Father Knows Best

This article is about the American radio and television sitcom. For other uses, see Father Knows Best (disambiguation).
Father Knows Best

Robert Young and Jane Wyatt as Jim and Margaret Anderson.
Genre Sitcom
Created by Ed James
Directed by Peter Tewksbury
Starring Robert Young
Jane Wyatt
Elinor Donahue
Billy Gray
Lauren Chapin
Jean Vander Pyl
Eleanor Audley
Rhoda Williams
Ted Donaldson
Norma Jean Nilsson
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 6
No. of episodes 203
Producer(s) Murray Bolen
Ken Burton
Fran Van Hartesfeldt
Running time 26 minutes
Original network CBS (1954-1955, 1958-1960)
NBC (1955-1958)
Picture format Black-and-white
Audio format Monaural
Original release October 3, 1954 (1954-10-03) – May 23, 1960 (1960-05-23)

Father Knows Best is an American sitcom starring Robert Young, Jane Wyatt, Elinor Donahue, Billy Gray, and Lauren Chapin. The series, which first began on radio in 1949, aired for six seasons with a total of 203 episodes. The series debuted on CBS in October 1954. It ran for one season and was canceled the following year. NBC picked up the series where it remained for three seasons. After a second cancellation in 1958, CBS picked up the series yet again where it aired until May 1960.

Created by Ed James, Father Knows Best, follows the lives of the Andersons, a middle class family living in the Midwestern town of Springfield.[1] Although, in the made for tv movie about the Christmas reunion they were in the middle of a Wisconsin snowstorm.


The series began August 25, 1949, on NBC Radio. Set in the Midwest, it starred Robert Young as the General Insurance agent Jim Anderson. His wife Margaret was first portrayed by June Whitley and later by Jean Vander Pyl. The Anderson children were Betty (Rhoda Williams), Bud (Ted Donaldson), and Kathy (Norma Jean Nillson). Others in the cast were Eleanor Audley, Herb Vigran and Sam Edwards. Sponsored through most of its run by General Foods, the series was heard Thursday evenings on NBC until March 25, 1954.

On the radio program, the character of Jim differs from the later television character. The radio Jim is far more sarcastic and shows he really rules over his family. Jim also calls his children names, something common on radio but lost in the TV series. For example, Jim says, "What a bunch of stupid children I have." Margaret is portrayed as a paragon of solid reason and patience, unless the plot calls for her to act a bit off. For example, in a Halloween episode, Margaret cannot understand how the table floats in the air, but that is a rare exception.

Betty, on radio, is portrayed as a status seeking, boy-crazy teenage girl. To her, every little thing is "the worst thing that could ever happen." Bud, on radio, is portrayed as an "all-American" boy who always seems to need "just a bit more" money, though he gets $1.25 per week (around $12.00 in 2013) in allowance. Bud is in charge of always having to answer the front door, which he hates. He is also shown as a somewhat dim boy who takes everything literally; for example, Jim might say "Go jump in the lake," to which Bud would reply "Okay, Dad; which lake should I go jump into?" He also uses the phrase "Holy Cow" to express displeasure. On radio, Kathy often is portrayed as a source of irritation. She whines, cries and complains about her status in the family as overlooked. She often is the source of money to her brother and sister, although she is in hock several years on her own allowance.

In an interview published in the magazine Films of the Golden Age (Fall 2015), Young revealed about the radio program: "I never quite liked it because it had to have laughs. And I wanted a warm relationship show. ... When we moved to TV I suggested an entirely new cast and different perspective."[2]

Television series

The May 27, 1954 episode of The Ford Television Theatre show was called "Keep It in the Family". This 26-minute episode stars Robert Young as Jim Warren, head of the Warren Family. With him was wife Grace (Ellen Drew), older daughter Peggy (Sally Fraser), younger daughter Patty (Tina Thompson) and son Jeff (Gordon Gebert). Developed by Young and his partner Eugene Rodney, it was intended as a pilot for a Father Knows Best television series.[3] In the episode, Peggy dreams of making it as an actress but a talent scout who has raised her hopes just wants people for his acting school.

Only Robert Young remained of the radio cast when the series moved to CBS Television:

The Andersons-top from left: Elinor Donahue, Robert Young, Jane Wyatt. Bottom: Lauren Chapin, Billy Gray.
Jim with daughter Kathy, 1957.

The series premiered October 3, 1954 on CBS where it aired Sundays at 10:00 pm (EST). Originally sponsored by Lorillard's Kent cigarettes in its first season, Scott Paper Company became the primary sponsor when the series moved to NBC in the fall of 1955 where it aired Wednesdays at 8:30 pm (EST) for the next three seasons. Scott Paper remained as sponsor even after it moved back to CBS in September 1958 where it aired Mondays at 8:30 pm (EST) for the last two seasons, with Lever Brothers as an alternate sponsor from 1957 through 1960. A total of 203 episodes were produced, running until September 17, 1960, and appearing on all three of the television networks of the time, including prime-time repeats from September 1960 through April 1963.

