Good Times is a American sitcom that originally aired from February 8, 1974, until August 1, 1979, on the CBS television network. It was created by Eric Monte and Michael Evans and produced by Norman Lear. Good Times was a spin-off of Maude, which was also a spin-off of All in the Family.
While the series was set in Chicago, all episodes of Good Times were produced in the Los Angeles area. The first two seasons were taped at CBS Television City in Hollywood. In the fall of 1975, the show moved to Metromedia Square, where Norman Lear's own production company was housed.
The series starred Esther Rolle as Florida Evans and John Amos as her husband, James Evans, Sr.. The characters originated on the sitcom Maude as Florida and Henry Evans, with Florida employed as Maude Findlay's housekeeper in upstate 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 was no mention of Maude, and the couple now lived in Chicago.
Florida and James Evans and their three children live in a rented apartment 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 were James, Jr., also known as "J.J." (Jimmie Walker), Thelma (Bern Nadette Stanis), and Michael (Ralph Carter). When the series began, J.J. and Thelma were seventeen and sixteen years old, respectively, and Michael, called "the militant midget" by his father due to his passionate activism, was eleven years old. Their exuberant neighbor, and Florida's best friend, was Willona Woods (played by Ja'net Du Bois), a recent divorcée. Willona would affectionately call Michael Evans "Gramps", because of his wisdom.
As was the case on other Norman Lear sitcoms, the characters and subject matter in Good Times were a breakthrough for American television. Working class characters had certainly been featured in sitcoms before (dating back at least to The Honeymooners), but never before had a weekly series featured African American characters living in such impoverished conditions. (Fred and Lamont Sanford of Sanford and Son, though they lived in the poor Watts area of Los Angeles, at least had their own home and business.)
Episodes of Good Times dealt with the characters' attempts to "get by" in a high rise project building in Chicago, despite all the odds stacked against them. When he was not unemployed, James Evans was a man of pride and would often say to his wife or family "I ain't accepting no hand-outs". He usually worked at least two jobs, many of them temporary such as a dishwasher or car washer, and when he had to he would gather his trusty pool stick, much to Florida's disappointment, and sneak out and hustle up a few bucks as he struggled to provide for his family. Being a sitcom, however, the episodes were usually more uplifting and positive than they were depressing, as the Evans family stuck together and persevered.
The program premiered in February 1974; high ratings led CBS to renew the program for the 1974–1975 season, as it was the seventeenth-highest-rated program that year. During its first full season on the air, 1974–1975, the show was the seventh-highest-rated program in the Nielsen ratings and a quarter of the American television-viewing public tuned in to an episode during any given 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. Good Times's ratings however, declined over time partly because of the many times the show was moved around the CBS schedule. In its third season, the series was that season's twenty-fourth-highest-rated program.
Almost from the premiere episode, J.J., an aspiring artist, was the public's favorite character on the show and his frequently-invoked catch phrase "Dy-no-mite" became very popular. As the series progressed through its second and third year, however, Rolle and Amos, who played the Evans parents, grew more disillusioned with the direction the show was taking as J.J.'s antics and stereotypically buffoonish behavior took precedence in the storylines. Rolle was rather vocal about disliking the character of J.J. in a 1975 interview with Ebony magazine.
"He's eighteen 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 J.J.'s character. The ill feelings came to a head when it came time to negotiate Amos' contract in the summer of 1976, and he was dismissed from the series.
"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.
At the beginning of the 1976–1977 season, the family was packing to move from the ghetto to a better life in Mississippi where James had found a job as a partner in a garage. At the end of the first episode that season, Florida learned via a telegram (which, at first, she thought was to congratulate her on her move) that James was killed in a car accident. It was the following episode in which she uttered her famous line: "Damn, damn, DAMN!" The show continued without a father, which was something Rolle did not want to pursue. One of the primary appeals of the project for her had been the presentation it initially offered of the strong black father heading his family.
