Mama's Family

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Mama's Family
Mamas Family title screen.jpg
Created byDick Clair
Jenna McMahon
Directed byRoger Beatty
Harvey Korman
Dick Martin
Dave Powers
StarringVicki Lawrence
Ken Berry
Dorothy Lyman
Rue McClanahan
Eric Brown
Karin Argoud
Betty White
Beverly Archer
Allan Kayser
Theme music composerMusic: Peter Matz
Lyrics: Vicki Lawrence
Opening theme"Bless My Happy Home"
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons6
No. of episodes130 (list of episodes)
Executive producerJoe Hamilton
ProducersJim Evering
Neil Lebowitz
Dave Powers
Fred Rubin
Robert Wright
Production locationsCBS Television City
Hollywood, California (1983–84)
Metromedia Square
Hollywood, California (1986–90)
Camera setupMulti-camera
Running time24–25 minutes (NBC episodes)
21–22 minutes (syndicated episodes)
Production companyJoe Hamilton Productions
Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution
Original networkNBC (1983–1984)
Syndicated (1986–1990)
Audio formatMono
Original releaseJanuary 22, 1983 (1983-01-22) –
February 24, 1990 (1990-02-24)
Preceded byEunice

Mama's Family is an American sitcom television series starring Vicki Lawrence as Mama (Thelma Harper). The series is a spin-off of a recurring series of comedy sketches called "The Family" featured on The Carol Burnett Show (1967–78) and Carol Burnett & Company (1979). The sketches led to the television film Eunice, and finally the television series.

Mama's Family aired on NBC, debuting on January 22, 1983. After several timeslot changes and a subsequent drop in ratings, the network canceled the series; the final episode of this two-season NBC incarnation of the series aired on April 7, 1984.[1] NBC broadcast reruns until September 1985, which unexpectedly performed well in ratings.

Two years after its cancellation, original series producer Joe Hamilton Productions (JHP) revived Mama's Family for new episodes in first-run syndication on local stations across the United States. The reincarnation, produced by JHP and distributed by Lorimar-Telepictures, premiered on September 27, 1986.[2][3] The modified four-season series revival garnered substantially higher ratings than its first incarnation, eventually becoming the highest-rated sitcom in first-run syndication, its final episode airing on February 24, 1990.

The show's theme song is "Bless My Happy Home," created as an a cappella by Lawrence. The show's producers chose to use an instrumental of Lawrence's song composed by Peter Matz.[4] Disclosing the lyrics to the song as part of her Vicki and Mama: A Two Woman Show (non-televised stand-up comedy routine Lawrence has hosted as herself and Mama since 2001), Lawrence routinely performs the song in its original a cappella form.[5] The lyrics were also featured in an advertisement for the show on MeTV.[6][7]


The show is set in the city of Raytown, which actress Vicki Lawrence later revealed to be Raytown, Missouri, a suburb of Kansas City[8] (although the script writing suggests the setting was Raytown, Mississippi, given the rural southern nature of the series). The television series revolves around the wacky misadventures of the Harper family, extended non-Harper family members and their neighbor friend in later seasons. Always at the center of all the trouble, turmoil and misunderstandings is head of the clan and matriarch Thelma Harper (Mama)—a thickset, gray-haired, purse-lipped, mid-to-late 60s widow who is portrayed as explosively quick-tempered, abrasive, and brash.[9]

Mama's snappy retorts and wisecracks are featured in a running gag in which the final scene of each episode cuts to an exterior shot of her residence (1027 Montrose Avenue in South Pasadena, which was also the house of Lynda’s character in the 1978 film Halloween. The home was only featured briefly in the film where Lynda walks toward the front door[10]) while Mama's voice is heard making a sharp or witty reply to whomever had previously spoken. This is then followed by audience laughter and applause. In spite of Thelma's derogatory attitude, regular zingers and sarcasm, she is nurturing and obliging at heart, allowing family members to live off her in her home who would otherwise have no place to live, while also regularly cooking for and cleaning up after them.[9] Thelma's family members can be ingrates, even ganging up on her occasionally.

