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lindagray

Good Times

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Good Times is an American sitcom television series that aired for six seasons on CBS, from February 8, 1974 to August 1, 1979. Created by Eric Monte and Mike Evans and developed by executive producer Norman Lear, it was television's first African American two-parent family sitcom. Good Times is a spin-off of Maude, itself a spin-off of All in the Family.

Synopsis

Florida and James Evans and their three children live at 921 North Gilbert Avenue, apartment 17C, in a housing project in a poor, black neighborhood in inner-city Chicago. The project is unnamed on the show but is implicitly the infamous Cabrini–Green projects, shown in the opening and closing credits. Florida and James have three children: James Jr., also known as "J.J."; Thelma; and Michael, whose passionate activism causes his father to call him "the militant midget." When the series begins, J.J. is 17, Thelma is 16 and Michael is 11. Their exuberant neighbor and Florida's best friend is Willona Woods, a recent divorcée who works at a boutique. Their building superintendent is Nathan Bookman (seasons 2-6), who James, Willona and later J.J. refer to as "Buffalo Butt" or, even more derisively, "Booger."

The characters originated on the sitcom Maude as Florida and Henry Evans, with Florida employed as Maude Findlay's housekeeper in Tuckahoe, New York and Henry employed as a New York City firefighter. When producers decided to feature the Florida character in her own show, they changed the characters' history to fit a new series that was well into development rather than start from scratch to create a consistent starring vehicle. Henry's name became James, he worked various odd jobs, there was no mention of Maude but it was mentioned that Florida was a maid once before in the episode 'The Checkup' and the couple lived in Chicago. Episodes of Good Times deal with the characters' attempts to overcome poverty, living in a high-rise project building in Chicago. James Evans often works at least two jobs, mostly manual labor such as dishwasher, construction laborer, etc. Often, he is unemployed, but he is a proud man who will not accept charity. When he has to, he hustles money playing pool, although Florida disapproves of this.

Main

Actor Character Seasons
1 2 3 4 5 6
Esther Rolle Florida Evans Main   Main
John Amos James Evans Main  
Ja'net Dubois Willona Woods Main
Ralph Carter Michael Evans Main
Jimmie Walker James "J.J." Evans Jr. Main
Bern Nadette Stanis Thelma Evans Anderson Main
Johnny Brown Nathan Bookman   Recurring Main
Janet Jackson Millicent "Penny" Gordon Woods   Main
Ben Powers Keith Anderson   Main

Production

Good Times was created by Eric Monte and actor Mike Evans. The series also features a character named "Michael Evans" after Evans who portrayed Lionel Jefferson on the Lear-produced series All in the Family and The Jeffersons.

Theme song and opening sequence

The gospel-styled theme song was composed by Dave Grusin with lyrics written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. It was sung by Jim Gilstrap and Motown singer Blinky Williams with a gospel choir providing background vocals. The lyrics to the theme song are notorious for being hard to discern, notably the line "Hangin' in a chow line"/"Hangin' in and jivin'" (depending on the source used). Dave Chappelle used this part of the lyrics as a quiz in his "I Know Black People" skit on Chappelle's Show in which the former was claimed as the answer. The insert for the Season One DVD box set has the lyric as "Hangin' in a chow line." However, the Bergmans confirmed that the lyric is actually "Hangin' in and jivin'." Slightly different lyrics were used for the closing credits, with the song beginning on a verse instead of the chorus.

Casting

When Ralph Carter was cast as the youngest Evans child, Michael, he was a cast member in the Broadway musical Raisin and the producers of Raisin were initially reluctant to accept Tandem Productions' buyout offer. While Carter's contract was being negotiated, another young actor, Larry Fishburne (later Laurence) filled the role of Michael during initial rehearsals for Good Times. Early episodes of Good Times contain a notice in the credits: "Ralph Carter appears courtesy of the Broadway musical Raisin."

Cast conflicts

Good Times was intended to be a timely show in the All in the Family vein focused on Rolle and Amos. Both expected the show to deal with serious topics in a comedic way while providing positive characters for viewers to identify with. However, it was Walker's character of J.J. that was an immediate hit with audiences and became the breakout character of the series. J.J.'s frequent use of the expression "Dy-no-mite!" (often in the phrase "Kid Dy-no-mite!"), credited to director John Rich, became a popular catchphrase (later included in TV Land's The 100 Greatest TV Quotes and Catch Phrases special). Rich insisted Walker say it in every episode. Walker and executive producer Norman Lear were skeptical of the idea, but the phrase and the J.J. Evans character caught on with the audience. As a result of the character's popularity, the writers focused more on J.J.'s comedic antics instead of serious issues. Throughout seasons two and three, Rolle and Amos grew increasingly disillusioned with the direction of the show and especially with J.J.'s antics and stereotypically buffoonish behavior. Rolle was vocal about her hate of his character. In a 1975 interview with Ebony magazine she stated:

He's 18 and he doesn't work. He can't read or write. He doesn't think. The show didn't start out to be that...Little by little—with the help of the artist, I suppose, because they couldn't do that to me—they have made J.J. more stupid and enlarged the role. Negative images have been slipped in on us through the character of the oldest child.

