“…there are a lot of good people in the world. And a lot of good fantasies.”
–Studio promotional flyer for Good Heavens
Things have been going rather well for me lately. Although life is never perfect, I’ve been blessed with opportunities I would never have had previously, and found situations (and new friends) where I would never have even looked as recently as a year or so ago. What amazes me most about some of the new situations I find myself in is how they came about, and how perhaps one simple change I wasn’t even aware of at the time led me to where I am now.
So, of course, I get to relate that to a television series from the past… one that also rewarded big dreams and little choices, and told stories about characters who’d also been searching for an improvement in their lives. Sometimes, all it takes is a good deed, and a wish.
In the 1976 comedy Good Heavens, television veteran Carl Reiner starred as Mr. Angel, a kindly and somewhat mysterious man who helped change people’s lives. He rewarded those who did simple, good deeds (such as a husband who went out in the middle of the night in pouring rain to get food for his pregnant wife to satisfy her strange cravings). Suddenly, Mr. Angel would show up in their life and offer them the slightest of rewards for their small good effort. He’d give them one wish.
Fame, love, success, privacy, you name it, he would give them an opportunity to find it. The only rule about the wish was that no one could simply wish to be rich; he wouldn’t give anyone just money (and there’s a reason why there’s a saying about “money doesn’t buy happiness”). The chosen person would make their fondest wish, and the rest of the gentle half-hour would be filled with their exploits as their wish came true… and what they would do about the result.
The best wishes are simply possibilities, you see. They might involve a goal, perhaps (such as playing professional baseball, or meeting a person who has all the qualities you’ve always desired in a potential mate), but the real happiness comes once those goals are met. One aspiring actress character on the show wished for “her big break”, but that simply led to her breaking a limb. Of course, when she ends up in the hospital, she ends up meeting someone else there who can help her in her career, so her “break” finally comes… but not nearly in the way she believed it would.
The wishes provided by Mr. Angel were just starting points for the process, and whatever real happiness could be found by the individuals involved came more from themselves than any wish granted. As the quote above said, there are a lot of good people out there. Sometimes, they just needed an opportunity, and that’s what Mr. Angel was all about.
“I hope it inspires people to walk around doing good deeds for others, hoping they’ll be visited by a Mr. Angel.”
Good Heavens itself likely received a push of its own, or at the very least found an opportunity it may have lacked earlier. The idea was originally pitched a few years earlier to ABC by executive producer Reiner (a job he also held on the series when it finally made the air). Called Everything Money Can’t Buy (which is where the name of this article came from), it starred Oscar winner José Ferrer as the mysterious lead, and featured the character of Mr. Angel more prominently in each story.
In the development process, Everything Money Can’t Buy became Heaven Help Us, before ABC finally bought Good Heavens (with Reiner as the star). Reiner’s Mr. Angel was only seen in a few minutes at the beginning and ends of episodes, and the focus was really on the anthology aspect of different characters and settings each week, with just the “wish” as the starting point for each story. Besides, Reiner was busy with the producing aspects of the show, and reckoned that since he was working on the show on a regular basis anyway, he may as well work a day in front of the camera as well as his normal job behind it.
ABC was happy, as they got a star who worried as much about the bottom line as any other producer, and yet came with some notoriety of his own which they could promote. Carl Reiner had been a producer/writer/actor on The Dick Van Dyke Show in the early days of television, and had a hand in making numerous shows in the years following. His partnership with friend and movie producer/director Mel Brooks had led to comedy projects including the movie Oh, God and various recorded installments featuring The 2000-Year Old Man (including records, TV specials, and public appearances performing their characters).
“Playing an angel is gratifying, because I’m able to do things for people and it’s like being a father who helps his children.”
Reiner also had rather famous off-spring, as his son is well-known director Rob Reiner, who’s directed the iconic movie version of The Princess Bride, and is best known to television audiences as Mike “Meathead” Stivic in the landmark series All in the Family. He truly did keep the idea of Good Heavens “all in the family”, because Rob appeared in the pilot episode of Good Heavens and helped to finally sell the series. Rob grew up in the business, and perhaps having Carl’s name would have opened a door or two, but it was the successful work Rob established for himself when given the chance that made his own career shine.
Carl himself is no stranger to television audiences, having reprised his Dick Van Dyke Show role of Alan Brady in an episode of Mad About You decades later. He also currently has a recurring role on the TVLand series Hot in Cleveland (which has just been renewed for a fourth season premiering later this year), and was featured in the Ocean’s Eleven series of movies. Reiner’s life has been a good one, and even he has said that it was the meeting of opportunity and preparation that made the difference… a concept that informed the basis of Good Heavens.
Realize that Mr. Angel only provided an opportunity for the characters on Good Heavens. Whatever happened afterwards was a result of the characters’ own desires, actions, and dreams. So very many people have chances to make their lives and their world a better place, moment by moment, yet those very people let those moments pass them by, thinking their dreams will never amount to anything, or that the effort will be too great, or the people around them will be unhappy with their new choices.
