Starring Donna Reed
Theme music composer John Seely
Opening theme “Happy Days”
Composer(s) Irving Friedman
Hans J. Salter
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 8
No. of episodes 275
Producer(s) Tony Owen
William S. Roberts
Cinematography Gert Andersen
Editor(s) Richard Fantl
Robert B. Hoover
Camera setup Single-camera
Running time 22–24 minutes
Production company(s) Screen Gems
Distributor Colex EnterprisesColumbia Pictures TelevisionColumbia Tristar Television Distribution
Original network ABC
Picture format Black-and-white
Audio format Monaural
Original release September 24, 1958 – March 19, 1966
The Donna Reed Show is an American situation comedy starring Donna Reed as the middle-class housewife Donna Stone. Carl Betz co-stars as her pediatrician husband Dr. Alex Stone, and Shelley Fabares and Paul Petersen as their teenage children, Mary and Jeff. The show originally aired on ABC from September 24, 1958 to March 19, 1966. When Fabares left the show in 1963, Petersen’s little sister, Patty Petersen, joined the cast as adopted daughter Trisha. Patty Petersen had first appeared in the episode, “A Way of Her Own”, on January 31, 1963. Actress Janet Landgard was a series regular from 1963-1965 as Karen Holmby.
Bob Crane and Ann McCrea appeared in the last seasons as Dr. Dave Kelsey and his wife, Midge, friends of the Stones, and Darryl Richard became a near regular in thirty-two episodes as Smitty, Jeff’s best buddy. The show featured a variety of celebrity guests including Esther Williams as a famous dress designer, baseball superstars Don Drysdale and Willie Mays as themselves, teen heartthrob James Darren as a pop singer with the measles, canine superstar Lassie, and young Jay North of CBS’s Dennis the Menace.
The series was created by William S. Roberts and developed by Reed and her then husband, producer Tony Owen. Episodes revolved around typical family problems of the period such as firing a clumsy housekeeper, throwing a retirement bash for a colleague, and finding quality time away from the children. Then-daring themes such as women’s rights and freedom of the press were occasionally explored.
The show had an uncertain start in the ratings and was almost cancelled, but fared better when it was moved from Wednesday to Thursday nights. In the show’s middle seasons, Fabares sang what became a #1 teen pop hit “Johnny Angel”, and Petersen had above average success with the song “My Dad”, also introduced during the course of the series.
The Donna Reed Show was one of television’s top 25 shows in 1963-1964. Reed was repeatedly nominated for Emmy Awards between 1959 and 1962, and won a Golden Globe as Best Female TV Star in 1963. She eventually grew tired of the work-a-day grind involved in the program, and it was cancelled in 1966 after 275 episodes.
The series was sponsored by Campbell Soup Company, with Johnson & Johnson as the principal alternate sponsor (succeeded in the fall of 1963 by The Singer Company). Following first-run, the show entered daytime reruns on ABC and then syndication on Nick at Nite and TV Land for several years. The first five seasons have been released on DVD.
This show was the first TV family sitcom to feature the mother as the center of the show. Reed’s character, Donna Stone, is a loving mother and wife, but also a strong woman, an active participant in her community, a woman with feelings and a sense of humor. According to many of Reed’s friends and family, Reed shared many similarities to the character that she portrayed on screen, implying that the fictional Donna Stone was a near-identical copy of Reed herself.
In a 2008 interview, Paul Petersen (Jeff Stone) stated, “[The Donna Reed Show] depicts a better time and place. It has a sort of level of intelligence and professionalism that is sadly lacking in current entertainment products. The messages it sent out were positive and uplifting. The folks you saw were likable, the family was fun, the situations were familiar to people. It provided 22-and-a-half-minutes of moral instructions and advice on how to deal with the little dilemmas of life. Jeff and Mary and their friends had all the same problems that real kids in high school did.” Petersen continued, “That’s what the show was really about, the importance of family. That’s where life’s lessons are transmitted, generation to generation. There’s a certain way in which these are transmitted, with love and affection.”
Episodes revolve around the lightweight and humorous sorts of situations and problems a middle-class family experienced in the late 1950s and the early 1960s set in fictional Hilldale, state never mentioned.
Donna, for example, would sometimes find herself swamped with the demands of community theatricals and charity drives; Mary had problems juggling boyfriends and finding dresses to wear to one party or another; and Jeff was often caught in situations appropriate to his age and gender such as joining a secret boys’ club, avoiding love-smitten classmates, or bidding at auction on an old football uniform.
Alex was the family’s Rock of Gibraltar, but often found himself in situations that tested his patience: in one episode, Donna volunteered him as the judge of a baby contest, and, in another episode, Mary insisted her gawky, geeky boyfriend was the spitting image of her father. Very occasionally eccentric relatives would descend on the Stones to complicate the household situation.
When Mary left for college in the middle seasons, a runaway orphan named Trisha was adopted by the family. In the last seasons, Jeff would spend much time with best buddy Smitty, and Donna and Alex would find best friends in Dave Kelsey, Alex’s professional colleague, and his wife Midge. While mainly concerned with various household and family affairs, the show sometimes addressed edgier issues such as women’s rights (“Just a Housewife” and “All Women Are Dangerous”) freedom of the press (“The Editorial”), and in the final season drug addiction was seriously addressed (“The Big League Shock”).