100 years of lear

By Marc Berman

Contrary to popular belief, Bonnie Franklin as Ann Romano on the original One Day at a Time was not the first divorced female character on a TV series. That distinction goes to legendary “second banana” Vivian Vance on The Lucy Show (1962–68). But One Day at a Time was the first to deal with the issues of raising a family as a divorced woman.

Debuting on December 16, 1975, the show followed the lives of 30-something Ann Romano (Bonnie Franklin) and her two teenage daughters—Julie (Mackenzie Phillips) and Barbara (Valerie Bertinelli)—as they began a new chapter in Indianapolis. Pat Harrington Jr. was their apartment building superintendent, Dwayne Schneider, who became a personal friend and a surrogate father, of sorts, to the girls. And Richard Masur as David Kane was Ann’s divorce lawyer, whom she was dating.

When Masur asked to depart the series early in Season 2, Mary Louise Wilson as cocktail waitress Ginny Wroblicki was briefly added for comic relief. But Wilson, like Masur, made a quick exit, and the focus remained on the three women, and Schneider, through Ann’s tribulations facing single life and the girls’ young adulthood (including eventual marriage and parenthood).

Dealing With Real Issues

Mackenzie Phillips sits in an overstuffed chair in the living room while Schneider lurks in the background listening at the front door.

One Day at a Time cast members Pat Harrington Jr. as Dwayne Schneider and Mackenzie Phillips as Julie Cooper.

Photo credit: CBS via Getty Images

Like any Norman Lear sitcom, One Day at a Time dealt with real issues: teen runaways, workplace sexism, shoplifting, infertility, etc. And, like any series on the air for a certain number of years, there were cast additions: Michael Lembeck (Max Horvath), Glenn Scarpelli (Alex Handris), Shelley Fabares (Francine Webster), Boyd Gaines (Mark Royer), and Nanette Fabray (Katherine Romano).

The action in the ninth season switched to the two young married couples (and eventually the three young adults after Mackenzie Phillips left the series for the second time) living together, which led CBS to express interest in a two-season renewal. But Franklin decided it was time to move on. At series end, Ann Romano Royer, now married to Mark’s father, Sam (Howard Hesseman), decided to accept a job in London. “Look at you, Mom, all grown up and married,” said Bertinelli’s tearful Barbara as the series concluded.

A New Generation

In 2017, 33 years after its conclusion, Netflix created a reboot of the show. Lear was still onboard, but the focus this time was on a Cuban American family (Justina Machado, Isabella Gomez, Marcel Ruiz, and Rita Moreno). Todd Grinnell played Schneider, Gloria Estefan sang the snazzy, updated theme song, and the series tackled serious issues like immigration, homophobia, gender identity, mental illness, and racism.

After three seasons on Netflix, Pop TV picked up the new One Day at a Time for an abbreviated seven final episodes.

While both the original and the reboot of One Day at a Time showcased a single woman with two children, the first pilot (titled Three to Get Ready) featured Bonnie Franklin’s Ann raising one teen daughter and not two.

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Factoids about One Day at a Time

  • One Day at a Time was created by husband-and-wife acting and writing duo Whitney Blake and Allan Manings. Blake, actor Meredith Baxter’s mother, was best known for playing Dorothy on the 1960s Shirley Booth sitcom, Hazel.
  • The travel agency set where Barbara and Max worked in the final season was later used as Al Bundy’s (Ed O’Neill) shoe store on Married with Children.
  • One week after the series finale of the first version, Pat Harrington Jr. starred in a pilot called Another Man’s Shoes. Here Schneider had left Indianapolis and moved to Florida to take care of his orphaned niece (Natalie Klinger) and nephew (Corey Feldman). The pilot was not picked up.
  • Harrington Jr., who won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 1984, also won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries, or Motion Picture Made for Television in 1981.

