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Barbara Eden and ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ — The Inside Story You Didn’t Know

There’s no escaping the fact that the 1960s were a time of strange and different things, whether you’re talking about society as a whole or pop culture in the form of music, film, and, in this particular case, Classic TV. High-concept shows were everywhere in the ’60s, one of them being about a 2,000-year-old genie being rescued by and falling in love with an astronaut: I Dream of Jeannie.

Barbara Eden, of course, played the genie (who happened to be named Jeannie) and Larry Hagman (later to achieve much greater fame as Dallas‘ J.R. Ewing) was the astronaut, Tony Nelson. For five seasons, the show focused on the comic misadventures of an empowered female who would do anything to make her “master” (we shudder to write the word now) happy, while he is desperate to present an appearance of normalcy to the outside world in order to protect his career. On the surface, the premise of the show may sound paper-thin, but that, the show’s creator, Sidney Sheldon, felt would be the key to its success.

In fact, in the pages of his biography, The Other Side of Me, he recounts that that was something (among other things) the network fought with him over. One memo from the vice president of NBC expressed his concern that it wasn’t going to work, because it was a one-joke show and, therefore, would be short-lived. “I was beginning to wonder why the network had bought the show in the first place,” Sidney writes. “I sent my reply: ‘You are quite right. Jeannie is a one-joke show, and that’s exactly why it’s going to work. I Love Lucy is a one-joke show. The Beverly Hillbillies is a one-joke show. The Honeymooners is a one-joke show. The trick with all these shows is to entertainingly vary the joke each week. We all hope that Jeannie will last as long as I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners and The Beverly Hillbillies.’ I heard no more about it.”

Steve Cox, in his book Dreaming of Jeannie, sums it all up nicely with, “At best, this was a feel-good show; it was escapism. Simply, I Dream of Jeannie is a show about a curvaceous genie in scant clothing who was something to behold then, and still is.”

In what follows, Barbara, Larry, and Sidney look back at I Dream of Jeannie. Unless otherwise noted, their quotes come from the wonderful television history resource, The Television Academy Foundation.

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