In the 1960s, wildly unrealistic high concept TV shows known as "idiotcoms" thrived, perhaps because North American viewers wanted to escape the harsh facts dominating the evening news. The Flying Nun, a late example of the genre, inspired by Tere Rios' novel The Fifteenth Pelican, proved popular, especially with children. Despite its silly premise, the show drew praise from real-life Roman Catholic nuns, who liked its positive portrayal of convent life. Sally Fields, however, the show's star, initially found it hard to be taken seriously as an actress in the wake of her television work, which included Gidget and this piece of fluff. Originally, TV actress Ronnie Troup took up the airborne habit; that version of the pilot was scrapped and reshot once 19-year-old Fields, the producers' first choice, accepted the role.
The pilot episode told of a 90-pound surfer girl named Elsie Enthrington who was caught by the wind and blown to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she became Sister Bertrille of the San Tanco convent. In fact, the principal filming took place in the now largely-demolished Mexican/South American set that once sat between suburban Blondie Street and the Old West town on the Warner Brothers Ranch.
In addition to Fields' oddly-gifted protagonist, the convent also housed cranky but likable Reverend Mother Superior Plaseato (Madeleine Sherwood) wise Sister Jacqueline (Marge Redmond) (who becomes Bertrille's best friend and the audience's narrator), ESL-spouting ethnic stereotype Sister Sixto, and young novice Sister Ana. A true love interest could not exist for chaste Bertrille, but the show featured Carlos Ramirez, a nightclub-owning playboy and reluctant hero. His trysts were inevitably interrupted by Bertrille, but his heart clearly belonged to her, in a safe, unrequited relationship made for 60s family programming.
The Flying Nun ran for three seasons from 1967-1970 and inspired dolls, paper dolls, and a Milton Bradley board game. Kim Deal appeared very briefly as the Flying Nun in the video for The Breeders' "One Divine Hammer," but, despite the show's popularity, it has never developed a rerun cult to the degree of its magical sister shows, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie.