When Things Were Rotten

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When Things Were Rotten
When Things Were Rotten cast photo 1975.JPG
Robin Hood and his Merry Men
Created byMel Brooks
Norman Stiles
John Boni
StarringRichard Dimitri
Dick Gautier
Bernie Kopell
Henry Polic II
Ron Rifkin
Misty Rowe
David Sabin
Dick Van Patten
Composer(s)Artie Butler
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes13
Producer(s)Mel Brooks
Stanley Jacob
Norman Steinberg
Running time30 minutes
Production company(s)Paramount Television
DistributorCBS Television Distribution
Original networkABC
Original releaseSeptember 10 –
December 3, 1975

When Things Were Rotten is an American sitcom television series created in 1975 by Mel Brooks and aired for half a season by ABC.

A parody of the Robin Hood legend, the series starred Dick Gautier (who earlier had played Hymie the Robot in Brooks' Get Smart series) as the handsome and heroic Robin Hood. The remaining series regulars included Dick Van Patten as pious but feisty Friar Tuck, Bernie Kopell (another Get Smart veteran) as smooth-talking sentimental jokester Alan-a-Dale, Misty Rowe as deceptively ditzy-looking blond Maid Marian, and David Sabin as the mighty Little John, with Ron Rifkin as childishly petty tyrant Prince John and Henry Polic II as Hubert, the wicked, black-clad Sheriff of Nottingham. Richard Dimitri played a dual role as identical twin brothers: Bertram, the Sheriff's snooty and sniveling right-hand man, and Renaldo, stereotypical Latino member of the Merry Men who had been stolen as a baby by gypsies.

Brooks again spoofed the Robin Hood legend in his 1993 film Robin Hood: Men in Tights.


One-liners, sight gags, and literal humor were hallmarks of the show's style, e.g., complaining villagers, commanded to "Hold your tongues!," obediently reach into their mouths. In several episodes the Sheriff was shown to be literally barking mad, angrily yelling something only to be told that he had used no words in the sentence. In another episode, the Sheriff asked Bertram to hang the banners, with an immediate cutaway to a husband, a wife, and their two children on a wall, saying "Hi, we're the Banners."

Breaking of the fourth wall often occurred. In many episodes Alan-a-Dale would turn to the camera to proudly proclaim to the audience what a truly unequaled hero Robin was like a typical Hollywood press agent, and in one episode Renaldo was being interrogated and pleaded his innocence, and when an accuser asked, "Are you ready to tell that to your maker?", Renaldo looks off-camera and says, "Mel! I'm innocent!"

Much of the humor was anachronistic, such as the occasion where Marian's ladies-in-waiting burst into the 1960s Supremes hit "Stop! In the Name of Love". When the Rock of Gibraltar had been destroyed, and a messenger brings Prince John the remaining chunk, to be told "I always wanted a piece of the rock," a reference to Prudential Insurance's successful slogan, "Get a piece of the Rock", and when King Richard the Lionhearted comes ashore after returning from the Crusades and reaches an American baseball-style home base, an umpire cries out "Safe!", causing the Sheriff of Nottingham to shout, "Kill the umpire!"

Also notable was the show's lampooning of 1970s social concerns, e.g., in the episode "Those Wedding Bell Blues", Prince John was preparing to sign a deal with OOPEC, an OPEC-like cartel whose chief export was olive oil. Prince John: "I'll control all the olive oil! Anyone who wants to make a salad will have to come to me!"

Theme song[edit]

During the opening show credits, a satirical song "Yay for Robin Hood!" was performed:

"Once upon a time when things were rotten,
Not just food, but also kings were rotten.
Everybody kicked the peasants,
Things were bad and that ain't good,
Then came Robin Hood (Ba-bahh!)

"Soon a band of merry men he'd gotten,
They wore outfits made of plain green cotton,
Helping victims was their business.
Boy oh boy was business good --
Good for Robin Hood!

"They laughed, they loved, they fought, they drank,
They jumped a lot of fences.
They robbed the rich, gave to the poor --
Except what they kept for expenses!

"So when other legends are forgotten
We'll remember back when things were rotten.
Yay for Robin Hood!"


The rapid-fire, Mel Brooks style of comedy was out of place on network television of the era, so despite critical acclaim, the series failed to find an audience and was cancelled after 13 episodes, with The Bionic Woman being its midseason replacement, which was a great success.[1] Eighteen years later, Brooks produced another Robin Hood parody, the feature film Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Van Patten also appeared in the later film as an abbot.

The cancellation of When Things Were Rotten allowed Van Patten and Kopell to move on to more successful and long-running series — Eight is Enough and The Love Boat, respectively. Rifkin, meanwhile, would eventually become best known to modern-day audiences as the ambiguously villainous Arvin Sloane on Alias.

Home video and DVD[edit]

Several episodes of the series have been released on VHS in North America.

The complete series was released on DVD in 2013 as a manufactured-on-demand item exclusively available on Amazon.com's CreateSpace.[2]


Title Directed by Written by Original air date
1"The Capture of Robin Hood"TBATBASeptember 10, 1975 (1975-09-10)
2"The French Dis-connection"Coby RuskinS : Gene Wood,
Jay Burton;
T : Bo Kaprall,
Pat Profit
September 17, 1975 (1975-09-17)
3"The House Band"TBATBASeptember 24, 1975 (1975-09-24)
4"Those Wedding Bell Blues"Marty FeldmanTBAOctober 1, 1975 (1975-10-01)
5"A Ransom for Richard"TBATBAOctober 8, 1975 (1975-10-08)
6"The Ultimate Weapon"TBATBAOctober 15, 1975 (1975-10-15)
7"Ding Dong, the Bell Is Dead"TBATBAOctober 22, 1975 (1975-10-22)
8"There Goes the Neighborhood"Cory RuskinTony Geiss,
Thomas Meehan
October 29, 1975 (1975-10-29)
9"Quarantine"TBATBANovember 12, 1975 (1975-11-12)
10"Birthday Blues"Peter H. HuntHarry Lee Scott,
Robert Sand
November 19, 1975 (1975-11-19)
"The Spy: Parts 1 & 2"TBATBANovember 26, 1975 (1975-11-26)
13"This Lance for Hire"TBATBADecember 3, 1975 (1975-12-03)


  1. ^ "The Bionic Woman (1976): Season 1". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2014-09-03.
  2. ^ DVD release info Archived 2015-01-05 at the Wayback Machine at TVShowsOnDVD.com

External links[edit]