Monday, February 16, 2009

Moving On Up...

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

The Jeffersons
. I'm too young to have watched it in original run (since I wasn't even a toddler when it went off the air), but I doubt my mom would have let me anyway. But, it ran on Nick at Nite for years (it still runs on daytime television), and my brother and I got quite attached to the show. We even made up a dance of sorts for the opening theme (which I had the urge to do every time they showed Shark Tale at summer camp).

I had always thought the show only ran like six years or so, until I was in undergrad and started buying my brother seasons of the show as gifts. I think we're up to Season 6 now (feel free to correct me if you're reading, J). Turns out there were eleven seasons of the show, which had just a few characters and sets. And, considering it was a spin-off from All in the Family. It's also the longest-running comedy in history focused on an African-American family. As with Archie Bunker, this show also has a great deal of racial jokes, with George frequently poking fun at the Willis family, calling their children 'zebras.'

George Jefferson, Louise (affectionately called Weezy by George), their son Lionel, their maid Florence, and George's mother are half of the cast. It's rounded out by neighbors Mr. Bentley (a Brit) Tom and Helen Willis (interracial couple), and their children Allan and Jenny (who married Lionel. Mother Jefferson was only on the first two seasons (then died of a heart attack) and Mr. Bentley was written off the show after season seven, only to return in season ten.

Florence did try for her own spin-off (Checking In) after the seventh season, but it lasted only four episodes before she returned to The Jeffersons. In an interesting twist, the main characters appear in the series finale of Fresh Prince and buy the Banks' mansion in Bel Air.

There seemed to have been a great deal of controversy on the later years, and the show was canceled abruptly, without a finale or letting the cast know in advance ("George" found out from the paper, and "Louise" found out from a relative who called after reading a magazine!). Sherman Hemsley was hand-picked to play George, and did not appear in the first two years of the Jefferson Family's episodes in All in the Family as he was in the Broadway show Purlie during that time. Also interesting, the characters of Tom, Helen, and Jenny were recast between All in the Family and The Jeffersons. George often calls Tom "honky" in the early years, but at Hemsley's request, the writers eventually stopped using the word. Tom and Helen's kiss (he's white and she's black) was lobbied to be edited out, but an executive producer fought to keep it in, and won. There were also layout problems when you consider the Jefferson and Bentley apartments. Jenny and Allan have a number of moments, mostly because Allan can pass as white, while Jenny will always be seen as biracial. Lionel and Jenny were married for nine years before a divorce, partly because of differences of opinion in raising their daughter Jessica (who has a show-stopping episode when she runs away to the George and Louise's apartment and then tears up a drawing). Final troubling thing... in eleven years, The Jeffersons had fifteen different time slots, and were all over the ratings boards, up and down quite often.

Throughout the show there are flashbacks telling of George's humble beginnings and an alarming number of hostage-type situations or burglaries. George was a navy man who runs a bunch of dry cleaning stores, Lionel is an electrical engineer, Jenny is a fashion designer, and Mr. Bentley was a Russian translator at the UN. Tom and George often hang out at Charlie's Bar, and buy it together in the final season.

The actress who played Louise was actually 21 years older than the actor who played George, and she passed away in 2004, which is probably why the couple hasn't done a Denny's commercial since 2001, LoL. There are actually only a few surviving actors at this point, but you can catch Sherman Hemsley on all the time (even his voice in shows like Family Guy and the 90s Dinosaurs show).

As with many shows these days, good clips are getting harder and harder to find, since youtube is getting scavenged by the powers that be. Luckily, the theme song will always be there (and you can tell it's very early, since Mother Jefferson is credited).

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