Although doing so less publicly than Rolle, Amos also was outspoken about his dissatisfaction with the J.J. character, stating:

The writers would prefer to put a chicken hat on J.J. and have him prance around saying "DY-NO-MITE", and that way they could waste a few minutes and not have to write meaningful dialogue.

While Amos was less public with his dissatisfaction than Rolle, he was ultimately fired after season three due to disagreements with Lear. Amos' departure was initially attributed to his desire to focus on a film career, but he admitted in a 1976 interview that Lear called him and told him that his contract option with the show was not being renewed. Amos stated, "That's the same thing as being fired." The producers decided not to recast the character of James Evans, instead opting to kill off the character in the two-part season four episode, "The Big Move," with Florida finding out that James was killed in an automobile accident while in Mississippi.

Final seasons

By the end of season four, Rolle had also become dissatisfied with the show's direction and decided to leave the series. In the two-part season finale, "Love Has a Spot On His Lung," Florida gets engaged to Carl Dixon (Moses Gunn), a man she began dating toward the end of season four. In the season five premiere episode, "The Evans Get Involved Part 1," it is revealed that Florida and Carl married off screen and moved to Arizona for the sake of Carl's health. With Amos and Rolle gone, DuBois took over as lead actor, as Willona checked in on the Evans children since they were now living alone. In season five, Janet Jackson joined the cast, playing Penny Gordon Woods, an abused girl abandoned by her mother and eventually adopted by Willona. Also, during that season, Johnny Brown's character of Nathan Bookman, the Evans' landlord, became more prominent and at the beginning of the fifth year, Brown became a series regular and was included in the opening credits. Ratings began to decline. It was clear to the producers as well as viewers that Rolle's absence had left the series without a much-needed unifying center of attention. Before taping of season six began, CBS and the show's producers decided that they had to do "something drastic" to increase viewership. According to then-vice president of CBS programming Steve Mills, "We had lost the essence of the show. Without parental guidance, the show slipped. Everything told us that: our mail, our phone calls, our research. We felt we had to go back to basics." Producers approached Rolle with an offer to appear in a guest role on the series. Rolle was initially hesitant, but when producers agreed to a number of her demands (including an increased salary and higher quality scripts), she agreed to return to the series on a full-time basis. Rolle also wanted producers to make the character of J.J. more responsible, as she felt the character was a poor role model for African-American youths. She also requested that producers write out the character of Carl Dixon; Rolle reportedly disliked the storyline surrounding the Carl Dixon character, as she believed Florida would not have moved on so quickly after James' death or leave her children. Rolle also thought the writers had disregarded Florida's devout Christian beliefs by having her fall for and marry Carl, who was an atheist. In the season six premiere episode "Florida's Homecoming: Part 1," Florida returns from Arizona without Carl to attend Thelma's upcoming wedding to professional football player Keith Anderson (Ben Powers, who joined the cast for the final season). In a rare uncut version of "Florida's Homecoming: Part 2," after Florida arrives home from Arizona, Willona briefly pulls her aside and mentions Carl, to which Florida sadly smiles and shakes her head, implying that Carl had died from cancer. Florida later mentions Carl one last time when she tells Michael about a book they'd both bought him. Despite changes in the series at Rolle's request and her return, plus the addition of Powers to the cast, ratings continued to fall and CBS canceled the series during the 1978-79 season. In the series finale episode "The End of the Rainbow," each character finally gets a "happy ending." J.J. gets his big break as a nationally syndicated artist for a comic book company with his newly created character, DynoWoman, which is based on Thelma (much to her surprise and delight) and is moving into an apartment with some lady friends. Michael attends college and moves into an on-campus dorm. Keith's bad knee heals due to his exercise and own physical therapy, leading to the Chicago Bears offering him a contract to play football. Keith announces that he and Thelma are moving into a luxury apartment in the city's upscale Gold Coast district. Thelma also announces that she is pregnant with the couple's first child. Keith offers Florida the chance to move in with them so she can help Thelma with the new baby; Florida accepts the offer. Willona becomes the head buyer of the boutique, she walks in and announces that she and Penny are also moving out of the projects. Willona then reveals that her new apartment is in the same apartment building to which Keith, Thelma and Florida are also moving; once again, she and Penny become the Evans' downstairs neighbors.

 

wikipedia.org

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