Tag Archives: All in The Family

THE BIRTH OF THE BUNKERS

12 Jan

41 years ago tonight, on Tuesday, January 12, 1971 TV changed forever when “All in the Family” premiered on CBS.

Oh it was different. It was a sitcom that starred an unlikeable character. Well… he was likeable… but it was hidden underneath all that bigotry. He loved his wife. He loved his daughter. We figured out eventually that he even loved Meathead. But Archie Bunker was one of a kind (in TV land). The world was full of real “Archie Bunkers.”

And that’s one way “All in the Family” made its mark. It made “Archie Bunker” a common phrase that meant bigot… more specifically a “lovable” bigot. There’s one in almost every family. It also brought several other words into the American lexicon: Dingbat, Meathead, stifle. It even gave us the first toilet flush in sitcom history.

What many people didn’t realize at first is that “All in the Family” wasn’t saluting bigots, it wasn’t praising them. It was holding them up to ridicule.

Publicity still sent to fans in 1975

I remember a wonderful story the show’s producer Norman Lear wrote about on the “All in the Family” album cover. It was about the first fan letter he received for the show. It was from a single mother who said she watched the first episode with her adult child. She wrote that, after the episode, she turned to her child and said – You always wanted to know what your father was like. Now you know!

All in the Family” was that rare breed of show that combined great writing, great casting, great acting – you name it. When I watch it today I am blown away by the talent of Carroll O’Connor. The way he made Archie Bunker a believable, 3-dimensional character is astounding. The man had skills! Chops.

Let’s not forget Jean Stapleton as Edith Bunker. Until I saw her on a talk show several years later I thought the actress spoke in the same strident voice as Edith. Sally Struthers as Gloria and Rob Reiner as Mike/Meathead rounded out the fine cast.

Brilliant TV.

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DY-NO-MITE!

8 Feb

37 years ago tonight, on Friday, February 8, 1974 “Good Times,” a spin-off from “Maude” premiered on CBS.

The show starred Esther Rolle as Florida Evans, the role she had been playing on “Maude.” But while “Maude” was set in the New York City suburbs, “Good Times” took place in a Chicago housing project. The original premise of the series was to follow the trials and tribulations of a loving family that was struggling to make ends meet. But, as so often happens in television, one character stood out and, when fans responded, that character was given a larger presence in the show.

Jimmie Walker photo sent to fans in the 1970s.

The character was 17-year old J.J. (for James Junior), the Evans’ family’s oldest son… and the actor portraying him was 26-year old standup comedian Jimmie Walker. So although the cast was headed by experienced actors Esther Rolle and John Amos, it was Walker who stole the show. And a lot of that had to do with dynamite. I mean, “DY-NO-MITE!

The word “DY-NO-MITE!” became a huge catchphrase across America as Jimmie Walker’s popularity surged, as did the ratings for “Good Times.” In its first full season (1974-1975) “Good Times” received its highest ratings and was ranked as the #7 show in the country, ahead of even “Maude.”

Good Times” also starred Bern Nadette Stanis as daughter Thelma and Ralph Carter as Michael, the family’s youngest child. Interestingly, his character “Michael Evans” was given the same name as one of the show’s creators; actor, writer Mike Evans, best known for playing Lionel Jefferson on “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons.”

After 6 seasons (really 5 ½) and many cast changes, audiences had seen enough. The good times ended for “Good Times” in August 1979.

By the way… coincidentally, Jimmie Walker opens tomorrow night (Wednesday, February 9th) at The Comedy Zone in Port Charlotte, Florida. Why not catch the show and wish him a Happy Anniversary for “Good Times.” He’ll be performing through Saturday night. Don’t forget to tip your waitresses.

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