MAUDE

U.S. Situation Comedy

Maude, the socially controversial, sometimes radical sitcom featuring a strong female lead character played by Bea Arthur, ran on CBS from 1972 to 1978. Like its predecessor All in the Family, Maude was created by Norman Lear's Tandem Productions. Maude Findlay was first introduced as Edith's liberal, outspoken cousin from suburban Tucahoe, New York on an episode of All in the Family in 1972 before spinning off later that year to her own series set in upper middle-class Tucahoe where she lived with her fourth husband, Walter Findlay, her divorced daughter Carol, and Carol's young son Phillip. The Findlay's also went through three housekeepers during the run of the series, the first of whom, Florida Evans, left in 1974 to her own spin-off, Good Times. These three shows, among others, comprised a cadre of 1970s Norman Lear urban sitcoms that raised social and political issues and dealt with them in a manner as yet unexplored in television sitcom. Maude enjoyed a spot in the top ten Nielsen ratings during its first four seasons despite being subjected to day and/or time changes in the CBS schedule that continued throughout the entire run of the program.

Like many of Lear's productions, Maude was a character-centered sitcom. Maude Findlay was opinionated like Archie Bunker, but her politics and class position were completely different. Strong-willed, intelligent and articulate, the liberal progressive Maude spoke out on issues raised less openly on Lear's highly successful All in the Family. While questions of race, class and gender politics reverberated throughout both, certain specific issues, like menopause, birth control and abortion were more openly confronted on Maude. In a two-part episode that ran early in the series, the 47-year-old Maude finds out that she's pregnant and decides, with her husband Walter, that she would have an abortion which, had just been made legal in New York state. Part two of the double episode also dealt with men and birth control as Walter considers getting a vasectomy. Thousands of viewers wrote letters in protest of the episode because of the abortion issue. In other episodes Maude gets a face-lift, Walter's business goes bankrupt, and he deals with the resulting bout with depression; in yet another Walter confronts his own alcoholism. The realism of Maude, though conforming to the constraints of the genre, made it one of the first sitcoms to create a televisual space where highly charged, topical issues and sometimes tragic contemporary situations could be discussed.

Maude represented a change in television sitcoms during the early 1970s. Many 1960s sitcoms reflected the context and values of white middle America, where gender and family roles were fixed and problems encountered in the program rarely reached beyond the confines of nuclear family relationships. Despite variations on that theme in terms of alternative families (Family Affair and My three Sons) and an added supernatural element (Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie), the context was middle to upper-middle class, mostly suburban, and white. However, cultural upheaval in the 1960s, the political climate of the early 1970s, shifting viewer demographics and the maturing of television itself were responsible for a departure from the usual fare. By the early 1970s a growing portion of the viewing audience, baby boomers, were open to new kinds of television, having come of age during the era of Civil Rights, Vietnam protests and various forms of consciousness raising. However, the changing tastes of the audience and the social climate of the early 1970s cannot by themselves account for the rise of socially conscious television during this period. The sitcom had also matured and producers like Norman Lear, familiar generally with American humor and specifically with the rules of television sitcom, decided to make television comedy that was more socially aware. Like All in the Family, Maude set out to explode the dominant values of the white middle-class domestic sitcom with its traditional gender roles and non-white stereotypes by openly engaging in debates where various political points of view were embodied in the sitcom characters.

Such debates were the staple of Maude throughout its six-year run. In an early episode Maude hires Florida Evans, a black woman, to be housekeeper. Maude goes out of her way to prove her progressive attitude to Florida by insisting she become like one of the family. Florida, along with Walter and Carol, points out to Maude the foolishness of her extreme behavior. In the end Maude recognizes her underlying condescension towards Florida who, as witty and outspoken as Maude, retains her dignity and decides to remain as Findlay housekeeper on her own terms. The interaction between Maude and Florida in this episode was a comment on the issues and attitudes about race that stemmed from the Civil Rights efforts of the 1960s. Maude's attitudes and behavior were indicative of white liberal politics during a time when race relations in the United States were being reconfigured.

Another reconfiguration was taking place within the arena of women's rights. In one of the final episodes of the show, Maude is given the opportunity to run for New York state senate and Walter refuses to consider the possibility. He offers Maude an ultimatum, and after mulling over her decision, she decides to let Walter leave. This episode, like many others, reflected a feminist sensibility emerging within the country, and can be viewed as a platform for discussions about the changing roles of women and the difficulties they encountered as they were faced with new challenges and more choices. Maude's character agonized over the conflict between tradition and her own career aspirations.

The show's ratings began to fall after its fourth season, and by 1978 Bea Arthur announced that she would leave the show. The end of Maude marked another shift in the domestic sitcom, away from open political debate and towards a renewal of the safer, more traditional family-centered sitcoms of an earlier period in television history.

-Kathryn Fry

 


Maude

CAST

Maude Findlay........................................ Beatrice Arthur Walter Findlay................................................ Bill Macy Carol................................................. Adrienne Barbeau Phillip (1972-1977)................................... Brian Morrison Phillip (1977-1978)................................. Kraig Metzinger Dr. Arthur Harmon ......................................Conrad Blain Vivian Cavender Harmon...................... Rue McClanahan Florida Evans (1972-1974)........................... Esther Rolle Henry Evans (1973-1974).............................. John Amos Chris (1973-1974)....................................... Fred Grandy Mrs. Nell Naugatuck (1974-1977)....... Hermione Baddeley Bert Beasley (1975-1977)........................ J. Pat O'Malley Victoria Butterfield (1977-1978)............. Marlene Warfield

PRODUCERS    Norman Lear, Rod Parker, Bob Weiskopf, Bob Schiller

PROGRAMMING HISTORY 142 Episodes

CBS
September 1972-September 1974        Tuesday 8:00-8:30 September 1974-September 1975         Monday 9:00-9:30 September 1975-September 1976       Monday 9:30-10:00 September 1976-September 1977         Monday 9:00-9:30 September 1977-November 1977         Monday 9:30-10:00 December 1977-January 1978              Monday 9:00-9:30 January 1978-April 1978                   Saturday 9:30-10:00

FURTHER READING

Cowan, Geoffrey. See No Evil: The Backstage Battle Over Sex and Violence on Television. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979.

Feuer, Jane. "Genre Study and Television." In, Allen, Robert C., editor. Channels Of Discourse: Television and Contemporary Criticism. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1987.

Hamamoto, Darrell Y. Nervous Laughter: Television Situation Comedy and Liberal Democratic Ideology. New York: Praeger, 1989.

Himmelstein, Hal. Television Myth and the American Mind. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1994.

Marc, David. Comic Visions: Television Comedy and American Culture. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989.

 

See also All in the Family; Arthur, Beatrice; Comedy, Domestic Settings; Family on Television; Gender and Television; Lear, Norman