May 19, 2021

With Samantha's Seventies, Adam-Michael James takes Bewitched into a new decade

One of the oldest friends of the blog—not in terms of age, I hasten to add—is Adam-Michael James. I've been fortunate to interview Adam-Michael a couple of times in conjunction with two books he's written: The Bewitched Continuum, a fabulous companion to the TV series of the same name; and I, Samantha, Take This Mortal, Darrin, Adam-Michael's imagining of what Bewitched's final episode might have been like if today's custom of providing sendoffs for popular shows had been in effect back in 1972, when the show left the air.

Now, Adam-Michael is back with a third Bewitched book, Samantha's Seventies, in which he takes the show and its beloved characters into the new decade. with some fun results. Naturally, this meant it was time for us to sit down and talk about it, which is something we do very well.

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It's About TV: It seems like it's been ages since we've talked—what have you been up to?
Adam-Michael James: Well, like everybody else, dealing with the current health crisis. I've been lucky in that I live in Prince Edward Island, Canada, which is a fairly small place, and we've only had a handful of COVID cases compared to most of the rest of the world. Although it wasn't intended, writing Samantha's Seventies ended up being my COVID project!

With Samantha's Seventies, you've taken Bewitched into a new decade. Obviously, Sam and Darrin are still together. It's nice to know some things haven't changed!

Can you imagine the hate mail I'd receive if Darrin and Samantha got divorced? [chuckles] Of course they're the show's main constant; any further story of Bewitched could only revolve around them.

Let's set that aside, then. [laughs] So what can we expect from the gang at 1164 Morning Glory Circle?

All the characters you know and love, a ton of Bewitched easter eggs—and I hope a lot of pleasant surprises! You're going to get not only one, but two Aunt Claras, the second being a younger version who gets into a Dynasty style catfight with someone you won't believe. The Stephenses navigate the possibility of another child joining their brood. Tabitha turns into a 25-year-old, which is a throwback to the Tabitha spinoff. We never had mortals and witches coming together for Christmas on the show, so they do here, with just the results you'd figure on and a few twists along the way. And finally, there was never a witch wedding, either, so two characters tie the supernatural knot in a ceremony I think is as poignant and moving as it is mysterious and magical. I really want for Bewitched fans to have as much fun reading this as I did writing it!

Your last book, I, Samantha, Take This Mortal, Darrin—which was a terrific book, by the way—was your imagining of what Bewitched's last episode would have been like if there had been one. What kind of reception you got from Bewitched fans. Did they enjoy the continuation of the story?

Pretty much everything I've heard has been very positive! The most consistent comment I got was that that book read like an episode of Bewitched, that the voices were true to the characters. And that's a compliment that pleases me no end, because I really did try to be as authentic as possible, and I've always maintained writing it was simply like taking dictation from these folks. I have to say the same was true writing Samantha's Seventies. So I hope readers will feel like they've been transported in some "lost episodes" here as well!

And so Samantha's Seventies picks up from there

iSam, as I call it for short, ended with a great big wide open door—how the mortals in Samantha's life were going to handle the news they all had a witch in their lives. This was kind of the elephant in the room of the series, and it didn't seem like any finale would work without addressing it. But it really was a huge enough cliffhanger, it almost stopped me from going forward with the new book. In fact, I hadn't planned to. But then ideas started popping into my head and they didn't want to let go. It kind of all started with a "wouldn't that be funny?" thought about Tabitha waking up and going "Mother! I had the strangest dream that I worked at a TV station in LA and I drove this yellow car—it was so real!" [chuckles] gain, kind of acknowledging the Tabitha series. But it all circled back to, how are we going to deal with all these mortals knowing Samantha is a witch?

Because that really changes the dynamic of things, doesn't it?

Right. So I ultimately decided to split the book into stories told by year, with the first one specifically showing the ups and downs that Frank, Phyllis, Gladys, Larry, etc. experience adjusting to the magic. I didn't want to just have everybody accept it with no problems, nor did I want anyone to explicitly object and cut Samantha out of their life. So this runs the gamut of the grey areas, and I think folks will be pulled in to those varying levels, which range from absurdist comedy to straight-up drama.

There are a lot of people who, after a TV show wraps up, like to continue the story, to see what happens next. It's something I've done myself. But with Bewitched, your goal seems to be more than just writing new episodes of the sitcom—it's to allow the characters and the story to evolve naturally over time, rather than just remaining the same year after year. Am I right about that? And how does Bewitched lend itself to that kind of evolution?

Yeah, that was the thing: while the conceits of Endora casting spells on Darrin and slogans being dreamed up around whatever witchy predicament the Stephenses happened to be in at the time are part of the glue that held the show together, I think even toward the end of the run that well was getting a little dry. Simply having mortals know about witches was practically a 180-degree turn as it was, and that opened up even further chances for storyline evolution. Darrin already wasn't objecting to witchcraft as vehemently in the final seasons, and here we see him making further progress in that he allows Samantha to lead Tabitha and Adam through once-a-week witchcraft training. There's also evolution in the witch world, with some very important developments that take place during the Bicentennial. I wanted to constantly put our mortals and witches into new situations; the old standbys worked very well for the show, and I wouldn't dare try to do better with them than they did. I just wanted to take the main things we know about "Bewitched" and put fresh spins on them, to have characters interact that didn't get that chance on screen, while doing my best to stay tethered to the core elements that defined the series.