By Marc Berman

I could not believe what I was hearing out of Carroll O’Connor’s mouth the first time I saw All in the Family,” Isabel Sanford once said. Sanford made her first appearance as neighbor Louise Jefferson in the first season episode titled “Lionel Moves into the Neighborhood” (March 2, 1971). “But, at second glance,” she said, “I just fell down laughing. And then I received a call for an audition, initially to play Louise Jefferson’s sister.”

Flash-forward to January 18, 1975, and Archie and Edith’s neighbors—George (Sherman Hemsley), wife Louise (aka “Weezy”), and son Lionel (Mike Evans)— were “movin’ on up to that dee-luxe apartment in the sky” in spinoff The Jeffersons.

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Comical Combatants

Norman Lear stands on set of the show The Jeffersons talking to the two leads of the show.

Lear (standing left) talks with actors Sanford (seated) and Hemsley on the set of The Jeffersons.

Photo credit: Brian Hamill/Getty Images

On All in the Family, Archie’s racist thinking was usually challenged by George, while Edith and Louise were the voices of reason. On The Jeffersons, the now-successful cleaning store franchise owner George comically combated Lionel’s future in-laws—Tom (Franklin Cover) and Helen Willis (Roxie Roker)— who as an interracial couple (“zebras,” according to George) were often the butt of his remarks. Berlinda Tolbert played Jenny, Lionel’s future wife. Paul Benedict as Harry Bentley was the loyal but somewhat dimwitted British next-door neighbor. Zara Cully as George’s feisty mother, Olivia Jefferson, was none too fond of her daughter-in-law, Louise. And Marla Gibbs, initially in a recurring role, was the Jeffersons’ wisecracking housekeeper, Florence Johnston, who knew how to put George in his place.

An Immediate Sensation

The cast of The Jeffersons gather around a couch in the living room of The Jeffersons set.

Portrait of the cast of The Jeffersons.

Photo credit: CBS via Getty Images

“How come we overcame and nobody told me?” noted Gibbs as Florence at the end of the first episode upon realizing the Willises also lived in the building.

Debuting out of parent All in the Family into the plum Saturday 8:30 p.m. ET (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) time slot, The Jeffersons was an immediate sensation, finishing that abbreviated first season ranked No. 4 overall (behind Lear’s All in the Family, Sanford and Son, and Chico and the Man). While most series tend to start tiring by Season 5 or 6, the show actually peaked in Season 8 (1981–82), with an overall third-place finish.

The Longest-Running Lear Series

Norman Lear walks and talks to the live studio audience in front of the curtain on set.

Lear talks with the studio audience on set of The Jeffersons.

Photo credit: Brian Hamill/Getty Images

The Jeffersons ran for 11 seasons, making it the longest-running Lear series. While there was no official final episode, George and Louise did reunite for two episodes of Will Smith’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (including the series finale on May 20, 1996, which also featured Marla Gibbs as Florence).

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Factoids About The Jeffersons

  • As compatible as they seemed in real life, Sanford was actually 56 when the series began, versus just 37 for Hemsley. Mike Evans was only 10 years younger than his TV dad.
  • While Sanford appeared on a recurring basis on the first five seasons of All in the Family, Hemsley did not debut as George until the Season 4 episode titled “Henry’s Farewell” (October 20, 1973). Lear created the role of George with Hemsley in mind, but he was not immediately available; Mel Stewart, as George’s brother Henry, occasionally appeared.
  • The characters of Tom and Helen Willis were television’s first Black and white interracial couple. The late Roxie Roker was the mother of singer-songwriter Lenny Kravitz.
  • Gibbs as Florence exited The Jeffersons briefly for spinoff comedy Checking In, which aired for four episodes in April 1981. There was also talk of giving Benedict’s Harry Bentley his own series.
  • In addition to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Hemsley appeared as George in the first two episodes of one-season CBS sitcom E/R in 1984. This was prior to NBC’s long-running medical drama ER (which, ironically, also featured George Clooney).
  • Sanford was the first African American actress to win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy (in 1981).
  • DuBois (Willona Woods on Good Times) wrote and performed the classic opening theme song on The Jeffersons.

