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Old 12-07-2004, 05:38 PM   #1
Jefffalan
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Default "Bad Times on the Good Times Set" (Ebony Magazine-1975)

The following is an article from Ebony Magazine dated September 1975 entitled "Bad Times on the Good Times Set". This article has been said to be one of the reasons John Amos was "released" from his contract in 1976 by Norman Lear(and his character, James Evans, subsequently being killed off in an automobile accident). Thought you might find it interesting.

BAD TIMES ON THE 'GOOD TIMES' SET

They are a likeable family, the Evanses: mother Florida, that towering strength of morality and moderate conservatism; father James, honest and hard-working though down on his luck; James Jr., known as J. J., a budding genius of an artist and the family's clown prince; daughter Thelma, a teen-age beauty, trying to cope with two brothers and the adult world into which she is taking her first faltering steps; son Michael, young and idealistic, the family's resident black militant. And then there's that sexy neighbor, Willona: witty, flippant, a dependable friend.
The characters who people GOOD TIMES, the Tuesday night presentation that is one of the top shows on television, offer the tube's best effort to date at showing a real slice of ghetto black life. Yet, there are some bad times at GOOD TIMES, and although the show has much to recommend it in comparison with TV's usual servings of silliness and violence, it has been thigh-deep in problems which range from questionable scripting to salary disputes to character concepts and include a tinge of personal antipathy.
The crux of it all seems to be a continuing battle among the cast members to keep the comedic flavor of the program from becoming so outlandish as to be embarrassing to blacks. This fall, the cast almost unanimously has taken an attitude, apparently with the concurrence of the producer, that it is maturation time at GOOD TIMES. Critics of the show, including many of the cast, feel this is possible without detracting from the basic comedy values of GOOD TIMES. After all, in the past it has dealt with such subjects as juvenile alcoholism, gang violence, busing, menopause, the hypertension rate among blacks, and black rip-off artists in the black community. But what seems to be called for now is a greater relevance among characters and a closer rein on a tendency to slide toward old-time black minstrelsy. And what is being revealed is a healthy awareness on the part of black performers that they are responsible for cleansing the stained image of blacks so long perpetrated on stage and screen. Black audiences are sensitive to the fact, for example, that of the five shows on TV last season starring blacks, all but one was a comedy, and even the exception--GET CHRISTY LOVE on ABC--had its central character played for laughs more often than not.
GOOD TIMES evolved two and a half years ago from another TV fron-runner from the high-riding house of Tandem (producers of ALL IN THE FAMILY, SANFORD AND SON, MAUDE and, since GOOD TIMES, THE JEFFERSONS). Esther Rolle played the character of Florida, a spirited maid in the MAUDE household, and a show built around her was eventually created by black writers Eric Monte and Mike Evans, who until recently portrayed the son on THE JEFFERSONS. However, most of the GOOD TIMES scripts are written by whites.
"It wasn't really a spin-off," Producer Allan Manings says of GOOD TIMES. "It was one character, and we have changed that character."
The characterization change was natural, according to Miss Rolle, who learned her craft in community theater in New York before embarking on a distinguished stge career. "You're seeing a different side of her," Miss Rolle says of the Florida character. "What I do in my madam's house is a facade; what I do at home is me." Miss Rolle, who insisted that her show portray a family complete with mother and father from its initial concept, declares: "We have so far been able to speak of some of the difficulties of rearing a black family in a city when the parents are not over-equipped with formal training." She says she is "more dedicated to doing a show of worth than to doing a funny show."
She does, in fact, fairly bristle at the role of J. J., the comical older son played by Jimmy Walker, a nightclub comedian whose true age has been variously listed in a range from 25 to 30. Snaps Miss Rolle of J. J.: "He's 18 and he doesn't work. He can't read and write. He doesn't think. The show didn't start out to be that. Michael's role (finely etched by 14-year old Ralph Carter) of a bright, thinking child has been subtly reduced. Little by little--with the help of the artist, I suppose, because they couldn't do that to me-- they have made him (J. J. ) more stupid and enlarged the role." Negative images, says Miss Rolle, "have been quietly slipped in on us through the character of the oldest child. I resent the imagery that says to black kids that you can make it by standing on the corner saying 'Dyn-o-mite!'" Miss Rolle says she does not want Walker's "humor and funny little ways cut out, but they can be real. I think there's a happy medium here somewhere."
Producer Manings denies that the role of J. J. has been increased because of its obvious comic value. "There is no doubt that the character and personality have taken off," declares Manings, "but we don't deliberately throw things his way. Whatever functions for the purpose of the show is what we're going to do."
Actor Walker seems to be above the conflict, or just outside it. He spent the spring and early summer hiatus doing television guest appearances and concerts with such performers as Gladys Knight and the Pips, Dionne Warwicke, Paul Williams, Smokey Robinson, The Pointer Sisters and others. He is also a central character in a new Sidney Poitier movie, LET'S DO IT AGAIN, has recorded an album, DYN-O-MITE!, which he says has sold 100,000 copies, has a line of T-shirts and other items and will play a six-week engagement at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas.
