Family (1976 U.S. TV series)

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Family Title Card
Format Drama
Created by Jay Presson Allen
Starring Sada Thompson
James Broderick
Gary Frank
Kristy McNichol
Elayne Heilveil
Meredith Baxter Birney
Quinn Cummings
Opening theme John Rubinstein
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 5
No. of episodes 86 (List of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Leonard Goldberg
Mike Nichols
Aaron Spelling
Camera setup Single-camera
Running time 50 minutes
Production company(s) Icarus Productions
Spelling-Goldberg Productions
Original channel ABC
Audio format Monaural
Original run March 9, 1976 (1976-03-09) – June 25, 1980 (1980-06-25)

Family is an American television drama series that aired on ABC from 1976 to 1980. Creative control of the show was split among executive producers Leonard Goldberg, Aaron Spelling and Mike Nichols. A total of 86 episodes were produced.


Willie with Doug and Kate.

The show featured Sada Thompson and James Broderick as Kate and Doug Lawrence, a happily married middle-class couple living at 1230 Holland Street in Pasadena, California. Doug was an independent lawyer and Kate was a housewife (she would eventually go back to school). They had three children: Nancy (portrayed by Elayne Heilveil in the original mini-series and later by Meredith Baxter Birney), Willie (Gary Frank), and Letitia, nicknamed "Buddy" (Kristy McNichol). (There was another son, Timothy, who had died five years prior to the series' beginning.) The show raised the profile of all of its featured actors during its run and, in particular, catapulted McNichol to stardom.

The show attempted to depict the "average" family. The characters were also realistic. For example, Kate was depicted as the practical, rational and realistic voice of the show. Kate always stood by her opinion and was motivated to do what was right, even if it made her unpopular, as was clearly evidenced in the "Jury Duty" episode. At one point, she expressed frustration with the monotony of her life, feeling that all she did was run errands and make phone calls, usually on behalf of other people ("An Eye to the Future"). She did, however, express resentment when people told her that she could have attained much more, because she had high aspirations in school and achieved a great deal academically ("Home Movie"). Kate felt, however, that her family was a higher priority. She eventually became a music major.

Buddy was also a believable character in that she was somewhat of a tomboy, although she did express an interest in adopting a more feminine appearance in the "Coming of Age" episode. She was a loyal friend and had compassion for other people, and was well-liked by the majority of her classmates. She had the habit of walking into a room where adults were talking about something confidential and demanding (in a friendly way) to know what was transpiring. Buddy usually sought the help of her mother when she experienced a dilemma. Buddy was self-conscious about her height and considered herself short, believing her body was not developing as quickly as it should.

Doug was a practical man who did not use his intellect to make others feel inferior. He listened to what Kate told him and always made time for Buddy. His career ambition was to become a judge.

Willie had a close brother-sister relationship with Buddy and affectionately called her "Peaches". Willie was interested in becoming a writer. He at first made an agreement with his parents that he would take a year off school in order to write a screenplay, but later decided to drop out of school completely, to his father's chagrin. Although he was making passing grades at the time of his decision, and Doug believe he had a high IQ, there was rumor and speculation from the other pupils that he was failing. Ironically, Willie was nominated in the school's yearbook as the student most likely to succeed. Willie later pursued work as a photographer but quit because he did not find the profession alluring. He also expressed an aspiration to leave Pasadena.

Nancy Lawrence Maitland was a divorced law student. She fell in love with a young man named Jeff Maitland and had a child with him, Timmy. Jeff was everything she wanted at that point in her life: he was young, attractive, rich and loved her. This information was revealed in the "Best Friends" episode of the series. At times, Nancy struggled as a single mom, and often relied upon her mother for assistance to the point of selfishness.

Story lines were very topical, and the show was one of the first to feature what have recently been termed as "very special episodes". In the first episode, Nancy walked in on her husband Jeff (John Rubinstein) having sex with one of her friends. During the second season she and Jeff divorced, but Jeff would continue to appear regularly as an active father, as well as finding himself involved in more of the Lawrence family's affairs. Other topical story lines included Kate having to deal with the possibility that she had breast cancer, as well as Buddy dealing with advances from boys. In the later seasons, there were instances in which Buddy had to decide whether or not to have sex; she always chose to wait, most notably in an episode with guest star Leif Garrett, who was a teen idol at the time. Another topical episode dealt with Buddy's friendship with a teacher who was revealed to be a lesbian. Family also dealt with alcoholism (Doug's sister; Buddy's old friend) as well as adoption, when the family adopted a girl named Annie Cooper (Quinn Cummings). One episode in 1979 (directed by actress Joanne Woodward) guest-starred Henry Fonda as a visiting elderly relative who was beginning to experience senility and memory loss.

Theme music[edit]

In the original spring 1976 miniseries run of Family, the theme music was a dramatic sounding, yet low key piano solo with minor orchestral contingents, composed by cast member John Rubinstein (son of famed classical musician Arthur Rubinstein). When Family was picked up as a regular series for the fall 1976 schedule, the theme music was changed to a more cheery, upbeat instrumental dominated by trumpets and horns, also written by Rubinstein. It was this version that lasted the rest of the run.

Legal dispute[edit]

Family became the subject of one of the lengthiest legal disputes in television history,[citation needed] due to a lawsuit that was filed by writer Jeri Emmet in 1977. The claim was against Spelling Television and alleged that Spelling had stolen the idea for the show from a script that Emmet had submitted, entitled, "The Best Years".

Spelling responded to the lawsuit with a statement explaining that he had conceived of the idea in his kitchen with Leonard Goldberg, Spelling's partner at the time. The concept was then passed onto Jay Presson Allen, who was hired to write the pilot script. Allen, who died in May 2006, had just completed the screenplay for the film, Funny Lady, starring Barbra Streisand and directed by Herbert Ross.

In October 1981, the suit was dismissed for lack for prosecution. Jeri Emmet filed an appeal the same month. Around a year later, she withdrew her appeal as part of a settlement with Spelling and Goldberg for $1000. Emmet later filed a legal malpractice action against her own lawyers in which it was argued that she would have won her original lawsuit but for the malpractice. The case went to trial and a jury awarded her $1.7 million in damages. The verdict was then successfully appealed based on the resumption of the suit having occurred beyond a one-year limitation period allowed in the law. The trial result and the judgement were thrown out.[1]

Emmet sued Spelling a second time in 1996 after Spelling had published his memoirs; she claimed that Spelling had defamed her in his book, as she had not been credited with conceiving of the original idea for Family. Again, Emmet lost on appeal in 2001. The court said that Emmet had not met the standard for showing damages due to the alleged defamation and that she had not explained how the defamation legally constituted a second theft of the same intellectual property. The litigation finally concluded close to twenty-five years after the show first aired on television, with Allen retaining her "Created by" credit for the series.[2]

DVD release[edit]

On September 5, 2006, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the first two seasons of Family on DVD in Region 1. It is unknown if the remaining three seasons will be released at some point.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cal Sup Ct (7 May 1992). "Laird v. Blacker (1992) 2 C4th 606". Unknown. Retrieved 27 June 2012. 
  2. ^ KENNETH OFGANG (19 November 2001). "C.A. Rules for Aaron Spelling in Long-Running ‘Family’ Litigation". Metropolitan News. Metropolitan News Company. Retrieved 27 June 2012. 

International Broadcasts[edit]

External links[edit]