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Good Times
Good Times Title Screen.jpg
Main title screen
Genre Sitcom
Created by Eric Monte
Michael Evans
Directed by Gerren Keith
Herbert Kenwith
Bob LaHendro
Donald McKayle
Starring Esther Rolle
(Seasons 1–4, 6)
John Amos (Seasons 1–3)
Jimmie Walker
Ja'net DuBois
Bern Nadette Stanis
Ralph Carter
Johnny Brown
(Seasons 2–6)
Janet Jackson
(Seasons 5–6)
Ben Powers (Season 6)
Theme music composer Dave Grusin
Alan Bergman
Marilyn Bergman
Opening theme "Good Times" performed by Jim Gilstrap and Blinky Williams
Ending theme "Good Times"
Country of origin United States
Language(s) English
No. of seasons 6
No. of episodes 133 (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s) Austin Kalish
Norman Lear
Allan Manings
Norman Paul
Producer(s) Sid Dorfman
Jack Elinson
Austin Kalish
Norman Lear
Allan Manings
Gordon Mitchell
Norman Paul
Lloyd Turner
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 22–24 minutes
Production company(s) Bud Yorkin-Norman Lear-Tandem Productions, Inc.
Distributor PITS Films (1978–1982)
Embassy Telecommunications (1982–1986)
Embassy Communications (1986–1988)
Columbia Pictures Television (1988–1996)
Columbia TriStar Television (1996–2002)
Sony Pictures Television (2002–present)
Broadcast
Original channel CBS
Original run February 8, 1974 (1974-02-08) – August 1, 1979 (1979-08-01)
Status Ended
Chronology
Preceded by Maude

Good Times is an American sitcom that originally aired from February 8, 1974, until August 1, 1979, on the CBS television network. It was created by Eric Monte and Michael Evans and produced by Norman Lear. Good Times was a spin-off of Maude, which was itself a spin-off of All in the Family.

While the series was set in Chicago, all episodes of Good Times were produced in the Los Angeles area. The first two seasons were taped at CBS Television City in Hollywood. In the fall of 1975, the show moved to Metromedia Square, where Norman Lear's own production company was housed.

Contents

Synopsis

Good Times was based on Eric Monte's childhood—although one of the main characters' name is "Michael Evans", which was the real name of co-creator Mike Evans, who portrayed Lionel Jefferson on the Norman Lear-produced series All in the Family and The Jeffersons.

The series starred Esther Rolle as Florida Evans and John Amos as her husband, James Evans, Sr. The characters originated on the sitcom Maude as Florida and Henry Evans, with Florida employed as Maude Findlay's housekeeper in Tuckahoe, New York and Henry employed as a firefighter. When producers decided to feature the Florida character in her own show, they applied retroactive changes to the characters' history. Henry's name became James, there was no mention of Maude, and the couple now lived in Chicago.

Florida and James Evans and their three children live in a rented project apartment, 17C, at 963 N. Gilbert Ave., in a housing project (implicitly the infamous Cabrini-Green projects, shown in the opening and closing credits but never mentioned by name on the show) in a poor, black neighborhood in inner-city Chicago. Florida and James' children were James, Jr., also known as "J.J." (Jimmie Walker), Thelma (Bern Nadette Stanis), and Michael (Ralph Carter). When the series began, J.J. and Thelma were seventeen and sixteen years old, respectively, and Michael, called "the militant midget" by his father due to his passionate activism, was eleven years old. Their exuberant neighbor, and Florida's best friend, was Willona Woods (played by Ja'net Du Bois), a recent divorcée. Her adopted daughter Millicent "Penny" Woods (Janet Jackson) joined the show in the fifth season. Willona would affectionately call Michael Evans "Gramps", because of his wisdom.

As was the case on other Norman Lear sitcoms, the characters and subject matter in Good Times were a breakthrough for American television. Working class characters had been featured in sitcoms before (dating back at least to The Life of Riley), but never before had a weekly series featured African American characters living in such impoverished conditions. (Fred and Lamont Sanford of Sanford and Son, though they lived in the poor Watts area of Los Angeles, at least had their own home and business.)

Episodes of Good Times dealt with the characters' attempts to "get by" in a high rise project building in Chicago, despite all the odds stacked against them. When he was not unemployed, James Evans was a man of pride and would often say to his wife or family "I ain't accepting no hand-outs". He usually worked at least two jobs, many of them temporary such as a dishwasher or car washer, and when he had to he would gather his pool stick, much to Florida's disappointment, and sneak out and hustle up a few bucks as he struggled to provide for his family. Being a sitcom, however, the episodes were usually more uplifting and positive than they were depressing, as the Evans family stuck together and persevered.

