Comedy of the Commonplace: The Sitcom Genius of Peg Lynch

Transition to Television

Peg Lynch moved her extremely popular sitcom Ethel and Albert in 1950 from radio into television. Introduced in the 1930s, television was still a relatively new broadcast medium in the 1940s. Black-and-white TV became during the 1950s the primary medium for entertainment, commercial advertising, and influencing public opinion. Ethel and Albert, having had a long and well-received run on radio, entered the television arena as a 10-minute sitcom sketch on a weekly variety program, The Kate Smith Hour. The program’s namesake, Kate Smith, had a wide following as a singer with a booming contralto voice and was especially known for her rendition of “God Bless America.” Ethel and Albert was a huge success.

Much later, in his book Raised on Radio, Gerald Nachman would state about Ethel and Albert, “The sitcom, which even managed a rare successful transfer to TV . . . was a skillfully written series that bridged the domestic comedy of a vaudeville-based era with a keen modern sensibility. Lynch made her comic points without stooping to female stereotypes, insults, running gags, funny voices, or goofy plots.” In 1953 the program became a half-hour series on the NBC television network.

Peg Lynch often wrote into her scripts guest roles for well-known actors, many of whom were or became her friends. One actor, Margaret Hamilton, known for her role as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz was a regular character, Aunt Eva, on Ethel and Albert.

Ethel and Albert remained on TV until May 25, 1956. During its six-year run it had switched networks—and sponsors—more than once. At that time, programs had a single commercial sponsor and were required to promote its products in on-air commercials and product placements. Loss of a sponsor could well mean cancellation of a program. After its television conclusion, Ethel and Albert were revived on radio in 1957 as The Couple Next Door. Their last name changed from Arbuckle to Piper, and more contemporary issues and topics were broached, but the wise humor remained.