ONE DAY AT A TIME

U.S. Domestic Comedy

Though the series was created by Whitney Blake (formerly an actress on TV's Hazel), One Day at a Time definitely showed the imprint of Norman Lear, its powerhouse producer. The series, like other Lear comedies, strove to be topical, progressive, even controversial, and to mix serious issues with more comical elements. At times the mix was less than even, yet it proved to be very popular and One Day at a Time was one of the most successful series of the 1970s and 1980s, outlasting many of Lear's other, more highly praised series.

The program centered around Ann Romano, a television character who found herself struggling through many of the same experiences facing real American women. Married at 17, Romano was now divorced, raising two teenagers more or less on her own, and entering the job market for the first time since her marriage. Played by Bonnie Franklin, Romano was not TV's first divorced woman or mother (Diana Rigg in Diana proceeded her as did Vivian Vance on The Lucy Show), but she was probably--to that time--the most realistic. Romano struggled with money, fighting for every penny of the child support that was supposed to come from her frequently deadbeat husband. She struggled with finding a job. And she struggled to be both father and mother to her two children, Julie and Barbara.

Just as the portrayal of Ann was without romanticism, so was the depiction of her two children. Throughout the series Barbara and particularly Julie dealt with issues of birth control, sexuality, virginity, alcohol and other substances with an honesty and forthrightness that Gidget and other previous TV teens never dreamed of.

Rounding out the cast was apartment building superintendent Schneider (his first name was hardly ever used) who, over the course of the series, played a more and more important role in both the program's plots and the lives of the girls. He also frequently supplied some much needed comic relief in the midst of the ongoing exploration of serious topics.

One Day at a Time went through many cast changes during its run and developed various, almost convoluted plot twists and turns. When the show began Ann was working for an advertising agency, then later founded her own company. One season she became engaged, only to have her fiancee killed by a drunk driver. Then, for a time following his death, she became legal guardian to his teenage son. Daughter Julie married and had a baby only later to abandon her new family. Ann's mother (played by veteran actress Nanette Fabray) eventually became a series regular, appearing in almost every episode. Finally, daughter Barbara married--having remained a virgin until her wedding night--and the next season Ann ended up marrying Barbara's father-in-law. The series ended with Ann, now remarried, moving to London with her new husband to take an exciting new job.

But for all the problems that were played out in front of the cameras, just as many occurred behind the scenes. Actress Mackenzie Phillips was fired from the series in 1980 due to her ongoing drug addiction. Phillips would later return to the series only to be written out again when she suffered other health problems.

In some ways, one of TV's first "dramedys" (a hybrid of drama and comedy to be later embodied by series such as The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd), One Day made extensive use of multi-part episodes (one three-parter dealt with Julie running away from home), focused on contemporary issues (one episode dealt with teen suicide), and incorporated political messages into its stories. Nothing was ever easy or dealt with offhandedly on One Day at a Time. Its decision not to shy away from difficult themes, its warts and all portrayal of contemporary life, especially of women's lives and of female adolescence, sets it apart. Thus the series helped expand the dimensions and role of U.S. television comedy.

Less loud-mouthed and politically explicit than Lear's other feminist comedy heroine, Maude Finley, Ann Romano (who took back her maiden name after her divorce and preferred to be referred to as "Ms.") was more middle of the road and therefore easier to relate to as a realistic, "taken from life" type of character. This wide appeal, along with the series stars Bonnie Franklin, Pat Harrington, Jr. and Valerie Bertinelli, allowed the show to endure for an eventful and trend setting nine year run.

-Cary O'Dell

 


One Day at a Time

CAST

Ann Romano (Royer).............................. Bonnie Franklin Julie Cooper Horvath (1975-8-, 1981-83)................................................... Mackenzie Phillips Barbara Cooper Royer........................... Valerie Bertinelli Dwayne Schneider.............................. Pat Harrington, Jr. David Kane (1975-76)............................. Richard Massur Ginny Wrobliki (1976-77).................. Mary Louise Wilson Mr. Jerry Davenport (1976-79).................. Charles Siebert Max Horvath (1979-80, 1981-84)........... Michael Lembeck Katherine Romano (1979-84)................... Nanette Fabray Nick Handris (1980-81).................................. Ron Rifkin Alex Handris (1980-83)............................ Glenn Scarpelli Francine Webster (1981-84).................. Shelley Fabares Mark Royer (1981-84)................................. Boyd Gaines Sam Royer (1982-84).......................... Howard Hessman Annie Horvath (1983-84)............... Lauren/Paige Maloney

PRODUCERS Norman Lear, Mort Lachman, Norman Paul, Jack Elinson, Alan Rafkin, Bud Wiseman, Dick Bensfield, Perry Grant, Allan Mannings, Patricia Fass Palmer, Katherine Green

PROGRAMMING HISTORY 205 Episodes

CBS
December 1975-July 1976                 Tuesday 9:30-10:00 September 1976-January 1978           Tuesday 9:30-10:00 January 1978-January 1979                Monday 9:30-10:00 January 1979-March 1979              Wednesday 9:00-9:30 March 1979-September 1982                Sunday 8:30-9:00 September 1982-March 1983              Sunday 9:30-10:00 March 1983-May 1983                       Monday 9:30-10:00 June 1983-February 1984                     Sunday 8:30-9:00 March 1984-May 1984                   Wednesday 8:00-8:30 May 1984-August 1984                        Monday 9:00-9:30 August 1984-September 1984               Sunday 8:00-8:30

FURTHER READING

Castleman, Harry, and Walter J. Podrazik. Harry and Walter's Favorite Shows: A Fact-Filled Opinionated Guide to the Best and Worst on TV. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1989.

Mitz, Rick. The Great TV Sitcom Book. New York: Perigee, 1983.