How do you make a television show relatable? It’s simple in theory. All you have to do is ground your stories in reality. Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, the co-creators of “Leave It to Beaver,” knew this well. In fact, Wally and Beaver were modeled after Connelly’s sons, who were roughly the same ages.
The realism of the characters shows. Sometimes it’s impossible to nail down exactly what’s creating the “magic.” But it endears us to the characters, whether it’s because we relate to them, or we feel like part of the family.
Radio host Bob Katzen pointed this out in a March “Leave It to Beaver” reunion video on Youtube.
“The comparison I make between ‘Leave It to Beaver’ and ‘The Brady Bunch’ is, you know, ‘The Partridge Family’ was on at that time and all those other shows during your time, ‘Father Knows Best’ and all those shows,” Katzen said. “But you stand out. ‘Leave It to Beaver’ stands out from that group. And ‘The Brady Bunch’ stands out from that group.”
Jerry Mathers, the actor who played Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver, had an idea as to why Katzen felt that way.
“One of the reasons it does, though, is that the writers were very keen to figure out that all the things that happened on ‘Leave It to Beaver’ came from real life. It just wasn’t people going in and writing jokes for like what I call a joke show. So people can always relate to it,” Mathers answered.
A Real Family on ‘Leave It to Beaver’
Basing the characters on real people didn’t just benefit the audience. It made the job a whole lot easier for the cast too. Jerry Mathers talked about how he felt like he was actually a member of the family.
“It was something I grew up with and I felt like I was really part of the Cleaver family,” Mathers said.
“Barbara seemed, I got the feeling that you and Tony were particularly close to her,” added Stephen Talbot, Mathers’ former co-star.
Talbot was referring to Barbara Billingsley, who played June Cleaver, Beaver’s mother. And Tony Dow, who played his brother, Wally.
Combine that kind of chemistry with the dynamics of a real family, and you have a platform on which you can entertain an audience for years.