Phil Silvers as Sgt. Bilko (center), surrounded by the soldiers of the motor pool
—Colonel Hall, on many occasions
Originally titled You'll Never Get Rich
, The Phil Silvers Show
was a popular 1950s sitcom
created by Nat Hiken and starring Phil Silvers
as Sgt. Ernest Bilko, the man in charge of the motor pool at the fictional Fort Baxter military base in Kansas. Running from 1955 to 1959 on CBS (notably over a decade before the same network ran Mash
), a total of 143 episodes were produced, of which only 18 have yet been released on DVD.
Most of the episodes revolved around Sgt. Bilko's incessant quest for wealth and influence, which usually took the form of get-rich-quick schemes ranging from (supposedly) simple games of poker to trying to dupe Bing Crosby
into performing a show on the base. Standing in his way was Colonel Hall (Paul Ford), the commanding officer of the base, who was always suspicious of Bilko's motives for anything he did. Luckily for Bilko, the Colonel was also quite gullible and manipulable, something he frequently took advantage of. Bilko frequently showed an ability to manipulate a wide range of other people as well. Nevertheless, like in many sitcoms to follow, the Reset Button
was all-powerful, and by the end of the episode Bilko would inevitably end up back in roughly the same position he started, but occasionally slightly better or worse off.
After the original show had ended, in 1963, Phil Silvers attempted to start a new show to match his previous outing. Called The New Phil Silvers Show
, it featured Silvers as Sgt. Bilko-Expy
Harry Grafton, foreman at a factory; the new show lasted less than a year. A film based on the original show, called Sgt. Bilko
and starring Steve Martin
in the title role, was released in 1996, but it was panned by critics and audiences alike.
Despite its relative obscurity compared to other contemporary sitcoms like I Love Lucy
, The Phil Silvers Show
was highly critically acclaimed in its day and still remains popular among critics. It was also popular in Britain, where the BBC
re-ran it for many years. It won three consecutive Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series from 1956 to 1958, and in 2003, the Radio Times Guide to TV Comedy
named it the best sitcom ever made
, beating Seinfeld
and Fawlty Towers
to the top spot.
This show provides examples of: