||This article possibly contains original research. (February 2013)|
The Jeffersons title card, used from Season 3 to Season 11
|Created by||Don Nicholl
|Developed by||Norman Lear|
|Directed by||Bob Lally
|Theme music composer||Jeff Barry
|Opening theme||"Movin' On Up" performed by Ja'net Dubois|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||11|
|No. of episodes||253 (List of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||David Duclon
Michael G. Moye
Donald L. Seigel
|Running time||22–24 minutes|
|Production company(s)||T.A.T. Communications Company (1975–1982)
NRW Productions (1975–1979)
Ragamuffin Productions (1980–1981)
Embassy Television (1982–1985)
|Distributor||T.A.T. Communications Company (1980–1982)
Embassy Telecommunications (1982–1986)
Embassy Communications (1986–1988)
Columbia Pictures Television (1988–1996)
Columbia TriStar Television (1996–2002)
Sony Pictures Television (2002–present)
|Original run||January 18, 1975– July 2, 1985|
|Preceded by||All in the Family|
|Followed by||Checking In|
Archie Bunker's Place
The Jeffersons is an American sitcom that was broadcast on CBS from January 18, 1975, through July 2, 1985, lasting 11 seasons and a total of 253 episodes. The show was produced by the T.A.T. Communications Company from 1975–1982 and by Embassy Television from 1982–1985. The Jeffersons is one of the longest-running sitcoms in the history of American television.
The show focuses on George and Louise Jefferson, an affluent African-American couple living in New York City. The show was launched as the second spin-off of All in the Family, on which the Jeffersons had been the neighbors of Archie and Edith Bunker.
The show was the creation of prolific television producer Norman Lear. However, it was less sharply political in tone than some of his shows. The Jeffersons evolved into more of a traditional sitcom, relying more on the characters' interactions with one another than on explicitly political dialogue or storylines. It did, however, tackle a few controversial topics, including racism, suicide, gun control and adult illiteracy. Also, the words "nigger" and "honky" were used occasionally, especially during the earlier seasons.
The Jeffersons had one spin-off, titled Checking In. The short-lived series was centered around the Jeffersons' housekeeper, Florence. Checking In only lasted four episodes, after which Florence returned to The Jeffersons. The Jeffersons also shared continuity with the show E/R, which featured Lynne Moody, who made a guest appearance in one episode of The Jeffersons as George's niece. Sherman Hemsley guest-starred as George in two episodes of the series, which lasted for one season.
The show ended in controversy after CBS abruptly canceled the series without allowing for a proper series finale. The cast was not informed until after the July 2, 1985, episode "Red Robins", and actor Sherman Hemsley said he found out that the show was canceled by reading it in the newspaper. Sanford, who heard about the cancellation through her cousin who read about it in the tabloids, has publicly stated that she found the cancellation with no proper finale to be disrespectful on the network's part. The cast reunited in a stage-play based on the sitcom. In the 1996 series finale of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the Jeffersons made a guest appearance and bought the house from the Banks family. In an episode of Tyler Perry's House of Payne in 2011, Sherman Hemsley and Marla Gibbs reprised their roles of George Jefferson and Florence Johnston.
In 1985, Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford made a special guest appearance as the Jeffersons in the Canale 5 comedy show Grand Hotel, starring the Italian actors Paolo Villaggio, Franco & Ciccio comic duo and Carmen Russo. They were guests in the fictional hotel, and appeared just twice during the show, for a total of five minutes. Their voices were dubbed by the Italian actors Enzo Garinei (George) and Isa di Marzio (Louise), who also dubbed their characters for the full series.
Louise Jefferson, played by Isabel Sanford, first appeared in the All in the Family episode "Lionel Moves Into the Neighborhood," which was broadcast on March 2, 1971. The episode, the eighth of the series, centers around Louise, her son Lionel, and her husband George's moving into Archie and Edith Bunker's working class section of Queens. Lionel, played by Mike Evans, first appeared in "Meet the Bunkers," the premiere episode of All in the Family; George would not appear on the show until its fourth season.
Norman Lear created the character of George Jefferson specifically for Broadway veteran Sherman Hemsley. Lear originally intended for George to appear in the first season of series; however, Hemsley was starring in the Broadway musical Purlie at the time, and Lear decided to postpone introduction of the character until Hemsley was available. Lear created the character of Henry Jefferson, George's younger brother, and replaced George with Henry in the series's scripts until Purlie finished its run. Mel Stewart was cast as Henry. George was introduced in the episode "Henry's Farewell," and Hemsley and Stewart share their only scene together in its final minutes. The episode marked the final appearance of Henry.
