Father Knows Best
was the classic wholesome family situation comedy. It was set in the typical
Midwestern community of Springfield, where Jim Anderson was an agent for the
General Insurance Company. Every evening he would come home from work, take off
his sports jacket, put on his comfortable sweater, and deal with the everyday
problems of a growing family. In contrast with most other family comedies of the
period, in which one or the other of the parents was a blundering idiot, both
Jim and his wife, Margaret, were portrayed as thoughtful, responsible adults.
When a family crisis arose, Jim would calm the waters with a warm smile and some
When Father Knows Best went on television
in 1954, the three children were aged 17 (Betty), 14 (Bud ), and 9, (Kathy). As
the seasons passed, two of them graduated from high school, first Betty (1956)
and then Bud (1959). Neither left home, however, both electing to go to Springfield’s
own State College.
The Andersons were truly
an idealized family, the sort that viewers related to and wish to emulate. The
children went through the normal problems of growing up, including those
concerning school, friends, and members of the opposite sex. They didn't always
agree with their parents and occasionally succeeded in asserting their
independence (as when Jim and Margaret almost succeeded in pushing Betty into
going to their alma mater, until they realized that she had to make her own
decisions and let her choose State instead). But the bickering was minimal, and
everything seemed to work out by the end of the half-hour.
Father Knows Best
began as an NBC radio series in 1949, with Robert Young in the starring role. He
was the only member of the radio cast that made the transition to TV in 1954.
The TV series was not particularly successful at first, and CBS canceled it in
March 1955. A flood of viewer protests, demanding that the program be reinstated
and moved to an earlier time slot so that the whole family could watch it,
prompted NBC to pick it up for the following season with an 8:30pm starting time. Father Knows Best prospered for the
next five years.
The series became such a symbol of the
"typical" American family that the U.S. Treasury Department commissioned the
producers to film a special episode to help promote the 1959 U.S. Savings
Bond Drive. The story, "24 Hours in Tyrant Land," told
how the Anderson children attempted to live for a day under
a make-believe dictatorship. Never aired on television, this special episode was
distributed to churches, schools, and civic organizations to show the importance
of maintaining a strong American Democracy.
During the 1959-1960 season, its last with
original episodes, its last with original episodes, Father Knows Best had
its most successful year, ranking sixth among all television programs. By the
end of that season, however, star Robert Young had tired of the role, which he
had been playing for 11 years, and decided it was time to move on to other
things. This was one of the rare occasions in the history of television when
production on a series ceased when it was at the peak of its popularity.
CBS scheduled rerun episodes in prime-time for another two years, also a rarity,
and ABC reran them for another season after that. From November 1962 until
February 1967, reruns were also seen on ABC daytime.