I watch Good Times every day. Every single day. I’ve done it for years. I laugh at the same jokes in the same places, I make the same mental observations, I say the same dialogue along with the characters. I’m not claiming to be the biggest Good Times fan in the world – but I’ll wager that I’m up there in the top 10. So it was almost inevitable for me to devote a blog to this unforgettable show.
A situation comedy set in my hometown of Chicago, Illinois, Good Times premiered on February 8, 1974, and ran for six years on CBS-TV. I can’t say with certainty what it is about this show that captured and kept my fascination over all these decades – there are so many reasons. It shines a light on real-life issues, from teen pregnancy to drug use to crime. It showcases a variety of up-and-coming performers, including Debbie Allen, Rosalind Cash, Lou Gossett, and Philip Michael Thomas. It incorporates the pop culture of the day. And it’s well-written and legitimately funny. Beyond these tangible features, Good Times simply feels like family; these were people I knew.
Before Good Times, there were only a handful of television shows that featured black people. The 1950s gave us The Amos and Andy Show, Beulah, and The Jack Benny Program, and in the 1960s and early 1970s, there was Room 222, Julia, I Spy, Roll Out, The Flip Wilson Show, Sanford and Son, and The Bill Cosby Show (the one from the late 1960s where he played a physical education teacher named Chet Kincaid).
In 1971, television producer Norman Lear created All in the Family. Previously, Lear (a former writer for The Martin and Lewis Show, and director of two feature films) had created only one television show – a western called The Deputy featuring Henry Fonda that ran from 1959 to 1961. All in the Family starred Carroll O’Connor as rabid bigot Archie Bunker, and Jean Stapleton as Archie’s long-suffering wife. When it aired in January as a mid-season replacement show on CBS, it took a while for it to find its audience, but by the 1971-1972 season, it was a solid hit. In September 1972, All in the Family saw its first-spinoff, Maude, starring Bea Arthur as Archie’s outspoken, liberal cousin-in-law. On Maude’s third episode, she hired a maid: Florida Evans (Esther Rolle). The popularity of this intelligent, fearless, slightly imperious, and often impertinent black character earned Rolle her own spinoff, Good Times, in 1974.
There were a few tweaks between Florida on Maude and Florida on Good Times. On Maude, Florida lived in New York with her husband, Henry (John Amos), who worked as a fireman, while the Evans family on Good Times lived in a housing project in Chicago, Florida’s husband’s name was James, and James often worked several jobs to make ends meet. On Florida’s first episode on Maude, there’s a reference to the two of them drinking a few martinis at lunch, but on Good Times, Florida doesn’t drink alcohol. And on Maude, Florida and Henry have been married for 24 years, but on Good Times, they celebrate their 20th anniversary.
Good Times was created by writer Eric Monte, who also wrote for such series as The Jeffersons and What’s Happening, as well as the screenplay for the film Cooley High (another production set in Chicago – Monte’s hometown), and Michael Evans, best known for portraying Lionel on All in the Family and, for several years, on another spinoff, The Jeffersons. Originally, the show was slated to be called The Black Family, with the family’s last name being Black. (Get it?) Later, the creators decided to change the last name of the family to Evans and they renamed the show Good Times.
The show was a hit from the start, and in its second season, it trounced its main competition, ABC’s Happy Days, knocking it out of the top 30 shows. In that season, Good Times climbed to number seven in the ratings. After the second season, though, ratings started to dip, and after Amos’s character was killed off at the end of the third season, things would never be the same.
This blog, Ain’t We Lucky We Got ‘Em’, is my love letter to Good Times. I will provide a look at each of the show’s 133 episodes, as well as delve into the pop culture of the 1970s, which is significantly interwoven throughout so many of the episodes. I’ll also periodically offer other features, including trivia quizzes, my favorite episodes, and more.
I hope you’ll join me on this journey.