For other uses, see Good Times (disambiguation).
Good Times is an American sitcom that originally aired from February 8, 1974, until August 1, 1979, on CBS. It was created by Eric Monte and Mike Evans, and developed by Norman Lear, the series' primary executive producer. Good Times is a spin-off of Maude, which is itself a spin-off of All in the Family.
Florida and James Evans and their three children live in a rented project apartment, 17C, at 721 N. Gilbert Ave., in a housing project (implicitly the infamous Cabrini-Green projects, shown in the opening and closing credits but never mentioned by name on the show) in a poor, black neighborhood in inner-city Chicago. Florida and James' children are James Jr., also known as "J.J.", Thelma, and Michael. When the series begins, J.J. and Thelma are seventeen and sixteen years old, respectively, and Michael, called "the militant midget" by his father due to his passionate activism, is eleven years old. 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 2-4), to whom James, Willona and later J.J. refer 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 firefighter. When producers decided to feature the Florida character in her own show, they applied retroactive changes to the characters' history. Henry's name became James, there is no mention of Maude, and the couple now live in Chicago.
Episodes of Good Times deal with the characters' attempts to survive in a high rise project building in Chicago, despite their poverty. When he is not unemployed, James Evans is a man of pride who often stated he would not accept charity. He usually works at least two jobs simultaneously, from a wide variety such as dishwasher, construction laborer, etc. When he has to, he plays pool in order to hustle money, though Florida disapproves of this.
Good Times was intended to be a good show for Esther Rolle and John Amos. Both expected the show to deal with serious topics in a comedic way while also providing positive characters for viewers. However, the character of J.J. 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 on every episode. Both Walker and executive producer Norman Lear were skeptical of the idea, but both the phrase and the J.J. Evans character caught on with the audience. As a result of the character's popularity, writers focused more on J.J.'s comedic antics instead of serious issues. As the series progressed through seasons two and three, Rolle and Amos grew increasingly disillusioned with the direction the show was taking, especially with J.J.'s antics and stereotypically buffoonish behavior. Although she had no ill will towards Walker, Rolle was vocal about her dislike of Walker's 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, Amos also was outspoken about his dissatisfaction with the J.J. character. Amos stated:
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, he was ultimately fired after season three due to disagreements with Norman Lear. Amos's departure was initially attributed to his desire to focus on a film career, but he admitted in a 1976 interview that Norman 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".
By the end of season four, Esther Rolle had also become dissatisfied with the show's direction and decided to leave the series. In the final two episodes of the season, "Love Has a Spot On His Lung", Rolle's character gets engaged to Carl Dixon (Moses Gunn), a man she began dating towards the end of season four. In the season five premiere episode, 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, Ja'net Du Bois took over as the lead character as Willona who checked in on the Evans children since they were now living alone. In season five, the character of Penny Gordon Woods (played by Janet Jackson) was added, as an abused girl who is abandoned by her mother and eventually adopted by Willona.
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 Esther Rolle with an offer to appear in a guest role on the show. 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 show 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 lost his battle with 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 Esther Rolle's request and her return, ratings did not improve and CBS canceled the series during the 1978-79 season. In the 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 miraculously heals, 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. Willona becomes the head buyer of the boutique she worked 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 that Keith, Thelma and Florida are moving to and, once again, she and Penny become the Evans' downstairs neighbors.
Cast and characters:
James Evans, Sr.
James "J.J." Evans, Jr.
Bern Nadette Stanis
Thelma Evans Anderson
Millicent "Penny" Gordon Woods
Bern Nadette Stanis was credited as "Bern Nadette" during early episodes of season one.