By Marc Berman

If you happen to be a fan of Good Times, you might wonder how Esther Rolle as Florida Evans segued from being Maude Findlay’s (Bea Arthur) housekeeper in suburban Tuckahoe in Maude to living in a housing project in inner-city Chicago on Good Times. Then, of course, there was John Amos, who went from Florida’s husband Henry on Maude to James in Good Times.

Those cast-evolution questions aside, Good Times was yet another hit for Norman Lear, and the first series centered on an African American family with a loving mother and father present. At the heart of the show was the strong bond shared by the Evans family: Florida and James and their children, James Jr., aka “J.J.” (Jimmie Walker); Thelma (Bern Nadette Stanis); and Michael (Ralph Carter). Ja’Net DuBois played Willona Woods, Florida’s next-door neighbor and former schoolmate.

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A Timely Show

A Giph of J.J. wearing a bucket hat and a pink turtleneck and saying dy-no-mite.

Jimmie Walker as J.J. utters his famous phrase in a scene from Good Times.

Giphy

“The Evans family lived, as marginally as possible, in the Cabrini-Green project in Chicago. James held down three jobs if he had to,” said Lear at the time. “Still, we were determined that the family would never go on welfare; they would deal with the reality of their world (gangs, drugs, crime, poverty, etc.), and despite that, the kids would not fail to get an education.”

Debuting on February 1, 1974, Good Times was another Top 10 Norman Lear entry by Season 2, destined for a long run on CBS. It was intended to be a timely show focused on a family dealing with serious subjects in a comedic way, but Walker’s J.J. became the immediate breakout character (remember his “Dy-No-Mite” catchphrase?), much to the disillusionment of Rolle and Amos. His character wasn’t necessarily the type of role model they wanted for the African American community.

Rolle was more public in voicing her concerns, but it was John Amos whom Lear let go by the end of Season 3. In the two-episode fourth season premiere, the Evans family learned of James’ passing in a car accident just as they were getting ready to join him in Mississippi, where he had a promising new job.

First Spinoff From a Spinoff

Members of the Good Times cast argue and point in a scene from the show.

From left: Stanis, Chip Fields, Walker, and Ja’Net Dubois in a scene from Good Times

Photo credit: Bettmann Archive

By Season 5, Rolle had left the series. Viewers learned that Florida and her new husband, Carl (Moses Gunn), had moved to Arizona for the sake of Carl’s declining health. Enter then-11-year-old Janet Jackson as Millicent “Penny” Gordon, who the family learned was being abused by her mother and whom Willona eventually adopted. Also more prominently featured was Johnny Brown as Nathan Bookman, the building’s superintendent.

For the final season, Esther Rolle as Florida returned (minus second husband Carl, who was never mentioned again), and Thelma married football hopeful Keith Anderson (Ben Powers). At series end, J.J. got an offer from a comic book company, and Keith was offered a new football contract. Florida was asked if she wanted to move in with Keith and Thelma in the fancy apartment building across town where Willona happened to be moving, and Thelma learned she was pregnant. A happy ending for all!

Good Times was the first spinoff from a spinoff: Maude from All in the Family, and Good Times from Maude. And, like The Jeffersons, which launched one year after Good Times, there was a huge disparity in the cast members’ ages. At the sitcom’s inception, Rolle was 53; Amos was 34—only seven years older than Walker. And while the reported age for Ja’Net DuBois fluctuated by several years, she was quite a bit younger than Rolle.

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TV Trivia

Netflix has announced an animated reboot of Good Times from Norman Lear, basketball star Steph Curry, and Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. And that leads us to the following trivia question. Historically, which one of the following five comedies did not have an animated spinoff?

  • A) The Big Bang Theory
  • B) The Brady Bunch
  • C) Happy Days
  • D) I Dream of Jeannie
  • E) The Partridge Family

ANSWER: The Big Bang Theory. While there have been talks of an animated Sheldon Cooper and company, nothing has been officially announced.

