Good Times was a phenomenally successful CBS sitcom that aired from February 8, 1974 until August 1, 1979.
The show starred John Amos, as bull-headed father James Evans, Ester Rolle, who played his wife Florida Evans, with Ralph Carter, staring as socially conscious Michael, Jimmy Walker played James Evans Jnr, or J.J., with Bernadette Stanis, took on the role of Thelma, the studious daughter.
The show was set in Chicago, with the family living in a housing project that was based on the infamous Cabrini-Green projects.
Episodes of Good Times dealt with the characters’ attempts to overcome poverty. James Evans was portrayed often working at least two jobs, mostly manual labor such as dishwasher, construction laborer, etc. Often he was unemployed, but the character is a proud man who will not accept charity. When he has to, he hustles money playing pool, although Florida disapproves of this.
Not so good times
The show was intended to be a good vehicle for Esther Rolle and John Amos. Both expected it to deal with serious topics in a comedic way while providing positive characters for viewers to identify with.
However, Jimmie Walker’s character, 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!” became a popular and the producers insisted it was used in every episode. As a result of the character’s popularity, the writers focused more on J.J.’s comedic antics instead of serious issues.
Through 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.”
As season three approached, Amos’s anger was directed towards producer Norman Lear who felt that he was developing a negative stereotype of JJ, portraying him as a stupid black youth. “I wasn’t going to be part of a negative stereo-type,” Amos said. The friction between Amos and Lear finally came to ahead that season and John Amos made his final appearance in the last episode, The Rent Party.
Florida takes centre stage
With Amos written out of good times, it fell to Rolle to keep the series, and Evans family, afloat. The ratings continued to remain high with guest appearances in episodes such as, JJ and the Older Woman, staring Rosalind Cash. However, as with Amos, Jimmy Walker’s portrayal of JJ was wearing thin with Rolle, who left after the end of the fourth season.
While season five, in which the remaining Evans children live alone, included one of the show’s most talked about storylines, with Janet Jackson as abused child Penny, it did little to stop a drastic fall in ratings.
Rolle return not enough
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 Steve Mills, the then-vice president of CBS programming: “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.”
Rolle agreed to return under certain conditions, namely more money and better storylines.
In the season six premiere episode Florida’s Homecoming: Part 1, Florida returns from Arizona to attend Thelma’s upcoming wedding to professional football player Keith Anderson (Ben Powers, who joined the cast for the final season).
Ultimately Rolle’s return wasn’t enough and CBS cancelled the show during the 1978-79 season.
In the series finale, The End of the Rainbow, each character finally gets a happy ending. J.J. gets his big break as an 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.
So came to an end one of the most famous and talked about television series in broadcast history.