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‘Nanny and the Professor’ Was Magic on TV, But Was Also Tough — and Often Tragic — for Much of Its Cast

By the start of the 1970s, television — those shows we know now as Classic TV — was beginning to lose a bit of its magic, with I Dream of Jeannie ending its five-year run in May of 1970, and Bewitched winding down in 1972, eight years after it began. In a sense, a final effort was made in January 1970 with Nanny and the Professor.

The series, which ran until December 1971, stars Juliet Mills (sister to The Parent Trap‘s Hayley Mills) as Phoebe Figalilly (who prefers to be called “Nanny”), arriving at the home of widower Professor Harold Everett (Richard Long) to serve as caretaker to his three children. Those kids are Hal (David Doremus), described as an intellectual tinkerer; Butch (Trent Lehman) and Prudence (future Real Housewife Kim Richards). In the grand tradition of Mary Poppins, there is something a little bit …. different about Nanny, who has something of a sixth sense; an out of the ordinary quality.

Nanny and the Professor was a charming half-hour that was somewhere between Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie,” says Herbie J Pilato, author of Mary: The Mary Tyler Moore Story and host of Amazon’s new Classic TV talk show, Then Again. “Juliet Mills was just adorable, but you never really quite knew what Nanny was. You know, Samantha was a witch. Got it. Jeannie’s a genie. Got it. But what is this woman and exactly what kind of powers did she have? So it didn’t seem all fleshed out and that confused people. Yet when you’re a kid immersed in the world of fun television in the late ’60s/early ’70s, and you throw in that amazing theme song, it’s nothing but charm.”

TV historian and author Ed Robertson, who is host of the podcast TV Confidential, reflects, “What I remember most about the show is that for a while it was on Friday night, placed in its first year between The Brady Bunch, which aired at 7:30 on Fridays, and The Partridge Family, which aired at 8:30, which was a nice time slot for it. For kids, that made a nice little block of programming on Friday nights. Then, in 1971, when the FCC changed the public access rule and the networks had to give up half an hour of airtime, the night no longer started at 7:30 p.m.; it had to start at 8 p.m.. As a result, Nanny and the Professor got moved from Friday night to Monday night and that hurt the show. It was a gentle family comedy, kind of in the spirit of Family Affair, and half the target audience was no longer able to watch in 1971. Just one of those network decisions that made you scratch your head.”

When it came to time slot battles, in 1971 series executive producer David Gerber commented to the media, “Do you know what they call Nanny and the Professor on Madison Avenue? ‘Little Orphan Nanny.'”

For more on Nanny and the Professor, and to read what happened to the cast — some of it quite tragic — please scroll down.

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