Good Times


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

Tabs

About

Evictions, 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.

Good 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 daughter.

Good 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.

Good 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.

Good 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.

The 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.

Good 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.

Both 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."

Even 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 in syndication.

Good 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 show.

-Pamala S. Deane

CAST

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 Wilson

PRODUCERS

Norman Lear, Allan Mannings, Austin Kalish, Irma Kalish, Norman Paul, Gordon Mitchell, Lloyd Turner, Sid Dorfman, George Sunga, Bernie West, Dohn Nicholl, Viva Knight

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

120 Episodes

CBS

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 8:30-9:00

FURTHER READING

Bogel, Donald. Blacks, Coons, Mullatoes, Mammies and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Film. New York: Garland, 1973.

_______________. Blacks in American Television and Film. New York: Garland, 1988.

Friedman, Lester D. Uspeakable Images: Ethnicity and the American Cinema. Urbana, Illinois and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1991.

Gray, Herman. Watching Race: Television and the Struggle for "Blackness." Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.

MacDonald, J. Fred. Blacks and White TV: Afro-Americans in Television Since 1948. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1993.

Marc, 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.

Taylor, Ella. Prime Time Families: Television Culture in Postwar America. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1990.

Highlights
Norman Lear on what prompted him to create shows about upwardly mobile black families with Good Times and The Jeffersons
04:34
Tucker Wiard on editing the pilot for Good Times
05:28
Hector Ramirez on working as a camera operator for Good Times
02:27
Michael Moye on the writing process and not-so-diverse writing staff on Good Times
07:46
Irma and Rocky Kalish on writing on Good Times with John Amos
04:01
Who talked about this show

Debbie Allen

View Interview
Debbie Allen on working on Good Times, her first television role
02:51

John Amos

View Interview
John Amos on his problems with the scripts of Good Times and being dismissed from Good Times
02:40
John Amos on an early encounter with Good Times artist Ernie Barnes
02:54
John Amos on being cast as "James Evans" on Good Times
02:29
John Amos on the character of "James Evans" on Good Times
02:44
John Amos on the premise of Good Times
01:09
John Amos on working with Jimmie Walker and the rest of the cast of Good Times
03:03

Thomas Carter

View Interview
Thomas Carter on appearing on Good Times
02:32

Hal Cooper

View Interview
Hal Cooper on the Maude spinoff Good Times
02:51

Ron Howard

View Interview
Ron Howard on how "Fonzie" on Happy Days was being groomed to compete with Good Times' "J.J."
01:40

Irma Kalish

View Interview
Irma and Rocky Kalish on writing on Good Times with John Amos
04:01
Irma and Rocky Kalish on being white writers on an mostly black show, Good Times; on how they adapted to their cast
02:18

Rocky Kalish

View Interview
Irma and Rocky Kalish on writing on Good Times with John Amos
04:01
Irma and Rocky Kalish on being white writers on an mostly black show, Good Times; on how they adapted to their cast
02:18

Norman Lear

View Interview
Norman Lear on Good Times, and criticism of the character of "J.J. Evans"
03:15

Michael Moye

View Interview
Michael Moye on the writing process and not-so-diverse writing staff on Good Times
07:46
Michael Moye on writing a spec script for Good Times
02:41
Michael Moye on writing for and the premise of Good Times
05:14
Michael Moye on working with the producers of Good Times
01:56
Michael Moye on how to be funny when writing a show (Good Times) about a socio-economically depressed area
02:25
Michael Moye on Jimmie Walker's catchphrase "Dynomite" on Good Times
00:35
Michael Moye on what he learned from working on Good Times and the legacy of the show
05:09

Thad Mumford

View Interview
Thad Mumford on writing for Good Times, Maude, and various other Norman Lear shows
06:36

Hector Ramirez

View Interview
Hector Ramirez on working as a camera operator for Good Times
02:27

Rita Riggs

View Interview
Rita Riggs on designing costumes for Good Times for Esther Rolle as "Florida Evans"
08:30
Rita Riggs on working with Esther Rolle as "Florida Evans" on Maude and Good Times, and on the other cast members of those shows
02:10

Jack Shea

View Interview
Jack Shea on directing Good Times
04:13

Fred Silverman

View Interview
Fred Silverman on All In The Family spinoff Good Times
00:46

George Sunga

View Interview
George Sunga on being Associate Producer of Good Times
06:04

Jimmie Walker

View Interview
Jimmie Walker on being cast as "J.J. Evans" on Good Times
06:55
Jimmie Walker on his first days playing "J.J. Evans" on Good Times, and on working with producer Norman Lear
05:15
Jimmie Walker on his character, "J.J. Evans," on Good Times, and on "Michael Evans" played by Ralph Carter
05:36
Jimmie Walker on his level of comfort in acting on Good Times, and the difficulty of an African-American actor being the "laugh guy" on a series
05:37
Jimmie Walker on Norman Lear searching for black writers for Good Times, and on Married with Children creator Michael Moye
03:24
Jimmie Walker on his Good Times catch phrase, "Dyn-o-mite!" and on how Norman Lear felt about it
04:24
Jimmie Walker on working with show creator Norman Lear on Good Times, and on Aaron Spelling dealing with actors on Starsky & Hutch
06:16
Jimmie Walker on Good Times co-creator Mike Evans, who also played "Lionel Jefferson" on The Jeffersons
02:22
Jimmie Walker on "J.J. Evans'" denim hat on Good Times, and on show director John Rich
04:15
Jimmie Walker on working with Esther Rolle as "Florida Evans" and John Amos as "James Evans" on Good Times, and on the lack of unity among the cast
04:29
Jimmie Walker on Esther Rolle as "Florida Evans" and John Amos as "James Evans" leaving the cast of Good Times, and on the chemistry of the cast
01:40
Jimmie Walker on Ralph Carter and Bern Nadette Stanis as "Michael" and "Thelma Evans" on Good Times
04:21
Jimmie Walker on Ja'net Dubois as "Willona Woods" on Good Times
02:15
Jimmie Walker on Janet Jackson as "Penny" on Good Times
01:48
Jimmie Walker on the experience of being the breakout star of Good Times, and on still working as a stand-up during the series' run
03:59
Jimmie Walker on favorite episodes and guest stars of Good Times
03:39
Jimmie Walker on the end of Good Times, and on the legacy of the show
02:22
Jimmie Walker on Norman Lear wanting to cover controversial topics on Good Times
02:32
Jimmie Walker on how Good Times impacted his career, and on his struggles in show business
12:07

Tucker Wiard

View Interview
Tucker Wiard on editing the pilot for Good Times
05:28
Tucker Wiard on when 2" tape was first used on the TV show Good Times
01:19
Tucker Wiard on working on Good Times, All in the Family, Maude and One day at a Time
02:35

Ben Wolf

View Interview
Ben Wolf on shooting Good Times
04:04

Bud Yorkin

View Interview
Bud Yorkin on The Jeffersons and Good Times
01:38

All Shows

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
J
L
M
P
R
S
T
W