George, Louise, and Lionel continued to appear on All in the Family until 1975, when the spin-off The Jeffersons, also created by Lear, premiered. The characters of Lionel's biracial fiancée, Jenny, and her family, all of whom first appeared in the 1974 All in the Family episode "Lionel's Engagement," were also written into the new series. However, the roles were all recast, with Berlinda Tolbert taking over the role of Jenny, veteran actor Franklin Cover playing her father Tom Willis, whose first name was changed from Louis, as it was in their first AITF appearance, and Roxie Roker as her mother Helen. Zara Cully, who portrayed George's mother in one episode of All in the Family, resumed her role on The Jeffersons.
During the January 11, 1975 episode of All in the Family, titled "The Jeffersons Move Up", Edith Bunker gave a tearful good-bye to her neighbor Louise Jefferson, as she and her husband George, and their son Lionel, moved from a working class section of Queens into a luxury apartment in Manhattan. The Jeffersons premiered the following week, January 18, 1975, and 253 episodes were produced and aired during its 11-year run.
George's career as a dry-cleaner began in the first season of All in the Family, in the episode "Oh, My Aching Back" (though the character himself did not appear on-camera). After his car was rear-ended by a bus, he filed a civil action and won enough to open his first store. At the beginning of The Jeffersons he was operating five stores throughout New York City, with another two opening during the following seasons. Louise made friends with Tom and Helen Willis, an interracial couple with two adult children of their own (whom George insultingly called "zebras"): son Allan (played by Andrew Rubin in the first season finale, and by Jay Hammer throughout season 5), a zealous college drop-out who abandoned the family, passed as Caucasian and lived in Paris for two years; and daughter Jenny, an aspiring fashion designer. Jenny and Lionel became a couple, were married on December 24, 1976, and later became the parents of a daughter, Jessica (played in later seasons by Ebonie Smith). Lionel and Jenny experienced marital issues, and divorced in the winter of 1985.
Marla Gibbs portrayed the role of Florence Johnston, the Jeffersons' back-talking, wisecracking, and devoutly religious housekeeper. Florence often teased George, mostly about his short stature and receding hairline.
Paul Benedict arrived as Harry Bentley, a loyal, kind, handsome, friendly British next-door neighbor, who worked as a Russian language interpreter at the United Nations. A common sight-gag of the show was George slamming the door in Bentley's face mid-conversation. Bentley also had a bad back, and frequently enlisted George to walk on his back, since he was the same weight as a Japanese woman who had treated his back in that manner. He also became known for addressing the Jeffersons as "Mr. J" and "Mrs. J".
The series also stars Zara Cully as Olivia "Mother" Jefferson, who constantly disparaged Louise as not being a good wife. Cully, who had first appeared in the 1974 All in the Family episode, "Lionel's Engagement", reprised her role. She appeared regularly in the first two seasons, but made sporadic appearances over the next two years and was written out in the fifth season (Cully died in 1978, from lung cancer; no episode was centered on Mother Jefferson's death, but it was mentioned that she had died in season 5).
Ned Wertimer played the doorman, Ralph Hart, throughout the series. Another character, often spoken about but rarely seen, was Mr. Whittendale, the building owner, played by Jack Fletcher.
Mike Evans ("Lionel") left the show after the first season; his replacement was Damon Evans (no relation), who took over the role until partway through the fourth season. Damon Evans's last episode was "Lionel Gets the Business".
Mike Evans and Tolbert returned in the 1979–1980 season, with Tolbert's character, Jenny, being pregnant with a daughter named Jessica. However, Mike Evans appeared for only one more season, along with Tolbert. The Jeffersons's sixth season peaked at #8 in the summer of 1980.
The characters of Lionel and Jenny were written out by stating that they had marital problems, the result of which became a two-part episode storyline as the series' eighth season premiere. The series' eighth season was the first African-American sitcom in years (since Sanford and Son) to peak in the top 5 (the series' eighth season debuted at #3). Evans and Tolbert appeared in the two-part episode together; Evans also appeared in one episode during the series' ninth season in 1982, and made his final appearance in two episodes in the series' eleventh and final season. Berlinda Tolbert became a regular guest star throughout the rest of the series.
In the spring of 1981, Paul Benedict left the show for two seasons, returning in the final two seasons of the series. However, the ratings sank below the top 30, and The Jeffersons aired its last episode, "Red Robins", on July 2, 1985.
|Isabel Sanford||Louise Jefferson||Main|
|Sherman Hemsley||George Jefferson||Main|
|Mike Evans||Lionel Jefferson||Main||Main||Recurring||Recurring|
|Roxie Roker||Helen Willis||Main|
|Franklin Cover||Thomas "Tom" Willis||Main|
|Zara Cully||Olivia "Mother" Jefferson||Main|
|Berlinda Tolbert||Jenny Willis Jefferson||Main||Recurring|
|Paul Benedict||Harry Bentley||Main||Main|
|Marla Gibbs||Florence Johnston||Recurring||Main|
|Damon Evans||Lionel Jefferson||Main|
|Jay Hammer||Allan Willis||Main|
|Ned Wertimer||Ralph Hart||Recurring|
Notable guest appearances
- Johnny Brown
- Gary Coleman
- Andrae Crouch
- Sammy Davis, Jr.
