Family (1976 TV series)

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Family title card
Created byJay Presson Allen
StarringSada Thompson
James Broderick
Gary Frank
Kristy McNichol
Meredith Baxter Birney
Quinn Cummings
Opening themeJohn Rubinstein
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons5
No. of episodes86 (list of episodes)
Executive producersLeonard Goldberg
Mike Nichols
Aaron Spelling
Camera setupSingle-camera
Running time50 minutes
Production companiesIcarus Productions
Spelling-Goldberg Productions
DistributorLexington Broadcast Services Company
Sony Pictures Television
Original networkABC
Audio formatMonaural
Original releaseMarch 9, 1976 (1976-03-09) –
June 25, 1980 (1980-06-25)

Family is an American television drama series that aired on the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) television network from 1976 to 1980. It was originally conceived as a limited series; its first season consisted of six episodes.[1] A total of 86 episodes were produced. Creative control of the show was split among executive producers Leonard Goldberg, Aaron Spelling, and Mike Nichols.


Family depicted, for its time, a contemporary traditional family with realistic, believable characters.[2] The show starred Sada Thompson and James Broderick as Kate and Doug Lawrence, a happily married middle-class couple living at 1230 Holland Street in Pasadena, California with their three children: Nancy (portrayed by Elayne Heilveil in the original miniseries, then by Jane Actman for the first 2 episodes of Season 2, and finally Meredith Baxter Birney for the remainder of the show's run), Willie (Gary Frank), and Letitia, nicknamed "Buddy" (Kristy McNichol). An early episode establishes that the couple had another son, Timothy, who had died five years prior in an accident. The show raised the profile of all of its featured actors and, in particular, catapulted McNichol to stardom.

  • Kate is the practical, rational voice of the show. She always stands by her opinion and is motivated to do what is right, even if it makes her unpopular ("Jury Duty"). An accomplished full-time homemaker, she resents people telling her that because she had high aspirations in school and had achieved a great deal academically ("Home Movie"), she could have attained much more in life. However, at one point she expresses frustration with the monotony of her life, feeling that all she does is run errands and make phone calls, usually on behalf of other people ("An Eye to the Future"). She eventually returns to college as a music major, then becomes a music teacher at Buddy's high school in season 4.
  • Doug is an independent lawyer who aspires to be a judge but never uses his intellect to make others feel inferior. He is a family man who listens to what Kate tells him and always makes time for Buddy.
  • Willie, Doug and Kate's son, is an aspiring writer. He secures his parents' permission to take a year off high school to write a screenplay but, to his father's chagrin, later drops out of school completely. He later pursues work, assisting in a photography studio, an advertising agency, and at a TV show called "The Dame Game" but eventually quits, dubbing the work uninspiring, and aspires to leave Pasadena.
  • Younger daughter Buddy is somewhat tomboyish, although she sometimes considers adopting a more feminine appearance ("Coming of Age"). She is a loyal friend, compassionate toward others, and well-liked by her classmates. She has a habit of walking into a room where adults are discussing something confidential and demanding to know what is transpiring. She usually seeks her mother's help when faced with a dilemma. Willie has a close relationship with Buddy, whom he affectionately calls "Peaches."
  • Eldest daughter Nancy Lawrence Maitland's move back home with her young son Timmy is the story catalyst during the premiere episode. She does so after catching her husband, Jeff Maitland (played by John Rubinstein, who also composed the show's theme song), in bed with another woman. They divorce soon after and Nancy enrolls in law school, where she excels.

In the fourth season, eleven-year-old Annie Cooper (Quinn Cummings) is adopted by the family after the death of her parents, Kate and Doug's college friends, in a car accident.

Storylines were often topical. Family often featured what has come to be known as "very special episodes". In the first episode, Nancy walks in on her husband having sex with one of her friends. During the second season she and Jeff divorce, but he appears occasionally thereafter to complicate the Lawrences' lives. Other storylines include Kate's possible breast cancer and Buddy's dilemmas about whether to have sex; she always chooses to wait. Other episodes deal with homosexuality: in a 1976 episode ("Rites of Friendship"), Willie's childhood friend Zeke is arrested in a gay bar and Willie struggles to accept his friend's sexuality, while a 1977 episode ("We Love You, Miss Jessup") deals with Buddy's friendship with a lesbian teacher. Family also contends with alcoholism (Doug's sister; Buddy's friend) and dementia: A 1979 episode directed by Joanne Woodward guest-stars Henry Fonda as Doug's father, who is beginning to experience cognitive decline. Two years later, Fonda would win an Academy Award for playing a similar character in On Golden Pond.