Network run (seasons 1–2)[edit]

Cast of the first incarnation of Mama's Family (clockwise from bottom left): Buzz, Vinton, Naomi, Ed (recurring character), Ellen (recurring), Fran, Sonja, and Thelma

Beginning the series[edit]

In the ninth season of The Carol Burnett Show, producer Joe Hamilton wanted to spin off Mama into her own series, but Lawrence turned him down. She did not wish to wear a "fat suit portraying an old lady every week," and she had misgivings about playing the role without Harvey Korman (who played Mama's son-in-law, Ed Higgins) and Carol Burnett (who played Mama's daughter Eunice Higgins) regularly by her side as in "The Family" sketches. Burnett and Korman told Lawrence that they would only appear as guest stars on the new series, and that it was Lawrence's time to shine and take what she had learned from The Carol Burnett Show and make it on her own. Shortly after the highly-rated Eunice TV movie, with continued urging by Korman and Burnett, Lawrence finally changed her mind and accepted the offer for her character's own sitcom.[1]

The writers had created Raytown to be its own "cartoon-like" world outside of reality. Although the series was sold to NBC without a pilot, the network had its own requirements, such as having "normal" teenagers as seen in other sitcoms of the time, which is how the Buzz and Sonja characters came about.[11] However, Lawrence had a great deal of creative input and made many important decisions, including bringing in Korman very early on to co-direct the series. Lawrence objected to the original script of the episode "Mama Cries Uncle", in which Thelma's brother-in-law visits and the two supposedly wound up sleeping together:

I went to the writers and I said, 'I'm sorry, she is nothing if not Bible Belt. She would never sleep with her brother-in-law. I don't care how dead her husband is, This is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong'. Well, threw everything into a tizzy and Joe [Hamilton] said, 'Gotta listen to her,' and they re-wrote the second half of the show.[1]

According to her autobiography, Lawrence had a problem with the decision to tape the series on Stage 33 at CBS Television City, where The Carol Burnett Show was produced.[citation needed]

Plot details[edit]

For 1½ seasons from 1983 through 1984, Mama's Family ran on NBC. In the series' first episode, Thelma Harper lives with her uncomfortable, uptight spinster sister Fran (Rue McClanahan), a journalist for a local paper. Thelma's son Vinton (whose wife Mitzi had left him to become a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas) arrives to inform Thelma that he and his two children, Sonja and Buzz, have been evicted from their home and need a place to stay. Much to Fran's chagrin, Thelma allows the trio to move in.

During the first season, Vinton forged a relationship with the Harpers' flirtatious next-door neighbor Naomi Oates, whom Thelma disliked, and soon married her. After selling Naomi's house and losing the money in a bad business deal, Naomi and Vint are forced to move into Thelma's basement, where they remain for most of the show's run. Also seen on a recurring basis were Thelma's two daughters: the snobbish Ellen (Betty White) and the ornery Eunice (Carol Burnett). Harvey Korman, who directed many of the earlier episodes, made featured appearances as Eunice's husband, Ed Higgins. (During the eleventh and final season of The Carol Burnett Show, the Ed Higgins character left Eunice and was written out of "The Family" skits.)

Opening theme discrepancies[edit]

Korman appeared at the beginning of each episode as the stuffed shirt Alistair Quince (a parody of Alistair Cooke), who would soberly introduce the program in the style of Masterpiece Theatre. These monologues were cut out of the later syndicated reruns.[12] Korman also performed the voice of Thelma's unseen late husband, Carl, in flashback episodes.

An extended version of the show's opening theme song, with repeated melodies, was used during the original NBC run, but was never used in reruns.

The house and neighborhood shown in the opening credits differed between the original NBC run and the syndicated run (1027 Montrose Avenue in South Pasadena, which was also the house of Lynda’s character in the 1978 film Halloween. The home was only featured briefly in the film where Lynda walks toward the front door[10]), leading to discrepancies such as in the episode "Mama for Mayor", in which Mama is shown in front of the house used in the original opening theme of the first two seasons.

In 2013, StarVista Entertainment released the original NBC seasons with the Alistair Quince intros and original opening credits intact, except for two episodes in Season 1 ("Cellmates" and "Mama's Boyfriend"), as the master prints of those episodes are lost and were replaced by the syndicated version in the re-release.


While not a huge ratings success, the first season garnered solid enough numbers to justify being renewed for a second season.[13] For instance, the premiere episode ranked #25 for the week with an 18.6 rating and a 28 share. However, during the second season, the show dropped out of the top 50 shows, losing share to CBS' hit Magnum, P.I. As a result, NBC canceled the series in May 1984.

First-run syndication (Seasons 3–6)[edit]

Cast of the reincarnation of Mama's Family (clockwise from center left): Iola, Bubba, Vinton, Naomi, and Mama.

