The Donna Reed Show

TV classics: The Donna Reed Show

USA 1958-66, 8 seasons,  275 episodes, 20-25 minutes each, ABC, black & white. Produced by: Tony Owen, Bill Robert, Developed by: Donna Reed and Tony Owen. Regular cast: Donna Reed, Carl Betz, Paul Petersen, Shelley Fabares, Patty Petersen

Plot summary: Housewife and mother Donna Stone masters her everyday life with utmost love and a charming sense of humor as she takes care of her teenage-troubled children and pediatrician husband Alex.

Review: The Donna Reed Show is often referred to as a typical example of a 1950s family show. Built around housewife and mother Donna however, this show is hardly a typical example at all. Although many shows featured a loving stay-at-home mom at the time, this show finally focused on a female lead and her everyday challenges. A sitcom through and through, The Donna Reed Show tackles Donna’s household issues, marriage troubles and teenage quarrels with a kind twinkle in the eye. Although graver topics are being addressed in individual episodes, the show was basically designed to entertain and paint a wholesome picture of a warmhearted Stone family.

Developed by the show’s star Donna Reed and her producer husband Tony Owen, the show offers fully fleshed characters and a talented cast of actors. Donna Reed, best known for her endearing portrayal of Mary Hatch in It’s a Wonderful Life, is supported by Carl Betz as father-of-the-year Alex Stone (no pun intended) and their two perky children Mary and Jeff played by Shelley Fabares and Paul Petersen. Although, by today’s cynical standards, it may sound as if this family is too good to be true and thus unbearable to watch, The Donna Reed Show is a darling show that deserves a chance. It’s not by accident that she show lasted eight full seasons and was successfully rerun in the 1980s and early 1990s.

What makes this show stand out is not the often scrutinized image of the perfect housewife, beautifully played by Donna Reed. In actuality it’s the lighthearted, easygoing sense of humor that carries the show, as well as the then uncommon respect it shows for Donna Stone’s daily routine and all the obstacles that begged to confuse it. Uncommon then, to show a housewife and mother as more than just an adored yet needed piece of jewelry, and uncommon now, in times when a lot of TV housewives are either depicted as shrews, addicts or adulteresses.

The Donna Reed Show did mirror life in the 1950s as much as current shows do today. In essence, it is the ideal image of an era so different from ours now, a lovely show to watch with your kids (or alone) to remind ourselves how life could be without the snarky and that perpetual promise for women that we supposedly can have it all.

Available on DVD.

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4 thoughts on “The Donna Reed Show

  1. I heard about this show in one of the Gilmore Girl episodes, where Rory surprises Dean with a perfect Donna reed dinner and – of course – not without having done some research on the actress herself. I don’t exactly remember what she came up with, but apparently Donna was a very modern woman for her time and far from being just a cuty little wife, who cooks dinner and takes care of her children… Thanks for sharing these info, hon!

    • Oh yes, Donna Reed was quite successful and independent, cooking up her own show. It’s strange that we don’t know or hear much about those powerful ladies from back in the golden years who often developed and/or produced their own material, like Betty White or Lucille Ball, both famous names but not often referred to as more than expert comediennes.
      Bless the Gilmore Girls for adding a little bit of women’s cultural history to their brilliant program! 🙂 Thanks for mentioning that, dear.

  2. I remember the show vividly. I think it was one of the earliest US shows bought in by the new Irish national TV station RTE (founded in 1961). Those were the days when families were uncomplicated and everyone was happy and…. yeah, right. But sweet memories.

    • What do you mean, Martin, not every family was bubbly happy and crazy about apple pie back in the days?! I’m shocked! 😉 So fifty years from now people may be shocked to know that families today were not all dysfunctional. Ha – a toast to all the sweet memories! 🙂

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