“Mr. Smith” told the story of Cha Cha, an orangutan who – after a lab accident – gains an IQ of 256 and the ability to speak. The government changes his name to Mr. Smith, gives him a human wardrobe (except shoes) and sets him up with a consulting job in Washington, D.C.
The show’s creative force was Ed. Weinberger, who also produced and wrote “Taxi” and aimed to make “Mr. Smith” a modern fable.
“Mr. Smith” was even filmed sans laugh track, making it one of prime time’s first “dramedies,” which shows like “Hooperman” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.” briefly made trendy in the late ’80s.
Despite its high-minded aspirations, “Mr. Smith” ended up playing like a run-of-the-mill sitcom, with stories focusing on the title character’s home life, which he shared with his dim-witted former trainer and the trainer’s smart-alecky kid sister.
“Mr. Smith” debuted to considerable hype but dismal ratings.
In the show’s first week, it finished 47th out of 57 shows, behind Friday-night companion series “For Love and Honor” (No. 42) but ahead of the final network rerun of “Archie Bunker’s Place” (No. 54).
Initially, there was much speculation in the press about how producers made Mr. Smith speak and who supplied his voice; the National Enquirer even tried to sneak onto the set to learn the show’s secrets.
Later, it was revealed Weinberger voiced Mr. Smith and when the character spoke, a puppet was used for close ups.
Otherwise, Mr. Smith was played by C.J., who previously co-starred in films with Clint Eastwood and Bo Derek. The Washington Post reported his weekly salary was $11,000.
From the Pages of TV Guide
Also airing Sept. 23, 1983:
8 PM CBS DUKES OF HAZZARD
The Dukes (John Schneider, Tom Wopat) roar into a sixth season in pursuit of Lulu Hogg’s kidnapers, while a frightened Boss (Sorrell Brooke) begins to realize how much he truly loves his “Little Kumquat” (Peggy Rae). Rosco: James Best. Daisy: Catherine Bach. Jesse: Denver Pyle. Billy Ray: Chris Mulkey. Anna Lisa: Shanna Reed. (60 min.)
8:30 ABC WEBSTER – Comedy
George and Katherine (Alex Karras, Susan Clark) find that there are certain things parents ought to know – Webster’s birthday, for one. Webster: Emmanuel Lewis. Jerry: Henry Polic II. Rudy: Ernie Hudson.
10 PM ABC MATT HOUSTON (CC)
Houston (Lee Horsley) becomes the object of a woman’s romantic obsession that he may not survive. Hoyt: Lincoln Kirkpatrick. C.J.: Pamela Hensley. (60 min.)
Erin … Kristen Meadows
Dr. Michaels … Rod Loomis
Gregory … Peter Narr
Josh Curry … Ray Galvin
Locksmith … Victor Rendina
11:30 NBC TONIGHT
Scheduled: Madeline Kahn, Yul Brynner. Johnny Carson. (60 min.)