Until GOOD TIMES rehearsals resumed in July, Walker had not seen the rest of the cast since February. He admits that he has developed no close friendships among his co-workers. Earlier this year, in explaining their relationship, he declared: "We are a family, and like in any real family, you get along with some members better than you do with others." Now he explains: "We're not enemies. I wouldn't walk by anyone if I saw them on the street."
As far as the J.J. characterization, Walker says, "I play the way I see it for the humor of it. I don't think anybody 20 years from now is going to remember what I said. I am not trying to have my lines etched in some archives or on a wall some place." Walker's position on positive black TV images differs from Miss Rolle's. "I don't think any TV show can put out an image to save people," he says. "My advice is do not follow me. I don't want to be a follower or a leader . . . just a doer."
The cast member who, it seemed for a while, would have to be replaced was John Amos, who stars with Miss Rolle as father of the Evans family. His contractual dispute with Tandem Productions caused a week's delay in the beginning of show tapings for the 1975-76 season. Although some of the difficulties involved salary, a source close to the negotiations confided: "There is more than money involved here. It goes back to how black men have been treated in this country all along." Amos was "very strong in asserting his position," the source said, "not only for himself, but for the whole GOOD TIMES cast. Black actors and actresses have to go beyond the call of duty." Amos, who declined to comment on the situation, has previously written for television, including the LESLIE UGGAMS SHOW of several seasons ago, and has contributed his writing skills to GOOD TIMES. Other cast members have also made contributions to scripts, oftimes, they say, to maintain balance and reality and keep the comedy in perspective. Their efforts have reportedly involved "some crying sessions among the ladies. They have been overwhelmed by some of the garbage they have been asked to play," says one of the show's observers.
GOOD TIMES co-star Ja' net DuBois has her troubles, for instance, in the role of the quip-tossing Willona. A playwright, producer and director in her own right, she says she "loves" GOOD TIMES because "it pays the rent, but there's got to be something that says more about the real me. I'm about love and I'm about feeling. Don't make me insensitive to life. Everything is not a joke." Although she is a very hip lady, Miss DuBois is hardly a real-life flip-side of TV's Willona. Philadelphia-born, she scrubbed floors with her mother at the age of 10, just as Miss Rolle once picked beans on a farm, and Ja' net has immense respect for the show's star. "She fights every week for the characters," Miss DuBois declares of Miss Rolle. "How can you tell a black woman how to portray a black woman when she's been one all her life? I think we should have a little more to say about what we do, because only we know how we feel."
Miss Rolle expressed a similar feeling during her initial discussion of accepting the role when she asked GOOD TIMES Executive Producer Norman Lear, "Am I going to have some say about this (show)? Remember, I've been black longest."
BernNadette Stanis, the pretty teen-age Thelma of GOOD TIMES and in real life the oldest of five children, says that the life of the TV Evans family is very similar to her own in "the love that the family tries to convey to each other." Says Miss Stanis, who interrupted her second-year studies at Julliard School of Music to make her television debut in the Thelma role: "I'm very close to that character because she's very close to where I was at 16." She adds, however, that she was a bit more conscious of her growth as an individual than is Thelma. "I can see why they (the producers) do a lot of things they do, because it gets laughs and it helps keep the comedy in. But I think they should explore the other characters before they're done. Right now, I'm a good straight man for J. J. I would like to see them open up the straight character of Thelma. I don't know if they will or not, but I'm ready when they are." Because her role is the only teen-age black girl consistently shown on television, Miss Stanis feels certain responsibilities. "A lot of young people look up to me," she says. "I'm very conscious of that. I want to do the best I can for them."
Producer Manings promises the 1975-76 season will see the show and its characters "deepening rather than changing." Of the controversial J. J., Manings says: "We're going to put him in art school and to work. It's a very strong show because it says, "This is where I am, this is my career, it's what I want to be.'" As for Michael, he will be enrolled in a class for gifted children. "And it's the first time this kid gets less than all A's," Manings reveals. The show will also be putting the father through a trade school. "He graduates as an operator of heavy machinery," says Manings, "and finally gets a job offer---and it's in Alaska."
The serious undertones of the comedy show will continue, according to Manings, keeping it several cuts above most TV fare. Upcoming episodes will deal with dying and the aged, the high cost of hospitalization, gun control, and unwanted children. "We don't try to preach," says Manings. "With this show it comes with the territory." Conceived as a show about economically depressed Americans, the sudden downturn in the nation's economy more than a year ago "gave the show a tremendous validity," Manings believes. "As long as the country is where it's at, the story-lines just keep coming."
Thus, while it may be carrying a cautious crew, GOOD TIMES at least seems to be attempting to get on the right track.