Bewitched went off the air in 1972, so we never really got to see the show inhabit the '70s. How has the world of the Stephens changed?

Well, culturally, technologically, societally—you saw how fast all that came along just during the run of the series. Certainly we came a long way in the '70s as well. That's what dividing the book into seven stories instead of limiting it to one allowed for—the chance to explore each year from 1973 to 1979, fleshing out the world the Stephenses were living in. I grew up in the '70s, so I wanted to make that world feel as real as possible. A lot of details were from memory, but I also did a good amount of research, which gave me an even wider palette from which to paint. You see the progression in Samantha's hairstyles, in the wardrobe. It extends to her world at large, as the energy crisis looms, and the music! Disco plays a prominent role, and given the climate we're in now, I went out of my way to choose songs almost exclusively by Black artists. It's not unlike watching the full run of the show, from black-and-white to the yellows and oranges of the hippie days where the show ended. I wanted the readers to experience the '70s metamorphosis right along with Samantha and Darrin.

Even though Bewitched was a fantasy-comedy, the show wasn't hesitant about tackling real-world social issues, kind of the same as Rod Serling did with Twilight Zone. What was it about Bewitched that enabled it to do this successfully, while it was also able to stay funny at the same time? Do you know what I mean? 

I most absolutely do. I think a big part of that was the fact that these characters exist in a magical world—which makes some of those real-world issues easier to digest. Because of what the show was, even when they came up against prejudice and racism, it was always going to be dealt with in the context of some kind of witchy situation. That's why I think it worked, plus they were never really preachy or heavy-handed about it. I know that infusing messages about equality and unity was very important to Elizabeth Montgomery, and that's one of the biggest reasons I've tried to continue that tradition in my Bewitched imaginings. 

And that's something you do very well, in both books.

The author, channeling the Seventies  
Thank you. My goal was to take things one step further on that score, and society's progression in the '70s created the perfect backdrop for it. There's a neat little arc where Tabitha and Adam deal with the repercussions of     being both half-witch and half-mortal, and that leads to a revelation that reaffirms we really are more alike than we are different, no matter how stark those differences might be. We truly need reminders of that today - maybe even more than when Bewitched was in first run—and I am more than happy to take up the torch that Elizabeth Montgomery lit. I hope she'd be happy I did.

As we've seen recently in WandaVision, there's something timeless about the sitcom, something that allows the format to continue from decade to decade while remaining relatively intact. Is that kind of consistency what enables you to continue the story of Bewitched beyond the timeframe of the series itself?
I have to sheepishly admit that I haven't yet seen WandaVision, though I've heard many great things about it. I agree that there's something timeless about Bewitched, not only because we're dealing with witches, but because the show is filled with beloved, memorable characters who seem to transcend the era they're limited to on-screen. For me, continuing their story feels very natural; it's been as if freeing them from the confines of television has opened the door to worlds of new possibilities for them.

How do you view the legacy that Bewitched leaves? We've had other shows dealing with the supernatural since then. How did Bewitched influence them?

Well, Bewitched does have the honor of being the first supernatural sitcom. So I would say that any magical show since—comedy or drama—has its roots in Bewitched. So that's hard not to be influenced by. Bewitched had the fun, but our witches also had their rituals and in later seasons they got into the mechanics of that world's witchcraft. Those are some very cool elements to be inspired by.

Is there a show out there that you'd consider its"successor"?

Honestly, I'd have to say no. As wonderful as other shows may be, as fascinating as their worlds might be, Bewitched was its own entity. The only thing I could ever see as a successor would be a proper continuation, but I think we're 20 or 30 years too late for that now. I guess that's why I came up with one on the page, even if it's not canonical and just my own imagining of how it might be.

Can we look forward to a continuation of the saga, maybe into the '80s?

Funny, I get a lot of people asking me that. [laughs] My first instinct is to say no, but that's probably because it hasn't been that long since I finished this latest saga. I didn't ultimately set out to write this book, either - except Samantha and everybody decided they had more that they wanted to say. Now how can you refuse a request like that? So you never know what they might still have to get off their chests.

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One of the things I love about running It's About TV! over the years is that it's allowed me to meet so many people I never would have run into otherwise, people I'm fortunate to call friends. Adam-Michael James is one of them, and it's always a pleasure when we get a chancd to talk about the Bewitched universe. I hope you'll make Samantha's Seventies part of your television library.

Adam-Michael is also someone who understands that classic television shows don't have to be stuck in the past. Whether bringing the stories into the modern era or simply realizing that these vintage shows have something to tell us, it's proof that the world of classic television is far from being a dead one. TV  

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