Episodes and production details[edit]

SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
16March 9, 1976 (1976-03-09)April 13, 1976 (1976-04-13)
222October 6, 1976 (1976-10-06)May 3, 1977 (1977-05-03)
323September 13, 1977 (1977-09-13)May 16, 1978 (1978-05-16)
422September 21, 1978 (1978-09-21)May 17, 1979 (1979-05-17)
513December 11, 1979 (1979-12-11)June 25, 1980 (1980-06-25)

The initial showrunners of Family were Nigel McKeand and Carol Evan McKeand, who previously had been writers for The Waltons. After the fourth season, the McKeands departed[3] and were replaced by Edward Zwick, who would go on to produce the acclaimed series thirtysomething, My So-Called Life and Once and Again.

Broadcast history and Nielsen ratings[edit]

Season Time slot (ET) Rank Rating
1975–76 Tuesdays 10 p.m.    34 [4] N/A
1976–77 Tuesdays 10 p.m.    39 [5] N/A
1977–78 Tuesdays 10 p.m.    31 [6] 19.8
1978–79 Thursdays 10 p.m. (Sep 1978-Mar 1979)
Fridays 8 p.m. (Apr-May 1979)
   52 [7] N/A
1979–80 Mondays 10 p.m. (Jan-Feb 1980)
Mondays 9 p.m. (Mar 1980)
Wednesdays 8 p.m. (June 1980)
   61 [8] N/A

Notable guest stars[edit]

Willie with Doug and Kate.

Many well-known (or soon-to-be well-known) actors and actresses appeared on the series, including Howard Hesseman, Ted Danson, Michael J. Fox, Linda Lavin, Tommy Lee Jones, James Woods, Michael Keaton, Kim Cattrall, Shelley Long, Henry Fonda, Mare Winningham, Helen Hunt, Dana Plato, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Annie Potts, Blair Brown, Dominique Dunne, Steve Guttenberg, René Auberjonois and Stephanie Zimbalist.

Meredith Baxter's real-life mother, Whitney Blake, guest starred, as did David Birney, who was Baxter's husband at the time.

Critical reception[edit]

Family was widely acclaimed, with many critics calling it a rare quality offering[9][10] in ABC's primetime schedule, which at the time contained Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and The Love Boat.

In the fourth season, some critics took issue with the show's direction. In February 1979, Noel Holston of The Orlando Sentinel called Family "ABC's most prestigious program" but claimed "the producers' crisis-of-the-week approach is starting to strain the series' credibility."[11] Some critics complained that Family, like many TV shows of the period, had become too reliant on sex-related plots.[12] In spring 1979, ABC shifted the show to a Friday night death slot of 8pm, and its previously solid ratings dropped to near the bottom of the chart. As a result, Family was renewed for a final season of 13 episodes that began at midseason and aired intermittently.

Despite its occasionally adult themes, the series was consistently praised by the National Parent-Teacher Association. In February 1979, the PTA said Family contained "good parenting lessons" and "slightly controversial" but "excellent" content,[13] recommending it for viewing by teens and older.

Seven years after the series' cancellation, it was widely reported that a Family Reunion TV movie was planned for the 1987–88 season.[14] At least one report indicated that if its ratings were strong enough, the series would be revived for the then-current ABC schedule.[15] The plot was to involve the Lawrence children gathering for Kate's remarriage. (James Broderick had died of cancer in 1982.) But the writers' strike that year halted production, and the project was abandoned.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Work Result Ref.
1976 Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series Glenn Jordan (for "Rites of Friendship") Won [16]
1977 E. W. Swackhamer (for "Acts of Love: Parts 1 and 2") Nominated [17]
1976 Golden Globe Awards Best Television Series – Drama Nominated [18]
Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama Sada Thompson Nominated
1977 Best Television Series – Drama Nominated
1978 Nominated
Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama Kristy McNichol Nominated
Sada Thompson Nominated
1979 Nominated
1976 Humanitas Prize 60 Minute Network or Syndicated Television Jay Presson Allen (for "Pilot") Nominated [19]
Nigel Evan McKeand and Carol Evan McKeand (for "A Right and Proper Goodbye") Nominated
1978 David Jacobs and Carol Evan McKeand (for "Annie Laurie") Won
Carol Evan McKeand (for "The Princess in the Tower") Nominated
1980 Sally Robinson (for "Thanksgiving") Won
1977 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Drama Series Leonard Goldberg, Nigel McKeand, Mike Nichols, and Aaron Spelling Nominated [20]
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Sada Thompson Nominated
Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Gary Frank (for "Lovers and Strangers") Won
Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Meredith Baxter Birney Nominated
Kristy McNichol Won
1978 Outstanding Drama Series Leonard Goldberg, Nigel McKeand, and Aaron Spelling Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series James Broderick Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Sada Thompson Won
Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Meredith Baxter Birney Nominated
Kristy McNichol Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actor for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series John Rubinstein (for "And Baby Makes Three") Nominated
Outstanding Film Editing for a Drama Series Jim Faris (for "Acts of Love: Part 1") Nominated
1979 Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Sada Thompson Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Kristy McNichol Won
1980 Outstanding Drama Series Leonard Goldberg, Aaron Spelling, and Edward Zwick Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Kristy McNichol Nominated
Sada Thompson Nominated
1979 Young Artist Awards Best Juvenile Actress in a TV Series or Special Quinn Cummings Nominated [21]
Kristy McNichol Nominated
1980 Best Young Actress in a Television Series Quinn Cummings Won [22]

Theme music[edit]

In the original spring 1976 miniseries run of Family, the theme music is a dramatic-sounding, yet low-key piano solo with minor orchestral contingents, composed by cast member John Rubinstein (son of 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. This version lasted the rest of the run.

