‘The Odd Couple’: Why the Show’s First Season Looks and Feels Different

The Odd Couple didn’t invent the trope of the neat freak vs. the slob, but the ’70s TV show certainly popularized it. Even the names Oscar and Felix suggest messy vs. neat. The Odd Couple has evolved through several media, starting on the stage, moving to the big screen, and then to the small-screen – in more than one version, no less. However, the Tony Randall/Jack Klugman show has endured the most – and it even provides a lesson in how sitcoms are made. 

What is ‘The Odd Couple?’

(L-R) Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison and Tony Randall as Felix Unger with 'The Odd Couple' title overlaid
(L-R) Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison and Tony Randall as Felix Unger | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

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According to MeTV and HelloGiggles, the franchise debuted on the Broadway stage in 1965, courtesy of renowned playwright Neil Simon. Walter Matthau played the slovenly Oscar and Art Carney of The Honeymooners fame was the fastidious Felix. The premise was that Felix’s wife throws him out, forcing him to bunk up with Oscar. Although the two drive each other crazy, they come to find they make each other better. 

When the movie came along in 1968, Carney was replaced by Matthau’s frequent co-star Jack Lemmon. This led to the TV show, which ran for five seasons from 1970 to 1975 on CBS. Lemmon and Matthau revived their roles for a 1998 sequel, The Odd Couple II, but thanks to the success of the TV show, that medium seemed to serve the property best, with several variations on the theme. 

There was The New Odd Couple (1982-1983) that had a Black cast. There was the 2015 reboot with Matthew Perry (Oscar) and Thomas Lennon (Felix). There was even an animated version of sorts in the ’70s called The Oddball Couple, with the titular pair being a dog and a cat. One can only wonder what would have happened if they met the human Oscar and Felix. 

There are two camera styles for sitcoms

(L-R) Tony Randall, Monica Evans, Carole Shelley, Jack Klugman dancing on 'The Odd Couple'
(L-R) Tony Randall, Monica Evans, Carole Shelley, Jack Klugman on The Odd Couple | ABC via Getty Images

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MeTV points out that The Odd Couple looked different from the first season to subsequent seasons. That’s because the series changed the camera format, and when it comes to sitcoms, there are two, as Screencraft explains: Single camera and multi-camera. Single-camera doesn’t exactly mean that a crew only uses one camera period, but it generally means that one camera is used to shoot any given scene, with another camera sometimes picking up additional footage. These generally have smaller crews and can more easily shoot outside.

Examples of single-camera sitcoms include Malcolm in the Middle and Modern Family. Most sitcoms use the multi-camera format, having several cameras cover a scene. These are often shot before a studio audience and include shows like Friends and The Big Bang Theory. Sitcoms are enjoying a renaissance thanks to WandaVision. The Odd Couple made the transition to this format, at least partly because Randall didn’t like laugh tracks. 

‘WandaVision’ sparks a sitcom revival

It just so happens that the hottest show of the moment, WandaVision is a tribute to sitcoms cloaked in Marvel Cinematic Universe superheroics. The show has served as a tour through sitcom history, with tributes to The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, The Brady Bunch, and Modern Family. In fact, Marvel went so far as to film some scenes before a live studio audience, making that audience sign their famous non-disclosure agreements. 

And that’s not the only step Marvel took. They also brought in Dick Van Dyke himself as a consultant to help the show get the sitcom milieu and timing right. The Feb. 26 episode made it clear that The Dick Van Dyke Show was a favorite of Wanda’s, so might it be possible that Van Dyke could appear on camera? Given Van Dyke is a Disney veteran, so Van Dyke  and Wanda might not make such an odd couple.