Cast

Principal cast

Minor characters

Nathan Milhous Bookman (Johnny Brown) - Nathan, referred to as simply "Bookman", was the sometimes inept, often indolent, and at times scheming building superintendent of the housing project where Florida Evans, her family, and Willona Woods resided. Bookman was knowledgeable in the inner workings of the building but was often fooling around when he should have been working. Most of the cast have at one point or another called him by the unflattering nicknames of "Buffalo Butt" and, in Willona's case, "Booger". More often than not, J.J. would call him "Lardo" in reference to his overweight body. He was married to a shrew of a wife named Violet, and although she was rarely seen, she made it clear that she was in charge of their lives.

Ned the Wino (Raymond Allen) - The local drunk who frequented the neighborhood and the apartment building where the Evans family reside. In the first-season episode "Black Jesus", J.J. uses Ned the Wino as the model for a portrait of Jesus. Another episode was centered around Michael's plan to "clean up" Ned and get him off the booze by letting him stay at the Evans' house.

Carl Dixon (Moses Gunn) - An atheist shop owner who marries the widowed Florida Evans following the final episode of Season 4. Carl and Florida do not appear in Season 5. Florida returns at the beginning of Season 6, without Carl, for Thelma's wedding. Carl is referenced briefly in the second episode of Season 6, but he is never mentioned again (Florida continues to use the surname Evans instead of Dixon).

"Sweet Daddy" Williams (Theodore Wilson) - A menacing neighborhood numbers runner and pimp, who has a reputation for wearing flashy clothing and jewelry. He is usually accompanied by bodyguards (one portrayed by Bubba Smith) and comes across as cool and threatening, but has shown a soft heart on occasion, particularly when he decided not to take an antique locket (to settle a debt) that Florida had given to Thelma because it had reminded him of his late mother.

Alderman Fred Davis (Albert Reed, Jr.) - A local politician with a slightly shady disposition. Spoofing President Richard M. Nixon, he would state in a speech "I am not a crook." He always relied on the support of the Evans family (his "favorite project family") for reelection or support (and usually threatened them with some type of adverse action if they did not agree). He always had James' support; J.J. supported him when he became of age to vote; the rest of the family did not particularly like him (J.J. would later come to despise him like the rest of the family). During the first season, he addressed Willona as "and you too, Willona." In later seasons, he would forget her name entirely and called her something else that began with a "W" (such as Wilhemina, Winnifrieda, Winsomnium and Wyomia), thus earning him her everlasting ire as well as the nickname "Baldy".

Lenny (Dap 'Sugar' Willie) - A neighborhood hustler and peddler who is always trying to sell items that are usually attached to the lining of his fur coat. He usually approaches people with a laid-back rap and a rhyme ("hey there mama, my name is Len-nay, if you buy from me I can save you a pen-nay" or "don't go to J. C. Pen-nay, just come and see Sweet Len-nay"). He will sell anything from watches to bedpans (out of his coat). Usually the person he approaches will ignore him or tell him to go away. He usually responds by saying "that's cold" or uses a small brush to "brush off" the negativity.

"Grandpa" Henry Evans (Richard Ward) - James' long lost father. He abandoned the family years before because he was ashamed that he could not do more to provide for them. This hurt James deeply, who disregarded his father's existence, telling everyone he was dead. Thelma learns about her grandfather while doing some family research. She meets him and invites him to the Evans' home to surprise James for his birthday, not knowing that James was well aware of his whereabouts but chose to stay out of his life. After Henry arrives at the Evans home and meets the rest of the family, he realizes that James would not welcome him in the home and decides to leave. Florida convinces him to stay and talk to James and explains that there may never be another chance to do so. Henry and James have a heart-to-heart talk, with Henry being remorseful and apologetic. James ultimately forgives his father. After James' passing, the Evans family embraces Henry into the family, alongside his common law (and eventually legal) wife Lena in later episodes.

Wanda (Helen Martin) - Another resident in the apartment building where the Evans reside. Earlier episodes show her at a women's support group, and the tenants rallying around her by giving her a rent party. Later episodes show her appearing and crying at several funerals, whether she knew the person or not, thus earning her the nickname "Weeping Wanda" from J.J. and Willona.

Mrs. Gordon (Chip Fields) - Penny's abusive mother. Mrs. Gordon had been abandoned by Penny's father when she became pregnant. As a result, she took her anger and frustrations out on Penny. After the abuse was finally brought to light, Mrs. Gordon abandoned Penny, despite Willona's pleas to her to try and seek help. Just before she disappeared, Mrs. Gordon expressed regret for hurting her child, telling Willona that Penny deserved better than her. She reappeared more than a year later, having remarried, and she reveal that her new husband is from a very wealthy family. She uses her husband's wealth to send Penny anonymous gifts and also attempts to frame Willona, making Willona look like an unfit foster parent so Mrs. Gordon can resume custody of Penny. However, her scheme is exposed and Penny rejects her, telling Willona that no matter what anyone said, Penny would always consider Willona to be her real mother. Mrs. Gordon is devastated by this and leaves Penny with Willona, never to be seen again.

