terms of telling story rather than witches being able to undo spells randomly. Also the idea that in one episode, Endora said that Samantha could not use her powers going back in the past, and then you had seasons and seasons of witches using the power on the past, so that seemed to be the rule, and then they switched back and suddenly said you couldn’t.

Those kinds of things interested me. I think the thing that surprised me the most, and maybe it shouldn’t have, but just when you start in 1964, and you have this very black and white quaint kind of post-Leave-It-to-Beaver kind of environment, and then you go back to back to an episode that aired in 1972 and you have the long hair, no bras, you’ve got bell bottom pants, and plaid carpet, and just the sensibility was so much more liberated, a little more racy, and it’s wild to think how accurately the show represented the time period and what America and the world was like going through the sexual revolution, the civil rights movement, and how fast it all happened. I think that’s the most surprising thing, because you don’t really think about it now all these years later, but this is just in an eight-year period, and it’s just worlds apart, and it’s fascinating.

So, as you know, Michael’s TV Tray is a classic TV and food blog. In your book, you provided all of that quantitative information about how many times Darrin was called “Durwood,” and who all the McMann & Tate clients were. So if you don’t mind, I want to test your knowledge: How many of McMann & Tate’s clients were food products or restaurants?

Oh my God, you mean just coming up with the number, or…

Well, a number—and then I’m going to see how many you can name.

Endora and Samantha wear sandwich boards to advertise Perfect PizzaOh, wow. I think I can probably name them easier than trying to count them. I know there was… I’m just going to rattle off. I know there was Perfect Pizza in first season, and also Mario’s Restaurant in the same episode. There was Colonel Brigham’s Spare Ribs seventh season. I was going to say Springer Pet Food, but that’s not human food.

We don’t want to count dog food.

There was Ah Fong’s in eighth season… Oh, I know there was more food than this.

Well, I’ll tell you: There were 31.

Oh nice. See, that’s one you should know. I feel kind of bad that I don’t know that, but I’m glad it was that many. I’m just surprised that I can only think of three off the top of my head.

It surprised me there were that many. My memory wasn’t that there were so many food clients. I remembered a few. I certainly remembered Bobbins Bonbons, because that was one of my favorites.

Hepzibah zaps up a witch's feast in the Stephens dining room.
Hepzibah zaps up a witch’s feast in the Stephens dining room.

Of course, I wasn’t thinking of that kind of food. Yeah, definitely, Bobbins Bonbons. Then, of course, there was the witch food. I mean that wasn’t clients, but every once in a while… like the episode in seventh season where Hepzibah comes to visit, and kind of lays down judgment on Darrin, and they’re serving hummingbird tongue parmesan, and tail of iguana bourguignon in neatsfeet oil. I don’t know if that counts as the kind of food you’d talk about on your blog but… It was interesting that they called it “ethnic food.” That was kind of a neat correlation.

So, in “Samantha’s Lost Weekend,” she mistakenly thinks she has voracious ravenousitis. Is that something mortals can get too? Because I think I have it.

I think that’s definitely possible… Anything fried… With me, my biggest vice is chocolate, so I think I definitely have voracious ravenousitis when it comes to chocolate.

Well I hope someone gives you a box of Bobbins Bonbons on Mother-in-Law’s Day.

“Because only the finest costliest ingredients are used!”

Maurice with giant martini glassLet’s talk for a minute about alcohol consumption, because they drank like fish on that show.

I hope you’re not going to ask me to count how many times they chugged!

No…

We’d be here all day.

You know, Darrin would go out to the bar, Maurice had his giant martini glass… They even got the tooth fairy drunk on brandy. So what was up with that? Why do you think there was so much drinking?

I think it’s just kind of the world that they lived in, the smoking and the drinking. Smoking was fashionable. Both my parents still smoke; that’s how they got started, and that was the in thing to do. Alcohol, I think they didn’t realize how… I want to say to say toxic—I don’t drink, so that’s the word I would use—I don’t think they realized how harmful it could be. Now, as soon as a woman becomes pregnant, she is not supposed to drink the entire time she is carrying. When our parents were expecting us, they drank, and they smoked, and that’s just that’s what they did. They didn’t realize anything was wrong with it. So that obviously reflected onto Bewitched especially. I think I probably figured all advertising agencies had the booze flowing. That may or may not be the case, I’m not sure.

What else would you like the Michael TV Tray audience to know?

Well I think the thing with the book is, even though I spend however many hundreds of pages digging in and nitpicking at things, and maybe sometimes being petty, it’s all meant to be fun. As I said, they didn’t realize it back in the day that continuity was going to be such a big thing, so it’s just my way of celebrating the show, having fun with it, hoping that folks will obviously remember the show, but also that that book might inspire them to revisit the show and fall in love with it all over again, and look at it a whole new way. It’s meant to be respectful, and I hope that I pull that off. It was certainly my intention, and I kind of…actually it’s ironic because tomorrow, is the twentieth anniversary of Elizabeth Montgomery’s passing, and I’ll always regret that I didn’t get the chance to meet her.

But you know, when you’re doing a book like this and you’re talking about peoples’ work, you want to be respectful of them, and you want to hope that, maybe they might have liked what you have to say. I always see Elizabeth on the cover I feel like she’s been there the whole time, and I hope she would appreciate what I tried to do, because, I certainly appreciated what she did.

I don’t know if you feel this way, but I always feel really sad when I watch it thinking about how all the adult actors are gone except for Bernard Fox [Dr. Bombay].

He is still here; he just turned 88 this past week.

And yeah, it’s true, I do think about that sometimes too, and it is sad. But at the same time, look at the legacy that they left us. We’re still talking about their work 50 years later—and that’s not such a bad thing.

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