The Black Shows Norman Lear Changed TV Culture With

The Black Shows Norman Lear Changed TV Culture With

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As many offer tribute to the late television legend Norman Lear after his death, we take a look at the television shows featuring predominately Black casts he produced which changed the culture.

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The passing of television icon Norman Lear at the age of 101 has paved the way for a further examination of the shows that the producer and writer was responsible for bringing to the screen and in the process, impacting comedy and American society greatly with a focus on social and political themes of the time.

His work (which included having an astonishing eleven hit shows on air at one time) included shows airing in the 1970s and 1980s that showcased the Black community in roles that captured their full scope and would have a major impact on the industry for decades afterward. We take an in-depth look at the Black-focused shows of Norman Lear that had major success.


Sanford & Son

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Reworking a popular British sitcom Steptoe & Son, Sanford & Son became a smash hit when it aired on NBC in 1974. Ribald veteran comedian Redd Foxx was tapped to star as Watts-based junkman Fred G. Sanford and Demond Wilson as his son, Lamont. Featuring beloved recurring characters such as Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page), the show was Lear’s first featuring an all-Black cast and was a solid ratings giant all of its six seasons, coming in second only to Lear’s iconic All In The Family on CBS. It would end in 1977 after a contract dispute between Foxx and NBC.

Good Times

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A spin-off of the Bea Arthur-fronted Maude (which was itself a spin-off from All In The Family), Good Times focused on Maude’s former housekeeper Florida Evans (Esther Rolle), and her husband James Evans (John Amos) as they raised their three children in the projects in Chicago. Good Times was co-created by Eric Monte (who wrote the cult classic Cooley High) and Mike Evans, who starred as Lionel on All In The Family. The show would become another hit series for CBS, despite some turbulence with Rolle and Amos over concerns of negative stereotypes as the character of J.J. (played by comedian Jimmie Walker) was thrust into the forefront with his “Dyn-O-mite” catchphrase (which Lear actually detested at first). Good Times would go on to be revered by many, with numerous Black stars appearing on the show including Janet Jackson as Penny Gordon.

The Jeffersons

Featuring Sherman Helmsley as the quick-tempered laundry owner George Jefferson and Isabel Sanford as his wife, Louise, The Jeffersons would become another major hit series for Norman Lear with roots in All In The Family. The Jeffersons would represent America’s first look at an upwardly mobile Black family as the couple moved from living next door to the Bunkers to the Upper East Side. With a catchy theme song (you’re humming it right now as you read this no doubt) and a unique perspective thanks to the strong cast, The Jeffersons would run for ten seasons from 1975 to 1985 on CBS.


Diff’rent Strokes

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This sitcom by Norman Lear first made its debut on NBC in 1978, with Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges starring as Arnold and Willis Jackson, two recently orphaned Harlem children taken in by wealthy Park Avenue widower Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain) and their daughter, Kimberly (Dana Plato). The show would run for eight seasons on NBC and ABC highlighted by Coleman’s magnetic charm and the “very special episodes” that tacked issues like racism and drug use.


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Lear would be an uncredited executive producer for 227, a show that would become part of NBC’s vaunted Saturday night comedy block in the 1980s. Marla Gibbs, who rose to fame as the wisecracking housekeeper Florence on The Jeffersons, starred as housewife Mary Jenkins as part of a trio of friends and neighbors Rose Holloway (Alaina Rose Hall ) and Sandra Clark (Jackee Harry) in the same Washington D.C. apartment building. 227 was also the debut of Regina King, who played Mary’s daughter Brenda. The show would last for five seasons. 

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