Series rebirth[edit]

After Mama's Family was canceled by NBC in 1984, it was later relaunched in first-run syndication in 1986.[14] Lorimar Television had just merged with Telepictures and were looking for new projects for the then newly commenced first-run syndication market.[14] After observing high ratings for NBC's Mama's Family in summer reruns, production staff decided that the show deserved a second chance and ordered 100 episodes for syndication.[1][15]

Plot details[edit]

Since the original set had been destroyed, a new set had to be constructed. This led to some significant changes in set design details. Adjustments in the show's cast occurred as well, with only Vicki Lawrence (Thelma), Ken Berry (Vinton), and Dorothy Lyman (Naomi) returning as regulars from the original era of the sitcom. Vinton's kids from his first marriage, Buzz (Eric Brown) and Sonja (Karin Argoud), who were regulars in the show's first life, did not reprise their roles for the show's revival; their characters, though mentioned briefly in the first episode of the show's syndicated life, were never to be spoken of again.

During the hiatus of the series, both Rue McClanahan and Betty White had gone on to star in the NBC sitcom The Golden Girls, rendering them unavailable to return. White, however, did return as Ellen for one episode in 1986 while Fran was killed off in the first episode of the revival. Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman, meanwhile, did not reprise their roles either, resulting in their characters (Eunice and Ed Higgins) being written out as having moved to Florida.

To fill the void left by Mama's grandchildren, Allan Kayser was cast as Thelma's delinquent teenage grandson Bubba Higgins, Ed and Eunice's son. Bubba was ordered to live with his grandmother after being released from juvenile hall and placed on probation as Thelma was not pleased that Eunice and Ed forgot their own son. Also added to the cast was Beverly Archer, who played the new character of Iola Boylen, the family's wildly quirky and prissy neighbor and Mama's best friend. Her catchphrase was calling out "Knock, knock!" in place of ringing the doorbell.

Absence of Carol Burnett as the "Eunice" character[edit]

According to Lawrence's autobiography, Vicki!: The True-Life Adventures of Miss Fireball, Burnett resented Lawrence for accepting the role of Mama for first-run syndication with producer Joe Hamilton (who owned the Mama's Family characters). It was during this time that Burnett was involved in an acrimonious divorce from Hamilton, who produced both The Carol Burnett Show and Mama's Family.[16] Burnett felt Lawrence had been disloyal to her and held a grudge against her until Hamilton's death in 1991. By the time of Hamilton's death, Burnett and Lawrence had reconciled. Lawrence's autobiography reads:

A funny thing happened the day I signed with Lorimar. Carol called and said, 'I think I'd like to put together maybe a little syndicated show with the family characters. I'll do Eunice, you do Mama. Doesn't that sound like fun?' I said, 'It does, but I just signed with Lorimar to do Mama's Family for Joe.' It became a very abrupt conversation, and Carol hung up. I then went to Al and asked him what he made of the whole thing. He agreed it was really weird. I wondered if I was about to get caught in the middle of yet another struggle between the two of them . . . During her divorce, Carol and I went through a 'cool' period. She 'divorced' everyone and remained distant for a lot of years. She called the house a few years ago. I was standing at the sink peeling carrots, fifteen feet from the phone, but Garrett got to it first and I only heard his half of the following conversation: 'Hello? Oh hi. Yeah, sure, he's in the other room, on the other line. You want me to tell him you're calling? My mom's here, you want to talk to her? No? Okay. Goodbye.' When he hung up I asked him who it was. 'Carol Burnett.' I was shocked. 'What did she say?' 'She didn't want to talk to you. She only wanted to talk to Dad.' Al called her back later that night, made a point of telling her how much we missed and loved her, and she told him, 'I'll be back. It's just going to take a while longer. Give me another year or so."[17]

Series end[edit]

After Mama's Family was picked up in first-run syndication, ratings for the series improved, becoming the highest-rated first-run program in syndication.[18] According to Ken Berry, Lawrence had seemingly grown tired of playing the "Mama" role by 1990 and wanted to end the show.[19] According to Lawrence, who would reprise Mama on stage for many years thereafter, the series ended because it had reached the standard threshold of 100 episodes and no longer needed to produce any more.[1] The series finale featured Naomi giving birth to a baby girl, who was named Tiffany Thelma.