Cleatus (Jack Baker) - Cousin of J.J. Evans, Thelma Evans Anderson, and Michael Evans and nephew of Florida Evans and James Evans. He made one appearance in the episode "Cousin Cleatus".

Notable guest stars

  • Matthew "Stymie" Beard - The former Our Gang child actor appeared in five episodes, including four appearances as James' friend Monty.
  • Grand L. Bush - Appeared in a two-part storyline ("J.J.'s New Career"), playing the role of Leon, J.J.'s bully.
  • Robert Guillaume - Appeared as Fishbone the wino in the episode "Requiem for a Wino".
  • Jay Leno - Appeared in the third-season episode "J.J. in Trouble" which was one of the first times that the subject of STDs (then referred to as "VD") was addressed on a primetime television series.
  • Lou Gossett - Appeared in Season 2 as Donald Knight, Thelma's much-older paramour. Florida and James objected to their relationship because of the age difference. Gossett appeared in a later episode as Uncle Wilbur (Florida's brother), who came to look in on the family while James was away.
  • Philip Michael Thomas - Appeared in Season 1 as Eddie, Thelma's college-aged boyfriend (while she was in high school). When Florida stumbles across Eddie's thesis titled "Sexual Behavior in the Ghetto," it ultimately causes an uproar within the Evans' household when it is learned that the thesis belongs to Thelma, and not J.J. as originally thought.
  • Gary Coleman - Appeared in a couple of episodes as Gary, a sharp-tongued classmate of Penny's.
  • Kim Fields - Appeared in a few episodes as a friend/classmate of Penny's.

Initial success and ratings

The program premiered in February 1974; high ratings led CBS to renew the program for the 1974–1975 season, as it was the seventeenth-highest-rated program that year. During its first full season on the air, 1974–1975, the show was the seventh-highest-rated program in the Nielsen ratings and a quarter of the American television-viewing public tuned in to an episode during any given week. Three of the top ten highest-rated programs on American TV that season centered around the lives of African-Americans: Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, and Good Times.

Good Times's ratings however, declined over time partly because of the many times the show was moved around the CBS schedule. In its third season, the series was that season's twenty-fourth-highest-rated program. The ratings went down when the show had entered its final season, likely due to a Saturday night time slot:

Backstage tension

Almost from the premiere episode, J.J., an aspiring artist, was the public's favorite character on the show and his frequently-invoked catch phrase "Dy-no-mite" became very popular. As the series progressed through its second and third year, however, Rolle and Amos, who played the Evans parents, grew more disillusioned with the direction the show was taking as J.J.'s antics and stereotypically buffoonish behavior took precedence in the storylines. Rolle was rather vocal about disliking the character of J.J. in a 1975 interview with Ebony magazine.

"He's eighteen and he doesn't work. He can't read or write. He doesn't think. The show didn't start out to be that...Little by little—with the help of the artist, I suppose, because they couldn't do that to me—they have made J.J. more stupid and enlarged the role. Negative images have been slipped in on us through the character of the oldest child."[1]

Although doing so less publicly, Amos also was outspoken about his dissatisfaction with J.J.'s character. The ill feelings came to a head when it came time to negotiate Amos' contract in the summer of 1976, and he was dismissed from the series.

"The writers would prefer to put a chicken hat on J.J. and have him prance around saying "DY-NO-MITE", and that way they could waste a few minutes and not have to write meaningful dialogue."[2][3]

Departure of John Amos and Esther Rolle

Husband-and-wife team Austin and Irma Kalish were hired to oversee the day-to-day running of the show, replacing Allan Manings, who had become executive producer when he was also working on another Lear sitcom, One Day at a Time. The Kalishes and Manings, as script supervisors, threw ideas to writers Roger Shulman, John Baskin, and Bob Peete, and eventually penned an exit for Amos's character.

At the beginning of the 1976–1977 season in the episode "The Big Move", the family was packing to move from the ghetto to a better life in Mississippi where James had found a job as a partner in a garage. At the end of the first episode that season, Florida learned via a telegram (which, at first, she thought was to congratulate her on her move) that James was killed in a car accident. It was the following episode in which she uttered her famous line: "Damn, damn, DAMN!". The show continued without a father, which was something Rolle did not want to pursue. One of the primary appeals of the project for her had been the presentation it initially offered of the strong black father leading his family. However, she stayed on hoping that the loss of the father's character would necessitate a shift in J.J.'s character, as J.J. would now become the man of the family. The writers did not take this approach, however; if anything, J.J.'s foolishness only increased. Wanting no further part in such depictions, by the summer of 1977, Rolle left the series. She was written out as marrying and moving to Arizona with her new love interest, Carl Dixon (played by Moses Gunn).