Ned the Wino (Raymond Allen) - The local drunk who frequents the neighborhood and the apartment building where the Evans family reside. In the season one episode "Black Jesus", J.J. uses Ned the Wino as the model for a portrait of Jesus. Another episode is centered around Michael's plan to "clean up" Ned and get him off the booze by letting him stay at the Evans' house.,
Carl Dixon (Moses Gunn) - An atheist shop owner who Michael briefly works for. Despite their religious differences, Carl and Florida begin dating and become engaged in final episode of season four. Carl breaks off the engagement after he is diagnosed with lung cancer. After a pep talk from Bookman, Carl again asks Florida for her hand in marriage. The two marry off-screen and move to Arizona. Florida returns at the beginning of season six, without Carl, for Thelma's wedding. Carl is referenced briefly in episode two of season six, but he is never mentioned again (Florida continues to use the surname Evans instead of Dixon).,
Marion "Sweet Daddy" Williams (Theodore Wilson) - A menacing neighborhood numbers runner and pimp, who has a reputation for wearing flashy clothing and jewelry. He is usually accompanied by bodyguards (one portrayed by Bubba Smith, the other by series painter Ernie Barnes) and comes across as cool and threatening, but has shown a soft heart on occasion, particularly when he decided not to take an antique locket (to settle a debt) that Florida had given to Thelma because it had reminded him of his late mother. (Wilson also plays a club owner named Stanley in the season four episode, "The Comedian and the Loan Sharks".,
Alderman Fred C. Davis (Albert Reed, Jr.) - A local politician with a slightly shady disposition whom the Evans generally despise. Spoofing President Richard M. Nixon, he would state in a speech "I am not a crook." He frequently relies on the support of the Evans family (his "favorite project family") for reelection or support and resorts to threats of eviction to secure their support. In a running joke, Alderman Davis frequently forgets Willona's name and calls her another similar sounding name that began with a "W" (such as Wilhemina, Winnifrieda, Winsomnium, Wyomia and even Waldorf-Astoria and even then names such as "Petronia" and "Philomena". At one time he gets her first name right but her last name wrong - Willona Weeds), thus earning him her everlasting ire as well as the nickname "Baldy".,
Lenny (Dap 'Sugar' Willie) - A neighborhood hustler and peddler who tries to sell presumably stolen items that are usually attached to the lining of his fur coat. He usually approaches people with a laid-back rap and a rhyme ("my name is Len-nay, if I ain't got it, there ain't an-nay"). He is typically rebuffed by the people he approaches and responds by saying "that's cold" or uses a small brush to "brush off" the negativity.,
"Grandpa" Henry Evans (Richard Ward) - James' long lost father. He abandoned the family years before because he was ashamed that he could not do more to provide for them. This hurt James deeply, who disregarded his father's existence, telling everyone he was dead. Thelma learns about her grandfather while doing some family research. She meets him and invites him to the Evans' home to surprise James for his birthday, not knowing that James was well aware of his whereabouts but chose to stay out of his life. After Henry arrives at the Evans home and meets the rest of the family, he realizes that James would not welcome him in the home and decides to leave. Florida convinces him to stay and talk to James and explains that there may never be another chance to do so. Henry and James have a heart-to-heart talk, with Henry being remorseful and apologetic. James ultimately forgives his father. After James' death, the Evans family embraces Henry into the family, alongside his common law (and eventually legal) wife Lena in later episodes.,
Wanda (Helen Martin) - Another resident in the apartment building where the Evans reside. Earlier episodes show her at a women's support group, and the tenants rallying around her by giving her a rent party. Later episodes show her appearing and crying at several funerals, whether she knew the person or not, thus earning her the nickname "Weeping Wanda" from J.J. and Willona.,
