Stir Crazy: The Sitcom

In 1980, Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor starred in the hit movie Stir Crazy. It was written by Bruce Jay Friedman and directed by none other than Sidney Poitier. It made over $100 million at the box office, and was a smash hit on home video too.

Here’s an article about the movie from the Newcastle Journal, on 24th April 1981.

So, with its usual haste to cash in on these things, television rushed to make a sitcom version of the show.

In 1985.

Developed for CBS by Larry Tucker and Larry Rosen, it starred Larry Riley, Joe Guzaldo and Jeannie Wilson, and debuted on 18th September 1985.

CBS isn’t fooling around with Wednesday evenings. The network’s prime-time schedule, from 8 to 11 P.M., has been completely redecorated with new series …

”Stir Crazy” throws two relatively unknown actors, Larry Riley and Joseph Guzaldo, into a zany plot plucked from the movie that starred Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. Both projects can claim the same very funny writer, Bruce Jay Friedman, and that helps. But the madcap humor of the television version begins to wear noticeably thin halfway through the first hour.

Harry (Mr. Riley) and Skip (Mr. Guzaldo) are New York zanies determined to start an ice-cream business in Texas. Instead, they wind up on a prison chain gang, wrongly convicted of killing their major backer. Escaping with the help of an enormous creature named Grossberger (John Matuszak), they set off cross-country to find the real killer, pursued by a loony policewoman called Captain Betty (Polly Holliday).

There are indeed bits of inspired lunacy, including a mechanical gorilla designed to test the stomach muscles of Texas bar patrons and a group of camera-toting Japanese smilingly doing a documentary on ”American prison brutality.” And Cynthia Sikes is thoroughly fetching as the lawyer who can’t resist Skip’s impeccable logic. ”Oh that’s good,” she coos over one of his analyses. ”I get turned on when things come together like that.” Mr. Riley and Mr. Guzaldo do a nifty job of leaving their own imprints on the Pryor-Wilder roles. But the premiere, directed by Peter Hunt, lets things get out of hand. The farce goes berserk, becoming more of a curiosity than a romp. One other danger signal: the inimitable Miss Holliday will not be in subsequent episodes.

John J O’Connor, The New York Times, 18th September 1985

Unusually for a sitcom, this one was given an hour long slot, but it still failed to find an audience against the blockbuster Highway To Heaven over on NBC.

Stir Crazy was put on hiatus after just a month, and returned in a different slot for a few more episodes, before being uncermoniously cancelled.

So, let’s finish with a look at the movie trailer.

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