Despite this, Good Times still excelled in the Nielsen ratings, peaking during the 1976-77 season at number 26, making its fourth year breaking the top 30 rated programs.

Final seasons

With Amos and Rolle gone, Ja'net Du Bois took over as the star, as Willona checked in on the Evans children as they were now living alone. New characters were added or had their roles expanded: Johnny Brown as the overweight building superintendent Nathan Bookman; Ben Powers as Thelma's husband Keith Anderson; and Janet Jackson as Penny Gordon Woods, an abused girl adopted by Willona. It was at this time that many viewers defected from the series as the fifth season ranked only at number 39.

For the sixth and final season, Esther Rolle agreed to return to the show, there were several conditions, one of which was that the Carl Dixon character be written out as if he never existed. Rolle had also disliked the Carl Dixon character, as she believed Florida would not have moved on so quickly after James' death. Rolle also thought the writers had disregarded Florida's devout Christian beliefs by making her fall for Carl, who was an atheist. Another condition of her return was she would have a greater say in the storyline and J.J. would become a more respectable character—and she would also receive a raise in pay.

Despite Rolle's return, viewers did not. Production was halted in early 1979, after the final season ranked only 45th in the ratings.

The last original episode of Good Times aired in August 1979. In a finale atypical of the series in general, each character finally had a "happy ending." J.J. got his big break as an artist for a comic book company, after years of the audience waiting for such a development; his newly-created character, DynoWoman, was based on Thelma. Michael attended college and moved into an on-campus dorm. Keith's bad knee miraculously healed, leading to the Chicago Bears offering him a contract to play football. Keith and (a newly pregnant) Thelma moved to a luxury apartment in Chicago's upscale Gold Coast area and offered Florida the chance to move in with them (and her future grandchild). Willona became the head buyer of the boutique she worked in; she and Penny moved into the same building and became their downstairs neighbors.

Episodes

Theme song

The theme was composed by Dave Grusin with lyrics written by Alan & Marilyn Bergman. It was sung by Jim Gilstrap and Blinky Williams.

The lyrics to the theme song are notorious for being hard to discern, notably the line "Hanging in a chow line"/"Hanging in and jiving" (depending on the source used). Dave Chappelle used this part of the lyrics as a quiz in his "I Know Black People" skit on Chappelle's Show in which the former was claimed as the answer.[4] The insert for the Season One DVD box set has the lyric as "hangin' in a chow line", which is how the line was sung for the TV intro theme. However, the Bergmans confirmed that the lyric is actually "hanging in and jiving."[4]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Result Category Recipient
1975 Golden Globe Award Nominated Best TV Actress - Musical/Comedy Esther Rolle
Best Supporting Actor - Television Jimmie Walker
1976 Nominated Best Supporting Actor - Television Jimmie Walker
1975 Humanitas Prize Nominated 30 Minute Category John Baskin and Roger Shulman
(For episode "The Lunch Money Ripoff")
30 Minute Category Bob Peete
(For episode "My Girl Henrietta")
2003 TV Land Award Nominated Catchiest Classic TV Catch Phrase
(Dy-no-mite!)
-
2005 Nominated Favorite Catch Phrase
-
2006 Won Impact Award John Amos, Ralph Carter, Ja'net DuBois, BernNadette Stanis, and Jimmie Walker

Syndication

The cable network TV One (which can be seen on most cable systems as well as DirecTV) currently airs the show.

The sitcom has also aired regularly on TV Land. It first aired as a 48-hour marathon the weekend of July 23, 2005, with two more marathons following on the weekends of November 26, 2005, and May 6, 2006. However, TV Land airs the version of episodes that were edited for syndication, while TV One airs the original edits, as they were shown on during its CBS primetime run, albeit digitally-remastered.

In late 2006 or early 2007, Good Times was pulled from the TV Land lineup along with several other shows (most notably Happy Days) to make room for new programming. The show returned in mid-February with a 48-hour weekend marathon. However, the show has now returned to the TV Land lineup, airing weekday mornings 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM EST.

Good Times is also seen in Canada on DejaView, a specialty cable channel from Canwest. A selection of full episodes of the show are available to Canadians for free on GlobalTV.com

Minisodes of the show are available for free on Crackle.

DVD releases

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the entire series on DVD in Region 1 between February 2003 and August 2006, with a complete box set following the separate seasons on October 28, 2008.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The Complete First Season 13 February 4, 2003
The Complete Second Season 24 February 3, 2004
The Complete Third Season 24 August 10, 2004
The Complete Fourth Season 23 February 15, 2005
The Complete Fifth Season 24 August 23, 2005
The Complete Sixth Season 24 August 1, 2006
The Complete Series 133 October 28, 2008

References

External links








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