I Married Joan is an American sitcom that aired on NBC from 1952 to 1955. It starred veteran vaudeville, film, and radio comedian-comedy actress Joan Davis as the manic, scatterbrained wife of a mild-mannered community judge, the Honorable Bradley Stevens (Jim Backus).
Davis as Joan Stevens
The show, whose syndicated opening makes the claim “America’s favorite comedy show, starring America’s queen of comedy, Joan Davis, as Mrs. Joan Stevens.” focused on a married couple, Joan and Bradley Stevens. I Married Joan’s trademark was broad physical slapstick, with Joan Stevens portrayed as bright but somewhat childlike and given to misunderstanding. Virtually every episode had a plot which provided star Davis with a setup for at least one scene of over-the-top physical comedy. Davis’s real-life daughter, Beverly Wills, was a regular cast member for several months of the show’s second season, portraying Joan’s sister, Beverly Grossman. Early installments began with Backus, as Judge Stevens in chambers, recalling how one of his wife’s madcap mishaps paralleled the problems of a couple seeking a divorce; this was followed by the unfolding of the episode, which ended back in chambers with Judge Stevens summing up his tale for the now-reconciled couple. This wraparound scenario was abandoned after a handful of episodes
Sponsored by General Electric (original network openings extolled the virtues of the sponsor’s products rather than those of its star), I Married Joan was aimed at the viewers who watched I Love Lucy, which had debuted the previous year and was already television’s top-rated situation comedy. I Love Lucy and I Married Joan even employed the same director in each show’s first season, namely Marc Daniels.
NBC scheduled I Married Joan Wednesdays at 8:00 ET against the first half of Arthur Godfrey and his Friends on CBS for the entirety of its three-season run. The show performed marginally during its first year, but enjoyed a surge in the Nielsen ratings during its second season in the wake of Godfrey’s firing of Julius LaRosa and the resultant negative publicity. In its third year, I Married Joan withered against the additional competition of ABC’s new top-rated hit Disneyland and was canceled, airing its last first-run episode on March 23, 1955. Although Davis’ personal health problems have also been cited as a reason for the show’s cancellation, she was seen performing robust physical comedy as a guest star on variety series years after her own show ended.
Though I Married Joan was an NBC television series, CBS Paramount Television subsequently became the primary owners of the program’s copyright. The copyrights on some of the episodes eventually lapsed without being renewed; as a result, I Married Joan has several episodes in the public domain.