Comedy of the Commonplace: The Sitcom Genius of Peg Lynch

About Peg Lynch

Peg Lynch enjoyed a long and enormously successful career in radio and early television situation comedy. She was the first woman to create, write, star in, and solely own a sitcom series, Ethel and Albert. Beginning on radio, she played the part of Ethel, with a sequence of male actors over the years cast as Albert. They were a typical suburban American married couple of the 1940s and ’50s dealing with the little frustrations of life that beset us all. Moving into television in 1944, Lynch soon hired actor Alan Bunce, who had a background in theater and had starred in the radio serial Young Dr. Malone, to play Albert; he remained in this role until his death in 1965.

Peg Lynch developed her own brand of gentle domestic comedy that, on television as on radio, won the hearts of viewers across the country and was applauded by critics as well. One reviewer noted the show’s “warm, realistic portrayal of married life among normal and pleasant people.” New York Times critic Jack Gould wrote that Peg Lynch on television “has lost none of her uncanny knack for catching the small situation in married life and developing it into a gem of quiet humor. The charm of Ethel and Albert is that they could be man and wife off the screen.” The show, both on radio and TV, garnered a large and loyal fan base—people related personally to Ethel and Albert and their amiable, often hilarious, marital squabbles.

Peg Lynch drew humor from everyday life. In her own words, “I’ve never written a script that wasn’t based on something that happened to me or Al [Alan Bunce] or someone I know. The way people talk and act is funny enough.” And she renounced the usual plot format: “I don’t like plots. Things at home do not have a beginning, a middle, and an end.” Later, writers and fans would compare her comedy, favorably, to that of Seinfeld, which purported to be about “nothing.”

Ethel and Albert aired for the final time on television on May 25, 1956. Like most series of that era, it had been dependent on a single commercial sponsorship that could end for various reasons. Because Peg Lynch owned the program, however, she was not tied to one network, and she had been able to switch networks and sponsors several times.

The show had a revival on radio for three years beginning in 1957 as The Couple Next Door, and other, shorter-lived radio programs followed. Into her late age, Peg Lynch continued to correspond with fans and play the role of Ethel at Old Time Radio and Television Conventions around the nation.