The Monkees TV series originally aired from 1966 to 1968 but has since been a staple on MTV, Nickelodeon and IFC, so its audience spans generations. The musical sitcom starred Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith, and followed the adventures of a struggling wannabe Beatles-like boy band – and the group went on to real success beyond the show. Here are some things you might not have known about this TV classic.
1. The show’s casting call referenced being high
The casting for the show was pretty specific, looking for “folk & roll musicians and singers for acting roles.” At the end of the Variety ad they added “Must come down for interview,” which, according to the show’s creator, was a “a sly reference to being high.” They were looking for people who represented the contemporary youth culture of the ’60s, and drugs were a big part of that.
2. They purposefully took on issues of censorship
During one episode of the second season they made a joke about the fact you couldn’t say the word “hell” on network TV. They were having a conversation where they were using the word a lot in reference to Peter Tork selling his soul to the devil, and at one point Micky Dolenz says “You know what’s even more scary? You can’t say ‘hell’ on television” (which was still bleeped out for the joke). They new the network wouldn’t be pleased, but they did it anyways.
3. The Paris Monkee mania was not real
There is an episode where The Monkees go to Paris and get chased down by fans, in a Beatlemania-like frenzy. In reality, they didn’t actually have any fans in Paris at the time so all of that was totally staged.
4. Two of the Monkees got behind the camera too
Both Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz had some time behind the lens when they directed some episodes of the show. Peter Tork directed an episode in 1968 and is credited with his full name Peter H. Thorkelson, and Micky Dolenz directed an episode that ended up being the finale.
5. The finale features two Beatles songs
The finale opened with the intro of “Good Morning Good Morning” and then at two other parts in the episode Davy Jones sings “Hello, Goodbye” to himself quietly. Micky has said that it was “the first time, to my knowledge, that The Beatles ever let one of their songs on another show.”
6. Frank Zappa makes an appearance
Michael Nesmith brought Frank Zappa onto the show because he reportedly “was trying to show the rock community that he was not just a kiddie show guy.” For the bit, Mike and Frank switch roles and do an interview.
7. In 1967 the Monkees outsold the Beatles and the Rolling Stones
This is a crazy fact to wrap your head around, but in 1967 The Monkees managed to outsell both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones…combined. Guess a hit TV show will do that even if the band started out as a totally manufactured one.
8. Liberace also made an appearance
At one point theatrical pianist Liberace made an appearance on the show where he took a golden sledgehammer to his piano. The golden sledgehammer was the same one that Frank Zappa later used in the season to destroy a car.
9. “(Theme from) The Monkees” wasn’t one of their top singles
While “(Theme from) The Monkees” is a very memorable song, it wasn’t one of their six top five singles. It did however hit the number eight spot in Australia.
10. The TV series ran on all three major American networks
Seem everyone wanted in on some Monkee business. In all, only 58 episodes were made but the show managed to run on all three major networks in the U.S. It aired on primetime NBC from 1966 to 1968, as Saturday morning reruns on CBS from 1969 to 1972 and on ABC from 1972 to 1973.
11. Paul Williams auditioned and didn’t make it
Paul Williams, who ended up writing big hits for Three Dog Night, the Carpenters and Barbra Streisand was one of the many hopefuls who auditioned for the show and didn’t make the cut.
12. Stephen Stills also auditioned and didn’t make it
Stephen Stills was another one of those musician/actors who didn’t make the cut, but he did okay for himself. He was later indicted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two different times: once with Buffalo Springfield, and once was with Crosby, Stills and Nash.
13. The 1968 Monkee movie was widely panned
Going off the success of the show, the producers thought that making a movie was a good idea. However, Head ended up being a trippy experimental flop and many people consider it one of the worst movies ever made. In addition to the band, it featured Annette Funicello, boxer Sonny Liston, stripper Carol Doda, Frank Zappa, Teri Garr, Victor Mature, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson (who actually wrote the film).
14. David Bowie changed his name because of Davy Jones
David Bowie was born David Robert Jones, but he changed his stage name so that he wouldn’t be confused with Davy Jones who was well known in 1966 for his theater acting.
15. They tried to bring the show back in the ’80s
In the 1980s, Columbia Pictures Television thought that they could revive the show’s success with the New Monkees, but it didn’t workout. They used the same formula as the original but it got cancelled after only 13 episodes.
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