Ozzie noticed how Ricky’s blossoming talents were benefiting the show. So, he decided to do what he was best at doing, taking control, and micromanaged every move his son made. This included deciding what songs he could record. In August 1958, Ricky released his single “Poor Little Fool,” which rapidly soared to number one on the Billboard charts. Ozzie felt that the song was a good representation of the family’s image.
Ozzie began to incorporate Ricky’s singing into the show’s scripts, as he realized that his son’s singing could have a huge positive impact on the show and its ratings. Ricky easily became the nation’s newest musical sensation. Every episode which featured his singing attracted the biggest audiences. At one point, Ricky performed for free at a Los Angeles high school, performing “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Crowds of screaming and excited teens greeted him.
The Nelsons Would Have Still Won
By the time the show hit the TV screens, Ozzie and Harriet were already famous across the nation for being performers and radio stars. For this reason, Ozzie was able to negotiate a TV contract that has never been repeated since. Ozzie told ABC that they would bring the TV series to their network under one condition; that the network signs them on a 10-year contract.
The terms stated that if the show ended before the 10 years was up, ABC would still have to pay Ozzie, Harriet, and the rest of their family, for 10 full seasons of work. Although it was a risk for ABC, they had already witnessed the success that the family had on the radio and were ready to put themselves in a vulnerable position. They took the risk, which ended up being a very wise decision.
It turned out that Ozzie and Harriet weren't the only ones with musical talent in the family. By age 17, Ricky Nelson also began singing. He first sang in an episode of "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" on April 10, 1957. The episode centers around Ricky who performs his take on“I’m Walkin," a song which quickly made its way to #17 on the Billboard charts.
Ricky's music became a safe and more innocent alternative to Elvis and briefly even sold more records than Presley. This reportedly didn’t bother the King of Rock and Roll as he himself was a big fan of the show. Burton, who played with Ricky, told Rolling Stone in 1986 that Elvis tuned into the TV show just so he could see them play at the end. Ultimately, Ricky secured a recording deal with Domino's label, Imperial Records. Can you imagine how this impacted the show?
Did Ozzie Take Advantage of His Kid's Talents?
In the pilot film that eventually led to the TV show, "Here Come the Nelsons," Ozzie's fictional character was described as an advertising executive who promotes women's underwear. When the TV show eventually launched, there was no reference to Ozzie working in advertising.
In fact, it became a running joke that Ozzie only left the Nelson home when he wanted to go out and get ice cream. Ricky’s real-life daughter, Tracy Nelson, wanted to clear up the confusion. She shared that Ozzie's character was actually a lawyer who graduated from Rutgers. You know, lawyers used to mostly work from home in those days... or not.
Ozzie Was Still Voted a Top TV Dad
Although Ozzie's TV character was far from being a role model, TV Guide nonetheless ranked him as #21 in the “50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time” in their June 20, 2004 issue. The reason for this was that the show greatly resonated with fans in the 1950s and the early 1960s.
People across America considered the Nelsons to be a romanticized version of the 1950's nuclear family. However, Ozzie's character on screen often came up with poorly devised plans (to which his wife had to talk him out of) and was overly controlling of his children.