- Frank De Vol
- Famous Amos
- Joe Frazier
- Louis Gossett, Jr.
- Robert Guillaume
- Kene Holliday
- Reggie Jackson
- Mabel King
- Gladys Knight
- Peter Lawford (voice)
- Garrett Morris
- Greg Morris
- Sheryl Lee Ralph
- Sister Sledge
- Michael Spinks
- Ernest Lee Thomas
- Jaleel White
- Billy Dee Williams
- Hal Williams
The Jeffersons had many two part episodes, either over two consecutive weeks, or aired as an hour-long episode.
The Jeffersons changed time slots at least 15 different times during its 11-year run, unusual for a popular long running series. The most common time slot was on Sunday night.
"Movin' on Up" found new life in the 1990s and 2000s in a number of television commercials and other references: for example, in Nelly's 2001 song "Batter Up" (which featured Hemsley as a baseball stadium public address announcer; Hemsley also performs his signature George Jefferson dance in the video) and in Will Smith's song "Gettin' Jiggy wit It" (Now they give it to me nice and easy/Since I moved up like George and Weezie).
The song was also used in the 2006 film Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties. This time, the song was sung by Bill Murray who voices Garfield who joyfully sings about his new life in the palace. This version has different lyrics relating to Garfield's new life. The song is also referenced in the 2008 comedy Tropic Thunder.
- Season 1: CBS Television City (1975)
- Seasons 2-7: Metromedia Square (1975–1982)
- Seasons 8-11: Universal City Studios (1982–1985)
In its first season (1974–75), the show ranked at number four, surpassed by its parent series All in the Family (which landed at number one for the fifth year in a row). The show's ratings for the following two seasons placed it in the Top 30, but during the 1977–78 and 1978–79 seasons (the show's fourth and fifth seasons), it fell out of the top 30.
It returned to the Top 10 in 1979–80, and at the end of the 1981–82 season, The Jeffersons finished third overall, only surpassed by fellow CBS series Dallas and 60 Minutes. As a result, the series remained among the Top 20 for the next two seasons.
NOTE: The highest average rating for the series is in bold text.
|1977–1978||Not in the Top 30|
|1982–1983||#12||12.0 (Tied with Newhart)|
|1984–1985||Not in the Top 30|
Awards and nominations
Actors on The Jeffersons received 13 Emmy Award nominations during its time on the air. Marla Gibbs was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series each year from 1981 through 1985. Sherman Hemsley was nominated for Best Actor in 1984. Isabel Sanford was nominated for seven consecutive Best Actress Emmys, from 1979 until 1985. Her victory in 1981 made her the second African-American actress to win an Emmy Award; Gail Fisher, who played Peggy on the TV show Mannix, preceded her in 1970. Sanford was also the recipient of the five Golden Globe Awards nominations the program also received.
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 The Jeffersons. On March 27, 2014, it was announced that they will re-release the first two seasons on DVD on May 20, 2014.
|DVD Name||Ep #||Release Date|
|The Complete First Season||13||August 6, 2002
May 20, 2014 (re-release)
|The Complete Second Season||24||May 13, 2003
May 20, 2014 (re-release)
|The Complete Third Season||24||April 12, 2005|
|The Complete Fourth Season||26||October 11, 2005|
|The Complete Fifth Season||24||August 15, 2006|
|The Complete Sixth Season||24||March 27, 2007|
- Bryant, Jennings (2001). Television and the American Family (2 ed.). Routledge. p. 216. ISBN 0-8058-3422-2.
- "From the 'In Character' Blog: George Jefferson". NPR. 2008-02-04. Retrieved 2013-02-08.
- Biography Channel Interview - December 2008
- "Archive of American Television". Retrieved 9 June 2014.
- An excerpt
- "The Jeffersons - U.S Domestic Comedy". museum.tv.
- Mill Creek Entertainment Signs Deals With Sony Pictures Home Entertainment To Expand Their Distribution Partnership
- Mill Creek's Re-Releases for Next Month Get Great DVD Package Art
- Newcomb, Horace (Ed.). (1997). Encyclopedia of Television. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers: Chicago. ISBN 1-884964-26-5.
- Mitchell, Gordon Whitey. (2008). Hackensack to Hollywood-My Two Show Business Careers. BearManor Media: Albany. ISBN 1-59393-121-2.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Jeffersons.|
- The Jeffersons at the Internet Movie Database
- The Jeffersons at TV.com
- The Jeffersons on TVLand.com
- The Jeffersons-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television