However, she stayed on hoping that the loss of the father's character would necessitate a shift in J.J.'s character, as J.J. would now become the man of the family. The writers did not take this approach, however; if anything, J.J.'s foolishness only increased. Wanting no further part in such depictions, by the summer of 1977, Rolle left the series. She was written out as marrying and moving to Arizona with her new love interest, Carl Dixon (played by Moses Gunn).
Despite this, Good Times still excelled in the Nielsen Ratings, peaking during the 1976-77 season at number 26, making its fourth year breaking the top 30 rated programs.
Rolle had disliked the Carl Dixon character, as she believed Florida would not have moved on so quickly after James' death. Rolle also thought the writers had disregarded Florida's devout Christian beliefs by making her fall for Carl, who was an atheist. When Rolle eventually agreed to return to the show, there were several conditions, one of which was that the Carl Dixon character be written out as if he never existed; another condition of her return was she would have a greater say in the storyline and J.J. would become a more respectable character -- and she would also receive a raise in pay.
It was at this time that many viewers defected from the series as the fifth season ranked only at number 39, and although Florida returned (the writers had finally let J.J.'s character mature to a point that Rolle found tolerable) for the sixth season in 1978, the viewers did not, and production was halted abruptly in early 1979, after the last season only ranked at number 45.
The last original episode of Good Times aired in the summer of 1979. In a series finale typical of the series, each character had a "happy ending." J.J. finally got his big break as an artist for a comic book company, after years of the audience waiting for such a development. J.J.'s newly-created character, DynoWoman, was based on Thelma. Michael attended college and moved into an on-campus dorm. Keith's bad knee miraculously healed, leading to the Chicago Bears offering him a contract to play football. Keith and (a newly pregnant) Thelma moved to a luxury apartment across town in Chicago's upscale Gold Coast area and offered Florida the chance to move in with them (and her future grandchild). Willona became the head buyer of the boutique she worked in; she and Penny moved in to the same building and became their downstairs neighbors.
The writers of two episodes of the series ("My Girl Henrietta", and "The Lunch Money Ripoff") also were nominated for the Humanitas Prize, which celebrates the encouragement of human values through television screenwriting.
The sitcom has also aired regularly on TV Land. It first aired as a 48-hour marathon the weekends of July 23, 2005, November 26, 2005, and May 6, 2006. However, TV Land airs the version of episodes that were edited for syndication, while TV One airs the original edits, as they were shown on during its CBS primetime run, albeit digitally-remastered.
In late 2006 or early 2007, Good Times was pulled from the TV Land lineup along with several other shows (most notably Happy Days) to make room for some new programming. The show returned in mid-February with a 48-hour weekend marathon. However, the show has now returned to the TV Land lineup, airing every weekday morning, and sporadically as a two-hour block on Thursday evenings. Currently, it can be seen in a two-episode block, (preceded by The Jeffersons) from 3:00AM to 3:30AM (half-hour block, airs every morning) and 11:00AM to 12:00PM, Eastern Time on weekday mornings.
Good Times is also seen in Canada on DejaView, a specialty cable channel from Canwest. However due to the channel not having the full syndication rights to the entire six seasons only Seasons 1-4 are currently aired.
|DVD Name||Release Date||Additional Information|
|Good Times: The Complete First Season||February 4 2003||Includes all 13 episodes from Season 1.|
|Good Times: The Complete Second Season||February 3 2004||Includes all 24 episodes from Season 2|
|Good Times: The Complete Third Season||August 10 2004||Includes all 24 episodes from Season 3.|
|Good Times: The Complete Fourth Season||February 15 2005||Includes all 23 episodes from Season 4.|
|Good Times: The Complete Fifth Season||August 23 2005||Includes all 24 episodes from Season 5.|
|Good Times: The Complete Sixth Season||August 1 2006||Includes all 24 episodes from Season 6.|
|DVD Name||Release Date||Additional Information|
|Good Times: The Complete Series||October 28 2008||Includes all 133 episodes from Seasons 1 to 6.|