Cast and characters[edit]

Thelma Mae Crowley Harper (Mama)[edit]


Thelma Harper, better known as Mama, is the title character/main character of Mama's Family. Despite the title of "Mama," few characters in the sitcom actually refer to Thelma as Mama. Thelma plays a variety of roles in the series, including grandmother, mother-in-law, sister, neighbor friend, and mother, depending on the supporting character in question.

Thelma is the widowed matriarch of a rural Southern family.[20] She is an elderly country woman in her mid-to-late 60s, who speaks in a southern drawl.[9] Always active with housework and the nurturance of her family, Mama is usually seen cooking, cleaning, and providing (begrudgingly) support to her family.


Mama's appearance is based on that of a stereotypical elderly woman. She is a thickset, purse-lipped widow with silvery gray curls. All of her daytime outfits were short-sleeved, floral-print dresses with lace collars. Costumer Ret Turner color-coded Mama in flowery colors, mainly mixtures of blues, greens and lavenders.[21] As much of Mama's time was spent cooking and cleaning, she often wore overlapping aprons over her dresses. Mama's lower legs were always enveloped by visible support hose (a feature that was nonexistent during "The Family" sketches, but made its first appearance when she donned them during a segment of the 1973 Eunice movie).[22] For footwear, Mama regularly wore white orthopedic, colonial shoes that took an Alfred J. Cammeyer evening oxford heels style.[23]

Mama regularly wore a few fashion accessories, including a white pearl necklace, white pearl earrings as well as a wristwatch.

Mama's outerwear worn when visiting public venues always consisted of the same purple sweater, draped casually over her shoulders without arms in the sleeves; headpieces made completely of artificial plant petals; and a white purse, which she didn't hesitate to use as a weapon when given the opportunity.

Persona evolution[edit]

In contrast to her more stereotypically elderly, dependent, invariably spiteful and cantankerous character on "The Family" skits, Mama's hostilities were significantly toned down in the sitcom's first life.[14] Though still cantankerous, the character expanded with wisecracks and humor, pesky antics, unseemliness and naivete. Mama's unseemliness and naivete were exemplified by her inability to drive (episode "Mama Learns to Drive"); inability to act in socially acceptable ways in public and in the presence of guests (episodes "The Mama Who Came to Dinner", "Country Club" and "Ellen's Boyfriend"); inability to hold jobs outside the home (episodes "Mama Gets a Job", "Supermarket" and "Mama for Mayor"); etc. These characteristics often resulted in the humiliation or frustration of her loved ones.

By the show's second life, Mama was no longer naive (Vinton overwhelmingly assumed this role) and far more capable of high spirits than ever before. This version of Mama had the fewest stereotypically elderly traits. She was dutiful in caring for her home, garden and family; independent; and active in the community along with best friend Iola Boylen. For example, Mama returned to high school and graduated (episodes "Educating Mama," "Teacher's Pet," and "Pomp and Circumstance"); she was heavily involved in the Church Ladies League and at one point its president (episode "Where There's Smoke"); Mama participated in dirty dancing (episode "Very Dirty Dancing"); went on a trip (episode "Mama Goes Hawaiian"), etc. Highlighting her much more relaxed nature during the syndicated seasons, Mama's main character trait during this time was her many fretful wisecracks, typically made in a high-pitched, whiny voice. Despite that, this era of Mama was more derogatory than ever; rough, abrasive and brash in manner; volatile and explosive in temper; and smart-mouthed with a proneness for making snappy retorts.[9]

Unlike the preceding sketch comedy and television movie, Thelma had many characteristic expressions on the program, "Good Lord!" being her most frequently used. She occasionally stated this in alternate ways, such as "Good Lord in heaven!" "Well Good Lord!" "Good heavens!" or "Good night Louise!" Among her additional expressions included "Horse pucky!" "The hell you say!" "Hell's bells!" "(insert the sender's claim or statement here) my aunt Fanny!" "Now hear this," "God-awful," "In a pig's eye!" "In a pig's patoot!" "Shoot!" "For crying out loud!" "For pity's sake!" "For heaven's sake!" "Real good!" (sarcastically) etc. Disparaging and impudent, Thelma had a series of name-calling catchphrases she often used to refer to certain members of her family or her family as a whole, such as "Nitwit," "Dimwit," "Goon," "Goober goon," "Lamebrain," "Dunce," "Tramp," "Floozy," etc.