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By Marc Berman

Bea Arthur as Edith Bunker’s cousin Maude Findlay, an outspoken middle-aged liberal woman, the polar opposite of conservative Archie Bunker, was perfect for Lear’s next sitcom after All in the Family.

Originally appearing in the Season 2 All in the Family episode “Cousin Maude’s Visit” (December 11, 1971), Arthur made enough of an impact to return in a backdoor pilot in the season-ending episode on March 11, 1972, titled “Maude.”

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Breaking the Typical TV Heroine Mold

Four cast members from Maude sing a political song while waving straw hats in Maude\u2019s living room.

From left: Adrienne Barbeau, Arthur, Rue McClanahan, and Hermione Baddeley

Photo credit: Bettmann Archive

Maude debuted on September 12, 1972. Unlike most new half-hour comedies at the time, it did not have the luxury of proven lead-in support. Yet, as the Tuesday 8 p.m. ET anchor, it managed to end third overall for the first season (behind Norman Lear’s All in the Family and Sanford and Son, and the original Hawaii Five-O—all on CBS), according to Nielsen.

Arthur’s Maude was a suburban housewife in Tuckahoe, New York, who broke the typical TV heroine mold. While Mary Tyler Moore was “making it on her own” in her beloved eponymous sitcom, Maude was on her fourth husband (Bill Macy as Walter), and she had a grown daughter, Carol (Adrienne Barbeau), and a grandson, Philip (initially Brian Morrison), living with her. Rounding off the cast was Conrad Bain (pre–Diff’rent Strokes) as Arthur Harmon, the Findlays’ stuffy, cynical Republican neighbor; Rue McClanahan as Arthur’s scatterbrained second wife, Viv; and Esther Rolle as Florida Evans, the first of the Findlays’ three different housekeepers.

Never Shy Addressing Serious Issues

Actors Bill Macy and Bea Arthur in mid-scene from their living room.

Bill Macy and Arthur as Walter and Maude Findlay

Photo credit: CBS via Getty Images

Mirroring All in the Family, Maude was never shy addressing serious issues such as alcoholism, marijuana, wife swapping, depression, and suicide. In a two-part Season 1 installment, two months before the Roe v. Wade ruling would make abortion legal in the country, Maude’s decision to have an abortion resulted in 39 TV stations across the country pre-empting the show.

With ratings beginning to thin out by Season 6, a proposed seventh season had Maude Findlay moving to Washington, D.C., to pursue a career in politics. When Bea Arthur decided to call it quits, the storyline for Maude evolved into the pilot Mr. Dugan, with John Amos replacing Arthur as the lead character. But a negative backlash from a screening for African American members of Congress resulted in CBS pulling the plug and not airing any of the three episodes produced. Lear reworked the premise into Hanging In, with Bill Macy playing a former professional football player turned university president. It aired for four episodes in August 1978.

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Factoids About Maude

  • In addition to Maude, CBS debuted two other long-running comedies in September 1972: M*A*S*H and The Bob Newhart Show. A fourth new comedy, Bridget Loves Bernie, might also have had a long run had it not tackled the then-taboo subject of interfaith marriage.
  • Martin Balsam, who played Archie Bunker’s business partner Murray Klein in the first two seasons of spinoff Archie Bunker’s Place, guest-starred as Maude’s third husband in the Season 5 episode “Maude and Chester” (September 27, 1976).
  • Before playing purser Burl “Gopher” Smith on Aaron Spelling’s The Love Boat, Fred Grandy appeared in seven episodes as Carol’s boyfriend Chris.
  • Arthur and Rue McClanahan of course reunited for the long-running comedy The Golden Girls. But the first choice to play Vivian on Maude was Doris Roberts. Roberts found later work with Norman Lear on episodes of All in the Family and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and in later years on CBS’s Everybody Loves Raymond.

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