Guess what? They’re wrong.
Just as Rob Reiner had to prove himself with his work, each one of us must prove ourselves in our own endeavors. Having that open door, or that opportunity, or that wish come true is all part of the battle. And it doesn’t really take a Mr. Angel to provide it for us, but it does take an awareness of the possibilities available. So when that door opens, or that opportunity arrives, the wishes and dreams of the past become the realities of the future.
And they don’t have to always be exactly as we pictured them, either. Sometimes, they’re even better. In my own life, I had what I believed was a good, although not spectacular, existence. Then an accident and subsequent health issues shortly thereafter caused me to truly become depressed about the possibilities of my life. But out of those ashes, this blog was born, as a way to be creative when other avenues I’d previously walked were unavailable to me, and slowly (and with the encouragement of others), I discovered much, much more.
I found a new occupation, one I’d never previously even imagined, and it’s led me to deal with things and places I’d not even dreamed of. I utilized some of what I’d attained in the past, but it also now challenges me daily, making me realize what I really can do instead of focusing upon what I’d lost before. The planning of an upcoming vacation to see friends both old and new also happened during this time, and suddenly a few things about both work and play seem to have “fallen into my lap”, as if I’d wished for them and Mr. Angel made them come true.
But some around me reminded me that I’d already done the “dirty work” to make these dreams come true. I realized the upcoming wonders of my life are all based upon the small things I’d done previously, just magnified by time and chance into something much more. My wishes were always there, ready to be granted. I just needed to grant them for myself….
CARL REINER (Mr. Angel) has had a prolific career in both television and movies. As an actor, he’s been featured in everything from Your Show of Shows in the 1950’s to his occasional role on the currently filming Hot in Cleveland. In between, he’s best known as Alan Brady on the original Dick Van Dyke Show, as well as making appearances on Mad About You, Ally McBeal, House, M.D., and Boston Legal. His film career includes parts in the Ocean’s Eleven series of movies, as well as the classic It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Steve Martin’s The Jerk. He directed a number of movies with Martin, including The Man with Two Brains and All of Me, as well as the original Oh, God (which occurred roughly the same time as Good Heavens, and may have had something to do with the choice of subject matter for the series). He’s won eight Emmy Awards, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (since 1960!), and was given the prestigious Mark Twain award for Comedy from the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
“Television keeps you working.”
The series did rather well in the ratings, finishing in the top twenty for the 1976 spring season for ABC. But at the time, ABC was swamped with popular programming, and as the #1 network they almost had an embarrassment of riches. Although it was a popular gentle comedy that skewed slightly older in demographics, ABC was after a younger audience (for their advertisers) and Good Heavens didn’t quite fit that bill. Besides, room had to be made for their upcoming fall slate of shows, which included new things like the original Charlie’s Angels… shows that didn’t pair well with Good Heavens. So Reiner’s anthology show was never put on the schedule for the fall, and kind of just disappeared into the memories of viewers… much like Mr. Angel would disappear at the end of each episode.
Good Heavens has never been released on DVD, and I really haven’t found any clips anywhere. I can find a few mentions on various websites (the usual suspects like IMDB and such), but except for a few pictures here and there, the series pretty much still exists in the minds of those who saw it back in 1976. And you know something? That’s somehow appropriate, simply because the subject matter of Good Heavens is really about individuals finding their own way towards their dreams, and that’s not always something to be shared with the world at large. The important part isn’t the sharing… it’s the doing.
Everyone would like a little nudge once in a while, even if we don’t actually ask for it. Sometimes, the presence of a Mr. Angel would be welcome, if only so we didn’t have to do everything ourselves, and the opportunity to become more than what we already are would be handed to us. But that’s not the way the world works, and honestly, that’s not how television works either. And while some see the medium as a time-waster and a place to forget about all those dreams and wishes, I’d prefer to see it as just a window that opens when other doors might be closed, and a place to gather ideas and plans for new wishes to be made.
And then, I turn off the set and find a way to make those dreams come true. And if a certain Mr. Angel happens to think that my efforts are worthwhile, then I might get that gentle nudge. But even if I don’t, I now know in my heart that my hard work and discipline will reap rewards sometime in the future, although I may not always know now what those rewards will be. And with good friends teaching me perseverance, compassion, and joy, there’s no stopping me. The sky’s the limit… up to and including Good Heavens.
13 half-hour episodes — none unaired
First aired episode: February 29, 1976 (yes, leap day)
Final aired episode: June 26, 1976
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central? Nope, it was on Thursday evenings, oddly paired with On the Rocks, a comedy set in a prison. Think about that. Not the best opportunity ABC could have presented audiences with.
Comments and suggestions are appreciated, as always.