Nat Hiken, already famous for the Phil Silvers TV vehicle Sgt. Bilko, was the writer-producer-director who created the TV-comedy landmark Car 54 Where Are You? Rich with New York humor and filled with offbeat characters the show is set in the Bronx’s 53rd police precinct. The central figures of the show are the Mutt & Jeff squad-car team of Toody (Joe E. Ross) and Muldoon (Fred Gwynne). In real life the actors were also an odd couple for the ages -- Ross, a burlesque comedian from the lower rungs of show business, and Gwynne, a Harvard-trained actor. Muldoon, the deep, long-suffering voice of reason, invariably reins in his short, stocky partner’s dimwitted schemes and patiently listens to his hilariously inane prattle. The ensemble of supporting actors was perfectly cast. With a naturally shrill voice, Beatrice Pons was ideal as Toody’s domineering shrew of a wife. Circus veteran Al Lewis, blessed with a face that could find a contortion to accompany every passing thought, was the irascible Officer Leo Schnauser. Charlotte Rae, who stole the show with her pitch-perfect comic performance in an early episode, was written in by Hiken as Schnauser’s moody, hot-tempered wife and became one of the most memorable characters on the show.
To fill out each episode, Hiken drew on a wealth of New York talent -- seasoned film and TV veterans, borscht-belt comedians, and some of the brightest young talent from the Broadway stage. Regulars Paul Reed, Gwynne, and Lewis were on the set during the day and appearing in Broadway shows in the evening. Episodes in this first season featured show business pros Wally Cox, Jan Murray, Molly Picon, Maureen Stapleton, Jake La Motta, and many others.