Vicki Lawrence on evolution of Mama[edit]

Vicki Lawrence has stated that at the beginning of Mama's Family, she noticed that the writers had made adjustments to her character from "The Family" skits, significantly toning down Mama's hostilities and nastiness. Lawrence originally disapproved of the change in character, believing that toning down her then-familiar aggression and spite into a less difficult, more agreeable Mama, capable of humor and high spirits, would not be funny.

Lawrence has revealed, however, that after counsel from Harvey Korman that the character needed to be reshaped for sitcom television, she came to accept the adjustments made to "Mama". Korman suggested that Mama had to be less one-dimensionally hostile because the entire show would revolve around her—that more characteristics would need to be added into the mix. Korman's opinion was that people could not be expected to come home from work, pop a beer, and put up their feet to a character who was so one-dimensional; she would have to be more than just disagreeable for a whole half hour, or viewers would become bored after awhile. According to Korman, silly elements needed to be added to the character.

Lawrence has stated that it took her a while to warm up to this, but that she later came to greatly appreciate how Mama "blossomed" and "matured" from her early years on "The Family". She added that she still favors the adjustments in Mama's character and partly credits Korman with who Thelma Harper is today. "The Family" sketch writers, however, who had based "The Family" characters on their own family members, disliked the less aggressive Mama designed for sitcom television. In February 2013, Lawrence also remarked that "The Family" sketch version of Mama was created by writers (Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon) who hated their mothers. [1][24][25] Clair and McMahon also created and wrote for Mama's Family.

Family members and friends[edit]

Character Actor Years character rank Description
Vinton Harper Ken Berry 1983–1984
Regular character The youngest of Thelma's three children. Dopey, buffoonish, and accident prone, Vint regularly makes a fool out of himself, particularly when he attempts to be assertive or knowledgeable. Vinton is a very nice guy, but also very immature.[9] He works at Kwik Keys as a locksmith. Vinton was color-coded in tan in a short-sleeved button-down shirt and pants.[21]
Naomi Oates Harper Dorothy Lyman 1983–1984
Regular character Vinton's lascivious, demonstrative, and maritally flirtatious second wife, who is often at odds with Thelma over his loyalty, also in part for her salaciousness and many past marriages.[9] Naomi works as a checker (later becoming the assistant manager) at Food Circus, a local supermarket. Vinton's nickname for her is "Skeeter" while Mama's nickname for her is "tramp." While Naomi had straight hair in the show's first NBC incarnation, she sports curls in the show's second incarnation. Naomi was color-coded in yellow and habitually wore off-the-shoulder or strapless dresses,[21] which Thelma often referred to as "gaudy."
Vinton "Buzz" Harper, Jr. Eric Brown 1983–1984 Regular character Vint's teenage son with his first wife, Mitzi. Buzz is very cheerful, spirited, patient, and obliging. Buzz was last mentioned in "Farewell Frannie".
Sonja Harper Karin Argoud 1983–1984 Regular character Vint's teenage daughter with his first wife, Mitzi. Sonja starts out during the first season as moody, whiny, lazy, slacker-ish and rather oblivious, but later becomes interested in boys and blossoms into a young lady interested in civic affairs during the second season. Like her brother, she later moved out, presumably going off to college. She was also crowned Miss Rayteen 1984 during the second season of the show's run. Sonja was last mentioned in "Farewell Frannie".
Ellen Harper-Jackson Betty White 1983–1984
Recurring character The eldest of Thelma's three children. Ellen is a self-centered, haughty, pretentious social elitist who avoids fraternizing with the rest of the family unless it suits her purpose. Her birthday is June 30.
Eunice Harper Higgins Carol Burnett 1983–1984 Recurring character The second of Thelma's three children. Seemingly always in the same green dress, Eunice is resentful, tempestuous, antagonistic and quarrelsome, constantly bickering with everyone in the family (especially her mother and sister Ellen). Her birthday is December 19.
Ed Higgins Harvey Korman 1983–1984 Recurring character Eunice's mild-mannered, browbeaten husband. The Ed character was toned down from his appearances in "The Family" sketches, formerly a fiercely ill-tempered man that had no qualms with regularly quarreling with his mother-in-law and Eunice, at one point permanently leaving Eunice. In Mama's Family, however, the two have supposedly reconciled as they are only seen as a married couple.
Bubba Higgins Allan Kayser 1986–1990 Regular character Ed and Eunice's teenage son who is forced to live with Thelma upon being released from juvenile hall, after his parents had moved to Florida. Although initially depicted as a frisky, hyperactive, and eccentric teen with a penchant for playing instruments along with friends Dwayne and T-Boy, he over time evolved into a calm, mature, and commonsensical teen, though still with a robust interest in the opposite sex. The character always wore extremely tight-fitting jeans and in the early going suspenders as well. This later progressed into tight-fitting jeans and conservative sweatshirts.[9] Bubba was color-coded in green.[21]
Frances Marie Crowley Rue McClanahan 1983–1984 Regular character Thelma's younger, uncomfortable, and uptight spinster sister. Works as a newspaper reporter and free-lance writer. She later died by choking on a toothpick at the Bigger Jigger. McClanahan was unhappy with the role.[26]
Iola Lucille Boylen Beverly Archer 1986–1990 Regular character The Harpers’ well-meaning but obnoxious, nice, chipper, quirky, and prissy neighbor. She is a spinster like Thelma's sister Frannie. Among her quirks, she constantly bestows the family with peculiar handicraft items, predominately wears pink (black during funerals), and calls "knock knock" upon her every entrance into Thelma's home. During her first appearances on the show, a running gag existed that saw her having loopy temper tantrums at odd intervals, described as "spells". She lives with her overbearing and aging parents, whom she seeks to escape by spending as much time at Thelma's home as possible. Iola is best friends with Thelma (her only friend). In her first couple of seasons, she was secretly infatuated with Vint; the two had known each other since their youth, which caused her and Naomi to have an adversarial relationship. Iola was color-coded in pink, usually gingham, shirtwaist dresses.[21]