Mrs. Lynnetta Gordon (Chip Fields) - Penny's abusive biological mother. Her first appearance is in the four part Fifth season opening episode, "The Evans Get Involved". Mrs. Gordon was abandoned by Penny's father when she became pregnant. As a result, she took her anger and frustrations out on Penny, including burning her with a hot iron. After the abuse was finally brought to light, (during which Mrs. Gordon gets into a shouting match with Willona and Thelma) she abandoned Penny, despite Willona and Thelma's pleas to her to seek help. Just before she disappeared, Mrs. Gordon expressed regret for hurting her child, telling Willona that Penny deserved better than her. This clears the way for Willona to adopt Penny. She reappeared more than a year later, in the sixth season episode, "A Matter of Mothers", having remarried, and revealed that her new husband is from a very wealthy family. Mrs. Gordon uses her husband's wealth to send Penny anonymous gifts and, in an effort to regain custody of Penny, she also attempts to frame Willona as an unfit adoptive parent who throws wild parties with less than wholesome attendees. However, her scheme is exposed by being recorded on tape admitting that the scheme was a set up to get Penny back. After trying to get the tape from Penny and threatening her again with physical abuse (which is stopped by Willona), Penny outright rejects Mrs. Gordon, telling her birth mother that no matter what anyone said, she would always consider Willona to be her real mother. Mrs. Gordon is devastated by this, agrees to drop the charges against Willona and leaves Penny with her, never to be seen again.,
Cleatus (Jack Baker) - Cousin of J.J. Evans, Thelma Evans Anderson, and Michael Evans and nephew of Florida Evans and James Evans. He made one appearance in the episode "Cousin Cleatus".,
Notable guest stars:
Debbie Allen as J.J.'s drug-addicted fiancee, Diana in "J.J.'s Fiancee (Parts 1 & 2)" (season 3),
Matthew "Stymie" Beard (former Our Gang child actor) in five episodes, including four appearances as James' friend Monty,
Sorrell Booke as Mr. Galbraith, J.J.'s boss at the ad agency (season 5, episode 17),
Roscoe Lee Browne as a shady televangelist Reverend Sam "the Happiness Man", who befriended James in the military (season 1, episode 4),
T. K. Carter as J.J.'s friend "Head" (part of the "Awesome Foursome", later the "Gleesome Threesome", the "Gruesome Twosome" and the "Lonesome Onesome", as stated in the episode "The New Car",
Rosalind Cash as Thelma's teacher, Jessica Bishop, who becomes romantically involved with a much younger J.J. (season 4, episode 3),
Gary Coleman as Gary, a sharp-tongued classmate of Penny's in two season five episodes,
Conchata Ferrell as Miss Johnson, Willona's supervisor at her short-lived second job as security in a department store (season 5, episode 6),
Kim Fields (real-life daughter of Chip Fields) as Penny's friend, Kim, who has a tendency to add the suffix "-ness" to emphasize her anxiety such as "hopelessnessness" (2 season 6 episodes),
Carl Franklin as Larry, Thelma's fiance', ultimately breaking up when Larry is offered a job on the West Coast and Thelma is not ready to accompany him (2 episodes),
Alice Ghostley as a social worker who is working on Penny being adopted by Willona (3 episodes),
Ron Glass as Michael's elementary school principal (2.4); also made an appearance as a blind encyclopedia salesman who tries to swindle the Evans family (2.8),
Louis Gossett, Jr., in season two as Thelma's much-older paramour, which Florida and James object to their relationship because of the age difference (2.6); also appears as Uncle Wilbert (Florida's brother), who comes from Detroit to look in on the family while James is away (3.8),
Robert Guillaume as Fishbone the wino in the episode "Requiem for a Wino" (season 5, episode 11),
Phillip Baker Hall as Motel Owner in the episode "J.J.'s Fiancee (Part 2)" (season 3, episode 18),
Shirley Hemphill as "Roz", the dimwitted sister of Edna, who was being tutored by Thelma (season 4, episode 10),
Gordon Jump as Mr. Rogers, the head of security at Willona's short-lived second job as security in a department store (season 5, episode 6),
Paula Kelly as Dr. Kelly in the episode "Where Have All The Doctors Gone" (season 6, episode 17),
Jay Leno as "Young Man" in the season three's "J.J. in Trouble", which was one of the first times that the subject of "VD" (STD) was addressed on a primetime series,
