gang warfare, financial problems, muggings, rent parties and discrimination
were frequent themes of the television program Good Times,
that aired on CBS Television from February 1974 to August 1979.
The program was created by Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin. This highly
successful team of independent producers team enjoyed unmitigated
success during the 1970s and 1980s with a number of hit television
shows including Maude, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons and
one of television's most controversial sitcoms, All in the Family.
Times was a spin-off show of the hit series Maude. In
Maude, the Black maid/housekeeper Florida, was portrayed
by actor Ester Rolle. Rolle was chosen to star with John Amos as
Mr. and Mrs. Evans in Good Times. The cast of Good Times
included Florida; her unemployed but always looking-for-work
husband, James; their teen-aged son, J.J.; a daughter, Thelma; and
a younger son, Michael. The Evan's neighbor, a fortyish woman named
Willona made frequent appearances. A very young Janet Jackson of
the Jackson family fame, joined the cast later as Willona's adopted
Times earned its place in television history for a number of
reasons. The program is significant for its decidedly different
view, not only of Black family life, but American family life in
general. Unlike the innocuous images served up in early televisions
shows such as Father Knows Best and Julia, Good Times
interjected relevancy and realism into prime-time television
by dealing with the pressing issues of the day.
Times was also noteworthy in its portrayal of an African-American
family attempting to negotiate the vicissitudes of life in a high-rise
tenement apartment in an urban slum--the first show to tackle such
a scenario with any measure of realism. The program exploited, with
comic relief, such volatile subject matter as inflation, unemployment
and racial bigotry. Along with The Jeffersons, Good Times
was one of first television sitcoms featuring a mostly Black cast
to appear since the controversial Amos 'n' Andy show had
been canceled some twenty years prior.
Times was initially successful in that it offered solace for
both blacks and whites, who could identify with the difficulties
the Evans family faced. During the program's appearance on prime-time
television, the concurrent period of history had included the Watergate
scandal, the atrocities of the Vietnam War, staggeringly high interest
rates, and growing unemployment. The James Evans character made
clear his dissatisfaction with current government policies, hence,
the show became a champion for the plight of the underclass.
show also highlighted the good parenting skills of James and Florida.
In spite of their difficult situation, they never shirked on their
responsibility to teach values and morality to their children. The
younger son Michael was thoughtful, intelligent, and fascinated
with African-American history. He frequently participated in protest
marches for good causes. J.J. was an aspiring artist who dreamed
of lifting his family from the clutches of poverty. In one episode
the family's last valuable possession, the television set, is stolen
from J.J. on his way to the pawn shop to obtain a loan that would
pay the month's rent. But somehow the Evans family prevailed, and
they did so with a smile. Their ability to remain stalwart in the
face of difficult odds was an underlying theme of the show.
Times is also significant for many layers of controversy and
criticism that haunted its production. Both stars, Rolle and Amos
walked away and returned as they became embroiled in various disputes
surrounding the program's direction. A major point of disagreement
was the J.J. character, who metamorphosed into a coon-stereotype
reminiscent of early American film. His undignified antics raised
the ire of the Black community. With his toothy grin, ridiculous
strut and bug-eyed buffoonery, J.J. became a featured character
with his trademark exclamation, "DY-NO-MITE!" J.J. lied, stole,
and was barely literate. More and more episodes were centered around
his exploits. Forgotten were Michael's scholastic success, James'
search for a job and anything resembling family values.
Ester Rolle and John Amos objected to the highlighting of the J.J.
character. When both stars eventually left the program in protest,
abortive attempts were made to soften the J.J. character and continue
the program without James and Florida. "We felt we had to do something
drastic," Rolle said later in the Los Angeles Times, "we had lost
the essence of the show."
with a newly fashioned (employed and mature-acting) J.J. character,
ratings for Good Times plummeted. With some concessions,
Rolle re-joined the cast in 1978 but the program failed and the
series was canceled. The program went on to enjoy a decade of success
Times, with its success and its criticism remains an important
program in television history. As the product of the highly successful
Lear/Yorkin team it stretched the boundaries of television comedy,
while breaking the unspoken ban on a mostly black cast television
Florida Evans (1974-1977, 1978-1979)..... Esther Rolle James
Evans (1974-1976)....................... John Amos James
Evans, Jr. (J.J.)...................... Jimmie Walker Willona
Woods.................................... Ja'net DuBois Michael
Evans ......................................Ralph Carter Thelma
Evans.............. Anderson BernNadette Stanis Carl Dixon
(1977).................................. Moses Gunn Nathan Bookman
(1977-1979).............. Johnny Brown Penny Gordon Woods (1977-1979).......
Janet Jackson Keith Anderson (1976-1979)....................
Ben Powers Sweet Daddy (1978-1979)................ Theodore
Norman Lear, Allan Mannings, Austin Kalish, Irma Kalish, Norman
Paul, Gordon Mitchell, Lloyd Turner, Sid Dorfman, George Sunga,
Bernie West, Dohn Nicholl, Viva Knight
HISTORY 120 Episodes
February 1974-September 1974
Friday 8:30-9:00 September 1974-March 1976 Tuesday
8:00-8:30 March 1976-August 1976 Tuesday
8:30-9:00 September 1976-January 1978 Wednesday 8:00-8:30
January 1978-May 1978 Monday
8:00-8:30 June 1978-September 1978
Monday 8:30-9:00 September 1978-December 1978 Saturday
8:30-9:00 May 1979-August 1979 Wednesday
Bogel, Donald. Blacks, Coons, Mullatoes, Mammies and Bucks: An
Interpretive History of Blacks in American Film. New York: Garland,
Blacks in American Television and Film. New York: Garland,
Friedman, Lester D. Uspeakable Images: Ethnicity and the American
Cinema. Urbana, Illinois and Chicago: University of Illinois
Herman. Watching Race: Television and the Struggle for "Blackness."
Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.
J. Fred. Blacks and White TV: Afro-Americans in Television Since
1948. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1993.
David, and Robert J. Thompson. Prime Time, Prime Movers: From
I Love Lucy to L.A. Law, America's Greatest TV Shows and and
People Who Created Them. Boston: Little, Brown, 1992.
Ella. Prime Time Families: Television Culture in Postwar America.
Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1990.
See also Maude;