Legal dispute[edit]

Family became the subject of a 24-year legal dispute[23] due to a lawsuit 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, titled "The Best Years". Spelling responded to the lawsuit with a statement explaining that he had conceived the idea in his kitchen with Leonard Goldberg, his professional partner. Next they pitched the idea to scriptwriter Jay Presson Allen to create the pilot. She had just completed writing the screenplay for the film Funny Lady, starring Barbra Streisand and directed by Herbert Ross.

In October 1981, the suit was dismissed for lack of prosecution. Jeri Emmet filed an appeal the same month. Approximately a year later, she withdrew her appeal as part of a settlement with Spelling and Goldberg for $1,000. 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 judgment were overturned.[24]

Emmet sued Spelling a second time, in 1996, after Spelling published his memoirs. She claimed that Spelling had defamed her in his book, as she had not been credited with conceiving the original idea for Family. She lost on appeal in 2001, with the court saying she 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 with Allen retaining her "Created by" credit for the series.[23]

Home media[edit]

On September 5, 2006, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the first two seasons of Family on DVD in Region 1. On January, 2016, two box sets containing a total of 28 episodes were released in Germany by ALIVE VERTRIEBS- UND MARKETING. These box sets contain select episodes from seasons 1 to 3.[25]

Beginning in July 2021, all five seasons of Family — uncut, were available for viewing on Tubi in their original broadcast running times, except for the season 4 episode 'Magic,' which appears in its syndicated edited form at 44 minutes in length (as opposed to the usual 49 minutes). However, Tubi no longer has episodes of the show in its library. As of July 2022, Family is on Tubi again. [26]

The show currently airs on MeTV+, a companion network to MeTV that is available in select TV markets.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ O'Connor, John J. (13 April 1976). "TV: 'Family'". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Rowland Barber (21 January 1978). "Three Strikes and They're On". TV Guide. Retrieved 30 May 2016.
  3. ^ Lee Margulies (25 June 1979). "Inside TV". Los Angeles Times.
  4. ^ "The final Nielsen". Chicago Tribune TV Week. 27 June 1976.
  5. ^ "Look Who's No. 1". Chicago Tribune TV Week. 3 July 1977.
  6. ^ "A season's worth of program standings" (PDF). Broadcasting. 1 May 1978.
  7. ^ "Rounding up the ratings for 'the season'" (PDF). Broadcasting. 18 June 1979.
  8. ^ "1979-80 Regular Series Ratings". Daily Variety. 4 June 1980.
  9. ^ Charles Witbeck (24 Dec 1979). "A fine taste of 'Family' is ABC gift to viewers". The Miami News.
  10. ^ Peter J. Boyer (2 May 1980). "It's all over for 'Family'". Associated Press.
  11. ^ Noel Holston (21 February 1979). "Is this the last season for these series?". Orlando Sentinel.
  12. ^ Howard Rosenberg (28 December 1978). "Has It Come to This?". Los Angeles Times.
  13. ^ Paul Weingarten (14 February 1979). "PTA TV ratings, from Alice to Wonder Woman". Chicago Tribune.
  14. ^ Susan Stewart (2 June 1987). "Reunion Fever". Detroit Free Press.
  15. ^ staff and wire reports (8 June 1987). "Ch. 8 noon news score: One born, another on way?". Akron Beacon Journal.
  16. ^ "29th DGA Awards". Directors Guild of America Awards. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  17. ^ "30th DGA Awards". Directors Guild of America Awards. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  18. ^ "Family – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  19. ^ "Past Winners & Nominees". Humanitas Prize. Retrieved June 11, 2022.
  20. ^ "Family". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  21. ^ "1st Annual Youth In Film Awards". Archived from the original on 2015-07-16. Retrieved 2011-03-31.
  22. ^ "2nd Youth In Film Awards". Archived from the original on 2015-09-10. Retrieved 2011-03-31.
  23. ^ a b 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.
  24. ^ Cal Sup Ct (7 May 1992). "Laird v. Blacker (1992) 2 C4th 606". Unknown. Retrieved 27 June 2012.
  25. ^ "Eine amerikanische Familie - Box 1". Amazon Germany.
  26. ^ "Family".

External links[edit]