Mel Brooks Created ‘Get Smart’ as a Screw You to Sitcoms

Brooks wasn’t a big fan of cloying mothers and wacky housekeepers
Mel Brooks Created ‘Get Smart’ as a Screw You to Sitcoms

The Get Smart franchise simply refuses to die. Even after TV’s spy spoof was canceled by NBC in 1969, it was picked up by rival network CBS for an additional season. Then, a decade after seemingly ending for good, Get Smart spawned a feature film, followed by a TV movie, and eventually, a ‘90s sequel series starring Andy Dick as Maxwell Smart’s son, which only lasted for seven episodes before Fox mercifully pulled the plug. 

Then, in 2008, there was a big-screen remake starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway. Despite the fact that the movie was a box-office hit, and spawned plans for a sequel penned by Carell himself, the franchise eventually fizzled out. But now there are unconfirmed rumors that Get Smart will once again be rebooted, this time potentially starring John Mulaney and directed by noted laugh riot David O. Russell. 

But it all began with the classic half-hour comedy created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry — okay, technically, the idea began with the production company Talent Associates, who commissioned the writers to come up with a comedic take on the spy genre after taking notice of the massive popularity of TV’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

As Brooks told Time Magazine back in 1965, he was motivated to create Get Smart, not just as a way to parody spy thrillers, but as a means of shaking up the entire TV landscape which, at the time, was cluttered with saccharine family sitcoms. “I was sick of looking at all those nice sensible situation comedies,” the comedy superstar recalled. “They were such distortions of life. If a maid ever took over my house like Hazel, I’d set her hair on fire.” 

Brooks was, of course, referring to the 1960s sitcom Hazel about a brash, domineering housekeeper who probably should have been discharged like four minutes into the pilot episode.

Brooks’ plans for TV were far more ambitious: “I wanted to do a crazy, unreal comic-strip kind of thing about something besides a family. No one had ever done a show about an idiot before. I decided to be the first.” He also actively rejected and subverted studio notes that would have forced the show into a more conventional mold.

Henry and Brooks first pitched the series to ABC, where executives complained that the script was “too wild.” Per Henry, one executive exclaimed that it was somehow “un-American!” So the network ordered the duo to add in a “lovable dog” character to “give the show more heart.” In response, they rewrote the pilot to include a “cowardly, mangy, wheezy dog that chased cars and bit strangers.”

The network also wanted to make Maxwell Smart’s mom a prominent character, but Brooks objected. “Max was to come home to his mother and explain everything,” he complained. “I hate mothers on shows. Max has no mother. He never had one.”

Of course, it remains to be seen if Brooks’ dictum will be upheld once we get David O. Russell’s Get Smart Episode One: Maxwell Smart Origins.

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