Benson (TV series)

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Benson title screen.jpg
Created by Susan Harris[1]
Starring Robert Guillaume
James Noble
Inga Swenson
Missy Gold
Rene Auberjonois (1980–1986)
Ethan Phillips (1980–1985)
Caroline McWilliams (1979–1981)
Didi Conn (1981–1985)
Lewis J. Stadlen (1979–1980)
Billie Bird (1984–1986)
Theme music composer George Aliceson Tipton
Composer(s) George Aliceson Tipton
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 7
No. of episodes 158 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Paul Junger Witt
Tony Thomas
Susan Harris
Running time 24–25 minutes
Production company(s) Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions
Distributor Columbia Pictures Television (1984–1996)
Columbia TriStar Television (1996–2002)
Sony Pictures Television (2002–present)
Original channel ABC
Original release September 13, 1979 (1979-09-13) – April 19, 1986 (1986-04-19)
Preceded by Soap

Benson is an American television sitcom which aired from September 13, 1979, to April 19, 1986, on ABC. The series was a spin-off from the soap opera parody Soap, in which the character Benson, portrayed by Robert Guillaume, had first appeared as the wise-cracking yet level-headed African-American butler for the highly dysfunctional Tate family. However, Benson discarded the soap opera format of its parent show in favor of a more conventional sitcom structure. The series was created by Susan Harris, and produced by Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions.


Series summary[edit]

In the show, Benson DuBois (Robert Guillaume) had been hired to be the head of household affairs for scatterbrained and widowed Governor Eugene Gatling (James Noble), and his daughter Katie (Missy Gold). Governor Gatling was cousin to Jessica Tate (Katherine Helmond) and Mary Campbell (Cathryn Damon), the two sisters on whose families the stories centered on Soap. The state of which Gatling was governor remained unidentified throughout the series, although Soap had taken place in Connecticut.

The show revolved around Benson's housekeeping dilemmas, his fights with the German cook Gretchen Wilhemina Kraus (Inga Swenson, one of Guillaume's fellow alumni from Soap), and his interactions with John Taylor (David Hedison in the pilot episode, then Lewis J. Stadlen), who assisted Governor Gatling as chief of staff. After the first season, Taylor's job was filled by Clayton Endicott III (René Auberjonois), who was written out by having him run for political office and actually snub his employer's endorsement. He lost the election but returned at Benson's request. In spite of their adversarial relationship (during the early years, Kraus' trademark line was a loud "I hear you!" from off-stage), Benson and Kraus eventually became good friends. Benson also had very good friendships with the Governor's secretary, Marcy Hill (Caroline McWilliams), and her successor, Denise (Didi Conn). Marcy left after her second-season wedding. Jerry Seinfeld played a small role as Frankie, a delivery boy and unsuccessful comedian, for three episodes in 1980; he was asked to leave due to creative differences.[2]

Denise and Pete Downey (Ethan Phillips), the Governor's Press Secretary (introduced in Season 2), met and later married while working in the governor's mansion and were expectant parents for most of the third-to-last season. Both were written out, saying they left state government service because Denise got a job working for NASA.

Benson worked his way up the ladder during the series, going from head of household affairs to state budget director (at which time his surname—DuBois—was revealed), and eventually was elevated to the position of Lieutenant Governor. During the final episodes of the 1985–1986 season, Benson ran for governor against Gatling. Kraus (who had herself moved up to head of household affairs) proved to be Benson's biggest supporter during this time, and he made her his personal assistant and campaign manager.

Season one's opening sequence of Benson starts with camera shots of the Governor's mansion. It then presents the major cast, including snippets of the cast in the first few episodes of the season. The sequence ends when Benson is chased up the mansion's front steps by the two Dobermans. He then peeks his head outside to mock the dogs, and then quickly shuts the front door. The opening sequences were cut and edited when the series went into syndication.

Series finale[edit]

The premise was that initially Gatling was prohibited from running for re-election due to term limits. Later it was revealed that he could run again if he did so as an independent candidate, which he decided to do. By this time, Benson had already won the nomination of Gatling's party, setting the stage for the two to go head-to-head in the general election.

At the end of the series' final episode (the seventh season finale), it was election night, and with the race still too close to call, Benson and Gatling, who had strained relations due to the race, made their peace with each other and sat down together to watch election returns together on television. As the broadcaster began to announce that a winner in the close election (with a third candidate also a potential winner) was at last being projected, the episode ended on a freeze frame of Benson and Gatling, leaving the series with an unresolved cliffhanger. Coincidentally, Guillaume's previous series, and the one from which Benson spun off, Soap, was also canceled with unresolved cliffhangers, though Guillaume had moved on to Benson by that point.

In 2007, Benson showrunner Bob Fraser said that the season ended on a cliffhanger at the request of the network. The show was canceled after the cliffhanger had aired. Fraser indicated that, had the show continued, Gatling would have won the election and Benson would have become a Senator.[3]

According to Gary Brown, who directed the finale and 20 other episodes of Benson, they actually filmed three outcomes (Benson wins, Gatling wins, and tie) with the intent of deciding over summer break which to use to kick off the new season. Brown also stated that regardless of the outcome the long term intent for the next season was for Benson to become the governor.[4]


Broadcasting History[edit]

Season Time slot
1 (1979–1980) Thursdays at 8:30–9:00 pm EST on ABC
2 (1980–1981) Fridays at 8:00–8:30 pm EST on ABC
3 (1981–1982)
4 (1982–1983) Fridays at 8:00–8:30 pm EST on ABC (October 22, 1981 – March 18, 1983)
Thursday, March 31, 1983 at 8:00–8:30 pm EST on ABC
5 (1983–1984) Fridays at 8:00–8:30 pm EST on ABC
6 (1984–1985) Fridays at 8:00–8:30 pm EST on ABC (September 16, 1984 – February 22, 1985)
Fridays at 9:00–9:30 pm EST on ABC (March 15 – April 5, 1985)
7 (1985–1986) Fridays at 9:30–10:00 pm EST on ABC (October 4, 1985 – January 3, 1986)
Saturdays at 8:30–9:30 pm EST on ABC (January 18 – April 19, 1986)

DVD releases[edit]

On July 24, 2007, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released Season 1 of Benson on DVD in Region 1 for the first time. The DVDs contain the episodes as they were originally aired, including the longer opening sequences, as opposed to the syndicated edits.

On April 3, 2012, Sony released season 2 on DVD under the Choice Collection label. This is a Manufacture-on-Demand (MOD) release. The Complete Second Season DVD also includes two episodes from season three: "Benson's Appointment" and "The Grass Ain't Greener." Like the DVD of the previous season, this season DVD also contains the originally-aired uncut openings for each episode.

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 Benson.[5] On July 3, 2014, it was announced that they will re-release the first and second seasons on DVD on September 2, 2014.[6][needs update]

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The Complete First Season 24 July 24, 2007
The Complete Second Season 22 April 3, 2012


The exterior shots of the "governor's mansion" are actually of a private home located at 1365 South Oakland Avenue in Pasadena, California.[7] The same house was seen in the 1993 movie The Beverly Hillbillies, and in a 2006 U.S. television commercial for the RE/MAX real estate company.


External links[edit]