As before, the character of Margaret was portrayed as a "voice of reason," but Jim's character was softened to that of a thoughtful father who offered sage advice whenever one (or more) of his children had a problem. Jim was a salesman and manager of the General Insurance Company in Springfield, while Margaret was a housewife. One history of the series characterized the Andersons as "truly an idealized family, the sort that viewers could relate to and emulate."[4] As the two eldest children aged from teen-ager to young adult, Betty (1956) and Bud (1959) graduated from high school and attended Springfield Junior College.

Other actors had recurring roles on Father Knows Best. Vivi Janiss played the part of Myrtle Davis in eleven sporadic episodes from 1954 to 1959.

Father Knows Best had become so ingrained in American pop culture as its idyllic presentation of family life that in 1959, the U.S. Treasury Department commissioned a special 30-minute episode called "24 Hours in Tyrant Land."[4] Never aired on television, the episode—distributed to schools, churches and civic groups—promoted the buying of savings bonds.[4] The episode was later included in the Season One DVD.

Young left the series in 1960 at the height of the show's popularity to work on other projects, but reruns continued to air in prime time for another three years, on CBS from 1960-1962 and on ABC from 1962-1963. Following that, reruns were shown on ABC-TV in the early afternoon for several years.

On November 22, 1963, the third season episode "Man About Town" was being rerun on several ABC affiliates, mostly in the Mountain Time Zone (WABC-TV in New York was airing a local repeat of The Ann Sothern Show), when at 1:42 PM EST, ABC News broke into the program with the first bulletin of the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.

The facade of the Anderson House depicted in the series' opening credits is the same structure used as Mr. George Wilson's home in the television series Dennis the Menace and again, in remodeled form, as Captain/Major Anthony Nelson's residence in I Dream of Jeannie. This reuse of the house is identified both under "Production notes" in Wikipedia's entry on Dennis the Menace and under "Setting" in Wikipedia's entry relating to I Dream of Jeannie. Originally built in 1941 during the production of a series of Blondie movies, this theatrical property continued to serve for many more years as part of the backlot of Columbia Pictures (now Warner Brothers Ranch in Burbank, California). The house can also be seen in both its familiar Father Knows Best style and later renovated variations in episodes of Hazel, Bewitched, The Monkees, The Partridge Family and in numerous other television comedies and dramas.

1977 reunion movies

Cast photo from Father Knows Best Reunion. Standing, from left: Elinor Donahue, Robert Young and Jane Wyatt. Seated: Lauren Chapin and Billy Gray.

The TV cast reunited for a pair of TV movies on NBC, Father Knows Best Reunion on May 15, 1977 and Father Knows Best: Home For Christmas on December 18, 1977. In the 17 years since the series ended, the characters of Betty and Bud had both gotten married and had families of their own. Betty was the widowed mother of two girls, Jenny (Cari Anne Warder) and Ellen (Kyle Richards), while Bud and his wife, Jean (Susan Adams) were the parents of a son, Robert "Robby" (Christopher Gardner). Kathy, meanwhile, had become engaged to a doctor, Jason Harper (played by Hal England).[5]

DVD releases

Shout! Factory has released all six seasons of Father Knows Best on DVD in Region 1. Season 5 and 6 were released as Shout! Select titles, available exclusively through their online store.

In Region 4, Madman Entertainment has released the first two seasons on DVD in Australia.[6][7]

DVD Name Ep# Release Date
Season One 26 April 1, 2008[8]
Season Two 37 November 11, 2008[9]
Season Three 37 June 9, 2009[10]
Season Four 33 March 23, 2010[11]
Season Five 38 August 17, 2010♦[12]
Season Six 32 April 19, 2011♦[13]

♦ – Shout! Factory select title, sold exclusively through Shout's online store


Nielsen ratings

The series finished in the Nielsen ratings at #25 for the 1957–1958 season, #14 for 1958-1959 and #6 for 1959-1960.[14]


Father Knows Best aired in the 1980s on Superstation WTBS and in the 1990s on The Family Channel. The show also aired on TV Land from 1998–1999 and 2002–2004. Reruns of Father Knows Best air on Antenna TV as part of that channel's regular programming schedule since January 3, 2011 and it also aired weekday afternoons on digital sub-channel ME-TOO in Chicago.




  1. Father Knows Best (radio). Pilot Episode. Dec 20, 1948.
  2. Bawden, James (Fall 2015). "Robert Young -- Family Man". Films of the Golden Age (82): 18–31.
  3. http://www.fatherknowsbest.us/fkb/History.html
  4. 1 2 3 Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle (1999). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows: 1946–Present (Twentieth Anniversary ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. p. 338.
  5. Terrace, Vincent (1993). Television Character and Story Facts: Over 110,000 Details From 1,008 Shows, 1945–1992. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co. Inc. ISBN 0-89950-891-X.
  6. Father Knows Best – Season 1
  7. Father Knows Best – Season 2
  8. "Father Knows Best: Season One". Shout! Factory Store.
  9. "Father Knows Best: Season Two". Shout! Factory Store.
  10. "Father Knows Best: Season Three". Shout! Factory Store.
  11. "Father Knows Best: Season Four". Shout! Factory Store.
  12. "Father Knows Best: Season Five". Shout! Factory Store.
  13. "Father Knows Best: Season Six". Shout! Factory Store.
  14. http://www.classictvhits.com/tvratings/index.htm
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