Calvin Lockhart as Florida's cousin Raymond, who earned his riches by betting on horses (season 6, episode 23),
Paul Mooney as "The Second Guy" in the episode "J.J. and T.C." (season 6),
Debbi Morgan as Samantha, a date of J.J.'s (3.23); and as Ellen (4.18),
J. A. Preston as Walter Ingles in the episode "Wilona's Dilemma" (season 3, episode 10),
Charlotte Rae as a hiring manager for a sales job that Florida stole from James (season 2, episode 14),
Sheryl Lee Ralph as Vanessa in the episode "J.J. and The Plumber's Helper" (season 6, episode 9),
Philip Michael Thomas as Eddie, Thelma's college-age boyfriend (season 1, episode 6),
Adam Wade as successful businessman Frank Mason, Willona's boyfriend (2 season 5 episodes),
Vernee Watson-Johnson as Thelma's friend and college mate Valerie, in the episode "Thelma's African Romance (Part 1)" (season 4),
Carl Weathers as Calvin Brooks, husband of the 'nude' model for J.J.'s painting (season 2, episode 16),
Hal Williams as one of the movers in a season one episode; James' friend, Willie Washington (season 2); and Mr. Mitchell, the father of Earl Mitchell, who is an art student of J.J.'s (season 6),
John Witherspoon as Officer Lawson in the episode "A Matter of Mothers" (season 6, episode 20),
Good Times was created by Eric Monte and actor Mike Evans. The series also features a character named "Michael Evans", after co-creator Mike Evans who portrayed Lionel Jefferson on the Norman 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 Blinky Williams.
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.
The program premiered in February 1974; high ratings led CBS to renew the program for the 1974-75 season, as it was the seventeenth-highest-rated program that year. During its first full season on the air, 1974-75, the show was the seventh-highest-rated program in the Nielsen ratings, with more than 25% of all American households tuning into an episode each week. Three of the top ten highest-rated programs on American TV that season centered around the lives of African-Americans: Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, and Good Times.
The Nielsen ratings for the series declined over time, partly because of its many time slot changes and the departure of John Amos. The ratings went down considerably when the show entered its final two seasons:
1973-1974: #17 (14,166,800 households),
1974-1975: #7 (17,673,000 households),
1975-1976: #24 (14,616,000 households),
1976-1977: #26 (14,596,000 households),
Awards and nominations:
Golden Globe Award
Best TV Actress - Musical/Comedy
Best Supporting Actor - Television
Best Supporting Actor - Television
30 Minute Category
John Baskin and Roger Shulman, (For episode "The Lunch Money Ripoff")
30 Minute Category
Bob Peete, (For episode "My Girl Henrietta")
TV Land Award
Catchiest Classic TV Catch Phrase, (Dy-no-mite!)
Favorite Catch Phrase
John Amos, Ralph Carter, Ja'net DuBois, Esther Rolle (posthumously), BernNadette Stanis, and Jimmie Walker
The cable network TV One aired reruns of the show since its launch on January 19, 2004 until October 5, 2012. The network began airing the series again in June 2013. Good Times has also aired at various times on TV Land, Antenna TV and on the Canadian specialty cable channel DejaView. Minisodes of the show are available for free on Crackle.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the entire series on DVD in Region 1 between February 2003 and August 2006, with a complete box set following the separate seasons on October 28, 2008. Season 1 was released on DVD in Region 4 on December 27, 2006.
On August 27, 2013, it was announced that Mill Creek Entertainment had acquired the rights to various television series from the Sony Pictures library including Good Times. They have subsequently re-released the first four seasons on DVD.
The Complete First Season
February 4, 2003, January 21, 2014 (re-release)
The Complete Second Season
February 3, 2004, January 21, 2014 (re-release)
The Complete Third Season
August 10, 2004, May 20, 2014 (re-release)
The Complete Fourth Season
February 15, 2005, May 20, 2014 (re-release)
The Complete Fifth Season
August 23, 2005
The Complete Sixth and Final Season
August 1, 2006
The Complete Series
October 28, 2008
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license