Wed, 04/12/2017

Growing Up with Dan Wilcox

Dan Wilcox

When we were first offered the chance to interview TV writer Dan Wilcox we immediately got a vision, a very familiar screenshot of the credits rolling during an episode of one of our favorite ‘70s/’80s TV shows — M*A*S*H. Close your eyes, you can see it, too — the yellow, stencil font that reads “Written by Dan Wilcox and Thad Mumford.”

That credit appeared on 15 episodes of the series, including the legendary finale “Goodbye, Farwell, and Amen.” Wilcox and his partner Thad Mumford were also producers and story consultants on the last several seasons of the hit dramedy. But it wasn’t until we began researching Dan Wilcox further that we realized we grew up with the writer, watching his shows along every step of our formative years.

Pre-K: Captain Kangaroo

It all started with Captain Kangaroo. The weekday morning kid’s fare is truly one of our earliest TV memories. We’d watch each day in the morning with our mom as our older siblings went off to school — Make Way for Ducklings, Curious George, Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, Mr. Green Jeans and the Dancing Bear. Little did we know that as we were discovering the magic of television, Dan Wilcox was getting his feet wet as a TV writer just out of college. In this clip he talks about auditioning to be a writer on the show.

As we graduated from Captain Kangaroo to Sesame Street, so did Wilcox. In 1969, because of his experience on Kangaroo he was hired as a writer on a brand new, somewhat experimental children’s show for PBS called Sesame Street. He wrote scenes for Ernie and Bert, Grover and Cookie Monster, all while inhaling the brilliance that is Jim Henson. As we were learning to count along with the Count, Wilcox was mastering the ins and outs of writing educational materials while entertaining children.

Pre-teens: Alice, Roots and America 2Night

Through the years, our TV tastes matured and Wilcox’s writing was seen in more and more higher profile projects. We moved on from kids shows to sitcoms and tuned in each week to see Linda Lavin wait tables on Alice. We watched with the world as Kunta Kinte’s ancestors navigated the nation of post-slavery in Roots: The Next Generations and we snuck out of our bedrooms late at night to watch Barth Gimble (Martin Mull) and Jerry Hubbard (Fred Willard) lampoon the world of late night talk shows on America 2Night.

But without doubt, the highest profile show Wilcox and Mumford worked on was M*A*S*H. They joined the staff in Season 8 and stayed with the show until the finale. Along with Alan Alda, Burt Metcalfe, John Rappaport, Elias Davis, David Pollock, and Karen Hall, Wilcox and Mumford wrote what still stands as the most watched episode of a regular TV series of all time. Wilcox and Mumford sat down together and talked about writing “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen.”

Young Adults: Newhart

As M*A*S*H was wrapping up, Wilcox moved on to another one of our favorite shows of our formative TV years — Newhart. As Executive Producer he sat next to Bob Newhart at every table read, taking his notes on the scripts and basking in his comic genius. In our interview Wilcox talked about some of his favorite episodes, including the one where Larry, Darryl and his other brother Darryl go back to high school, and the Founder’s Days episode where Bob ends up in the stocks with an itchy nose. Watch this clip as Wilcox tries to sum up the mastery of Bob Newhart.

Watch the full Dan Wilcox interview here and check out Thad Mumford's interview, too.

- Pop Culture Passionistas