Danny Thomas obtained his own program in 1953 when agent Abe Lastfogel pressured fledgling network ABC into accepting Thomas as part of their terms for acquiring the much-coveted Ray Bolger. ABC, familiar with Thomas' previously ill-received television performances, insisted upon a sitcom, and it was during a prolonged brainstorming session with producer Lou Edleman and writer Mel Shavelson, that Thomas inadvertently came up with the autobiographical premise that was to become Make Room for Daddy. As the three worked futilely into the night, Thomas grew impatient and pleaded that he simply wanted a series so that he could stay put with his family for awhile. The result was, Make Room for Daddy, a show which revolved around the absentee-father dilemmas of a traveling singer-comic "Danny Williams." The title was suggested by Thomas' real-life wife, Rose-Marie, who during Danny's frequent tours, allowed their children to sleep with her. Upon her husband's return, the children would have to empty dresser drawers and leave the master bed to, quite literally, "make room for Daddy."
Incorporating Thomas' singing and story-telling talents, the program was a blend of domestic comedy and variety program (during Danny's fictionalized "nightclub engagements"). It became one of television's most successful comedies, winning numerous awards, including best new show for the 1952-53 season. Despite its success, the program underwent a number of transformations, most notably when Jean Hagen, who played the part of wife Margaret, left the series to attend to her film and stage career. For the fourth season, Danny played a widower, and a succession of guest-stars appeared as potential replacement wives. In the 1956 season finale, Danny proposed to guest-star Marjorie Lord who, along with child star Angela Cartwright, joined the Williams' family for the program's remaining seven years. The start of the 1957 television season also saw the program on a new network (CBS) when ABC president (and Hagen ally) Robert Kintner, lost interest in the series. The newly titled Danny Thomas Show slid into the spot formally occupied by CBS's mega-hit I Love Lucy, where it remained in the top ten until voluntarily leaving the network when the performers sought new avenues of creative expression.
While starring in Make Room for Daddy, Thomas met Sheldon Leonard, a former gangster-type actor with aspirations for directing. Leonard took over as director for the program midway into its first season, eventually becoming executive producer. Together, Thomas and Leonard established Thomas-Leonard Productions, a powerhouse production company based on the Desilu lot that was responsible for a multitude of successful series including The Real McCoy, The Andy Griffith Show, The Joey Bishop Show, The Bill Dana Show and The Dick van Dyke Show. In 1965 when Leonard left to develop I Spy, Thomas continued independently, producing The Danny Thomas Hour, an anthology series for NBC and joining with Aaron Spelling to create and produce The Mod Squad and other programs. While a 1967 attempt to buy Desilu from Lucille Ball was unsuccessful, Thomas continued to create and produce programs under the banner of Danny Thomas Productions.
Thomas had an enormous positive impact upon the growing medium. The off-camera stand-up routines he performed for the in-studio audience just prior to filming each episode of Make Room for Daddy, were imitated on other programs and institutionalized as the now commonplace "warm-up." The Andy Griffith Show was the first real spin-off for network television, originating in a 1960 episode of The Danny Thomas Show. As a producer he read scripts, and supervised a plethora of number one rated programs and was personally responsible for casting Mary Tyler Moore as Laura Petrie in The Dick van Dyke Show. His influence as producer continued not only in his own projects but through the work of his children, notably daughter Marlo, who became a renowned actress-producer-director, and his son Tony, who with partners Susan Harris and Paul Junger Witt is responsible for veritable catalogue of 1970s and 1980s hit programs, including Soap and The Golden Girls.
Sheldon Leonard, William Asher, Danny Thomas
Herbert W. Spencer, Earle Hagen (MSI)
Louis F. Edelman
Sheldon Leonard, Charles Stewart
Original channel ABC (1953-1957)
Original run September 29, 1953 – September 14, 1964