Earlier today the first installment of a new interview with artist Sam Nelson appeared in this column. Titled “My God, What an Incredible Asset: Sam Nelson Tackles Ozzie and Harriet,” you can visit the link in case you missed anything.
Sam, the youngest child of legendary musician and singer Rick Nelson, has been blazing his own path as a serious musician with the indie rock band H Is Orange. A man of many hats (much like his dad and grandfather), Sam is now also managing the estate of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson.
The longest running live action sitcom of all time, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet is fondly remembered by its many fans. In addition to situation comedy often based on actual events, Ozzie and Harriet is notable for containing the first music video – set to Rick’s “Travelin’ Man,” his second No. 1 song on the pop charts in 1961.
Of the astounding 435 produced episodes, many have been lying forgotten in various dilapidated structures. Fortunately, Sam has decided to revive, restore and digitize the show, but he can’t do it alone. With the help of Kickstarter, the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world, Sam has found a revolutionary method to get his message out there.
In the conclusion of our interview below, Sam discusses the current progress of Kickstarter, music licensing for the show, the reason why Ozzie and Harriet went off the television airwaves, his ultimate goal(s) for the restoration project, his favorite episode (and it’s not “Ricky the Drummer”), and the program’s legacy.
The Sam Nelson Interview (Part Two)
How much money has Kickstarter raised so far?
This is the first time ever the Kickstarter springboard is giving Ozzie and Harriet that opportunity to do everything in the right way. And it is going to happen. That’s why this project is definitively a first step.
We had a preliminary goal, and we met it in 2.5 days. It was amazing. I had originally given the project 45 days to meet that preliminary goal. But I don’t want people to think they don’t have to donate. There’s still two weeks left, and we’re at $22,060. The ultimate Holy Grail number is about $55,000.
What we’ve got initially certainly gives us a bite of the apple to start moving things forward. We still have a ways to go. If people are interested in donating, please come to the site and put your donations in. They’ll get amazing rewards in exchange and be literally a part of making history.
I’m documenting everything. I hope to have a little film short about the process of Kickstarter. I’d like to release it as a bonus feature on a DVD of the show or maybe separately.
Will music licensing be an issue?
I can’t really get into legal aspects. There’s been a lot of confusion over the years. We do retain the rights, but we haven’t had the facility or quite frankly, the muscle to deal with it. There’s been a lot of dirtiness in the marketplace, but all of that will get cleaned up.
Was there a reason why your uncle wasn’t more proactive in keeping the series alive?
The last time it was in broadcast was in the early-‘90s on the Disney Channel’s late night schedule. Uncle Dave also produced and directed an hour-long documentary about my dad called Rick Nelson: A Brother Remembers, which aired in November 1987 on the channel.
Everybody comes to me and asks me the same thing: Why wasn’t it on the air? As simple as this sounds, the fact of the matter is I don’t know. I remember going to Uncle Dave and asking him why he didn’t keep it on the air.
He was in his early seventies, and it was a very daunting task to even begin to deal with Ozzie and Harriet stuff. Honestly, I think he was just tired and not motivated enough to do the work. Perhaps he considered that aspect of his life done. Time goes by very quickly.
At the time, there was this idea that cleaning up the show was exceedingly expensive. However, the show was the longest running sitcom in television history (1952-1966). That’s a profoundly huge amount of material to try to conceptualize.
Film transfer in the ‘80s was 1500 times more expensive. It doesn’t take that much money because it’s not rocket science. I think Uncle Dave got to a place where he might have investigated, but he decided not to pursue it.
What is your ultimate goal with Ozzie and Harriet?
First of all, the company needs to be rebuilt, so it’s not arbitrarily floating around like it has been this whole time. Actually, it was more of a trust or holding house. There was no hierarchy, no CEO, not even a true name for it.
The initial obvious stages would be a DVD release, a comprehensive box set. After the DVD release, broadcast in a multitude of capacities in any way, shape, or form. From there, I’d like to extend the show even further. The series carries a lot more weight that just being a television show – it has musical, historical, and sentimental components, respectively.
People inherently grew up with the show, so there’s this connection to it in a way there isn’t with other shows. The proof in the pudding. I put this project together on a whim to get folks involved. That it’s been successful thus far in such a short time is a testament that there is a desire out there for all things Nelson. And I want to do it right.
