Choice Awful Moments from Mel Brooks' Awful 1970s Sitcom 'When Things Were Rotten'
We all love Mel Brooks, not just because of his movies (and occasional baffling cameos) but also for his contribution to the world of TV comedy. As we all know, Brooks (and Buck Henry) famously co-created Get Smart, the classic James Bond-style spy parody series starring Don Adams as the deadpan Maxwell Smart, made back when Americans were still positively floored by the idea of a telephone the size of a man’s foot.
Well, it turns out that Brooks also co-created a show that we’re pretty sure was never made into an Anne Hathaway movie. In 1975 Brooks produced When Things Were Rotten, a weekly sitcom about Robin Hood and his Merry Men. And it was… not good.
While it had a few amusing setpieces, When Things Were Rotten is weirdly boring and frequently downright bizarre, such as the episode in which Robin has to quarantine from the plague with the Sheriff of Nottingham. Or the one where a group of tree cutters (including Phantom of the Paradise’s Paul Williams) is scared out of Sherwood Forest after Robin and the gang dress up like ghosts, Scooby-Doo-style.
Not to mention the regrettable episode in which Dudley Moore dons brownface to play a Sheik intent on marrying Maid Marian.
According to co-star Bernie Kopell, When Things Were Rotten was initially a ratings hit, debuting at number one, before sharply and steadily declining with every subsequent week until it was eventually canned after only a dozen episodes. Of course, this wasn’t the last time that Mel Brooks mined the Robin Hood legend for jokes…
In 1993, Brooks directed Robin Hood: Men in Tights, which is a far better Robin Hood spoof than When Things Were Rotten – but it still borrowed some specific bits from the failed sitcom. For instance, the characterization of Prince John seems to have originated with the show. They even recycled the same trumpet gag –
And apparently, the same fake mole?
Though, in retrospect, no comedic attempts at a Robin Hood movie or show will ever top the hilarity of Kevin Costner's accent.
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