September 1975
Ebony
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Last edited by Jefffalan : 12-07-2004 at 09:04 PM.
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Old 12-07-2004, 05:45 PM   #2
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I purchased that issue of Ebony Magazine just so i could read why John Amos was fired. But I couldn't find anything he said that could have led to his release.
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Old 12-07-2004, 05:50 PM   #3
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I Know! He didn't even make any comments on the subject. It was mainly all Esther Rolle. The only thing that was mentioned that may have been "new" or "unknown" to the producers were those comments made by an "insider" at the John Amos negotiations, saying Amos was fighting for the whole cast about how black men have been portrayed in this country. Don't know if that surprised them, made them angry or what, since they'd just given him a hefty raise in salary at the time.
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Old 12-07-2004, 05:55 PM   #4
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Maybe they fired him to force Esther Rolle to keep in line and to be quiet. Maybe they thought the show would be able to suceed without Amos but they didn't think it could without Rolle. I'm not sure but I always thought Rolle was more outspoken then Amos.
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Old 12-07-2004, 06:14 PM   #5
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The decision was easy for Norman Lear to make when fired Amos anyway because he already said before the show made it's debut in feb of 1974 that

"No Family sitcom is funny with a strong father figure"
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Old 12-07-2004, 08:52 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally posted by TVShow Analyzer
The decision was easy for Norman Lear to make when fired Amos anyway because he already said before the show made it's debut in feb of 1974 that

"No Family sitcom is funny with a strong father figure"



Norman Lear was wrong! James Evans was very funny and poignant. Some of the comments in that article were very strong considering the times. I read that article when it first came out, but hey, I was only 8 years old so I could read the words, but the ideas went completely over my head.

I remember Bernadette Stanis' photo showed her looking gravely concerned about her character's portrayal. On an unrelated note, why does she look so sullen in the TV Guide cover photo above? She sticks out in that photo every time I study it.
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Old 12-07-2004, 10:03 PM   #7
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Wouldn't he have contradicted himself then?

Archie Bunker=strong father figure (well a father figure)
George Jefferson= (ditto)
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Old 12-08-2004, 09:00 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally posted by TVShow Analyzer
I purchased that issue of Ebony Magazine just so i could read why John Amos was fired. But I couldn't find anything he said that could have led to his release.


Methinks this article wasn't the one that led to his being released, considering that the topics that Manings mentioned as upcoming did occur in the 3rd Season. It's probable that this article was done up after Season 2 but prior to Season 3. There's probably another article or interview where Amos spouted out some slings and arrows at the show and producers that came during Season 3 or right after it, giving the show some time to fire him and kill him off for Season 4.

Anyone know differently?

Ed
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Old 12-08-2004, 09:38 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by Edster2973
Methinks this article wasn't the one that led to his being released, considering that the topics that Manings mentioned as upcoming did occur in the 3rd Season. It's probable that this article was done up after Season 2 but prior to Season 3. There's probably another article or interview where Amos spouted out some slings and arrows at the show and producers that came during Season 3 or right after it, giving the show some time to fire him and kill him off for Season 4.

Anyone know differently?

Ed




You are right ED, this defntely couldn;t be the article because it was before season three. So my guess is that the article is in one of these Ebony Issues

1976 Ebony Magazine-February
1976 Ebony Magazine-March
1976 Ebony Magazine-April
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Old 07-04-2005, 06:13 PM   #10
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thanx for the article. it was an interesting read.

as a white man, I could understand the actors.

they wanted to keep the characters REAL for the black people.
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Old 07-11-2005, 04:46 PM   #11
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Glad you enjoyed the read. I posted that a good while back(formerly as Jeffalan before I lost my password). Also as a white man, I can DEFINITELY see Amos and Rolle's point in bringing quality black characters to television, as well as good stories. Methinks the producers probably didn't care much about this article, though. I think they were looking for ANY reason to get John Amos off the show by the end of the 3rd season. Lear REALLY wanted a show about a single black mother as a new storyline. Unfortunately for us, he got what he wanted.
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Old 07-11-2005, 06:54 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffRuss1972
Glad you enjoyed the read. I posted that a good while back(formerly as Jeffalan before I lost my password). Also as a white man, I can DEFINITELY see Amos and Rolle's point in bringing quality black characters to television, as well as good stories. Methinks the producers probably didn't care much about this article, though. I think they were looking for ANY reason to get John Amos off the show by the end of the 3rd season. Lear REALLY wanted a show about a single black mother as a new storyline. Unfortunately for us, he got what he wanted.


The Bad Times on the Good Times Set article was not the article that caused John Amos to get fired. It was another article in 1976 and I'm still looking for it
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Old 07-12-2005, 08:42 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffRuss1972
Glad you enjoyed the read. I posted that a good while back(formerly as Jeffalan before I lost my password). Also as a white man, I can DEFINITELY see Amos and Rolle's point in bringing quality black characters to television, as well as good stories. Methinks the producers probably didn't care much about this article, though. I think they were looking for ANY reason to get John Amos off the show by the end of the 3rd season. Lear REALLY wanted a show about a single black mother as a new storyline. Unfortunately for us, he got what he wanted.

James leaving this show left a huge hole that was never filled properly. The chemistry between the parents was integral to this series.
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Old 07-13-2005, 11:29 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jamesanthony
James leaving this show left a huge hole that was never filled properly. The chemistry between the parents was integral to this series.

Agreed
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Old 07-24-2005, 03:28 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jamesanthony
James leaving this show left a huge hole that was never filled properly. The chemistry between the parents was integral to this series.


I agree 100%.
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