As things get building here, there’s a lot of work to do with Ozzie and Harriet. So I’ve got to get out of the corner and start getting more into the limelight. Hopefully people will start recognizing me as the face of Ozzie and Harriet. But I still like being a fly on the wall.
What was your favorite episode?
As a kid, I spent hours on my roof (we had a chimney that I used to climb). I wanted to be an astronaut, so I went to space camp. There is one that’s not the most popular called “The Ladder” (broadcast during the second season on November 27, 1953).
A pretty simple narrative, my grandfather gets up on his roof. Everybody leaves the house, and his ladder falls down. He’s basically stuck on the roof for the whole episode. It’s a super calming and funny episode. Personally, that’s my favorite.
The funny thing is, the premises for each show were all built on real-life events. An incident would happen one week, and it would be in the show the next week, which is pretty incredible. The music was the same way.
With the “I’m Walkin”’ story, my grandfather heard the record playing in my dad’s bedroom. You could record vinyl demos in those days. My grandfather asked, “What’s that?” And my dad responded, “It’s me singing.” My grandfather said, “Oh, really?”
By the next week the “Ricky the Drummer” episode was prepared. It aired on a Wednesday evening, (broadcast on April 10, 1957), and by Monday morning every record store stocked my dad’s cover of Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin.”’ It sold a million copies in a week.
What is the legacy of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet?
It was the longest running, live action sitcom in the history of television. It defined an era in America. It literally raised a generation of Americans. Through my dad, it smuggled rock & roll into the living rooms of mainstream America.
My grandfather was incredibly innovative and incredibly smart. He wore all the hats on the show – editor, producer, director, and writer. He had been a lawyer during his early years. He was also a successful bandleader in the ‘30s and ‘40s, so there was a lot of compartmentalizing occurring.
I’ve tried to emulate my grandfather in many ways. He had the foresight to realize rock & roll was meaningful and that my dad was a great talent. He helped parlay that into something real in a very big way.
The legacy speaks for itself in the sense that the show has been out of the public consciousness for more than two decades. When it was back on the air in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, it didn’t have the staying power or significance it did when it first came out.
Today it still resonates. We’re currently in discussions with The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., about doing a display forOzzie and Harriet.
There was no illusion of we’re over here, and you’re over there. It was the people’s show, the first reality type show (a family about a real-life family). People don’t really comprehend all of those elements today, and I want to change their understanding.
The Complete Sam Nelson Interview
- Part One: “My God, What an Incredible Asset: Sam Tackles Ozzie & Harriet”
- Two: “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet Was the People’s Show…”
- Three: “Rick Nelson Was Really My Dad: Sam Nelson Remembers…
- Four: “He’s Part of Something Incredible: The Lowdown with…”
- Five: “Sam Nelson, Musician: Revisiting H Is Orange and more with…”
- Six: “Rick Nelson Lived the Hero’s Journey and Left His Own Mark”
- Seven: “As Long As We Had Him: Rick’s Friends & Family Recall His Last Album”
The Complete James Burton Interview (Rick and Elvis’s guitarist)
- Part One: “Remembering Rick Nelson: An Interview with His Friend, Guitarist…”
- Two: “On the Road with Rick: The Master of Telecaster Remembers…”
- Three: “Never Be Anyone Else But You: The Guitarist on the Studio Years”
- Four: “25 Years Ago This Week – James Burton’s Tribute to a Legend”
The Complete Philip Bashe Interview (author of Teenage Idol, Travelin’ Man)
- Part One: “Teenage Idol, Travelin’ Man: An Interview with Rick’s Biographer”
- Two: “Rick Nelson Had a Great Deal of Musical Integrity…”
- Three: “Rick Nelson Never Sold Out: A Word with the Singer’s…”
- Four: “From You Just Can’t Quit to Garden Party: The Life Philosophy of Rick”
- Five: “As Long As We Had Him: Rick’s Friends & Family Recall His Last Album”
The Complete Sheree Homer Interview (author of Rick Nelson: Rock ‘N’ Roll Pioneer)
- Part One: “Rick Nelson: Rock ‘N’ Roll Pioneer: In Step with Sheree Homer”
- Two: “Rick the Songwriter: A Candid Take on His Formative Compositions”
- Three: “A Shy and Humble Guy Who Loved His Fans: Rick’s Rockabilly Legacy”
- Four: “As Long As We Had Him: Rick’s Friends & Family Recall His Last Album”
© Jeremy L. Roberts, 2011. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without first contacting the author.