Harper family tree[edit]

Mama Crowley and Frank Crowley*Mammy and Willie Harper
Frances CrowleyThelma CrowleyCarl HarperEffie Harper Roy Harper
Bruce JacksonEllen HarperEunice HarperEd HigginsVinton HarperNaomi OatesLeonard Oates (div.)Mitzi (div.)
Bubba HigginsTiffany Thelma HarperSonja HarperVinton "Buzz" Harper, Jr.
  • Magenta = Crowleys
  • Orange = Harpers
  • Blue = Harper children
  • Red = Harper in-laws
  • Green = Harper grandchildren

*Note: Thelma's mother was shown on two occasions on the show (once in a flashback and once as a ghost, played both times by Vicki Lawrence), but her name wasn't revealed. There were at least two Crowley brothers (mentioned in passing in "Double Standard" and "Mama with the Golden Arm"); one was named Clyde ("Pomp and Circumstance"). A cousin named Cora is seen in "There's No Place Like...No Place", and an Uncle Oscar is mentioned in "Mama Gets the Bird", but it is not known if he was from Thelma's side of the family or her husband Carl's. Eunice also mentions having a son named Billy, but Billy's whereabouts are unknown in Mama's Family.

Recurring characters[edit]

  • Carl Harper, a predominantly unseen character (although once played by Ken Berry in flashback scenes of the series finale), he is the deceased husband of Mama and father of Ellen, Eunice, and Vinton. While he's occasionally made mention of especially by Thelma, he only appears in flashback episodes. Though even in flashbacks, he's unseen for the most part, as he's usually only portrayed in voice as a man who spent the vast majority of his life nested on the toilet in the bathroom with the door closed. In fact, Carl died on the toilet. He's characterized as a grouch who screams from the bathroom about how he doesn't want to be interrupted during his long hours on the toilet, even for emergencies.
  • Effie Crowley Harper, Thelma's cousin (in season 2) and later her sister-in-law (in season 4), known for her rum balls deceptively filled with alcohol bestowed to the family. She lives in nearby Ceciltown on a farm. Played by Dorothy Van.
  • Reverend Lloyd Meechum, the Harpers' henpecked minister. Played by Earl Boen.
  • Alberta Meechum, Reverend Meechum's stuck-up, catty wife and a perennial thorn in the side of Thelma Harper. Played by Anne Haney
  • Mayor Alvin Tutweiler, the mayor of Raytown and Ellen's boyfriend. Played by Alan Oppenheimer.
  • Eddie Edwards, a TV personality in Raytown, who hosts such programs as Good Morning, Raytown and the Grandma USA pageant. Played by Wayne Morton.
  • Clive Montaigne, the head of the community theater, who fashions himself an actor just as important as actors in New York and London. The people in town treat him like a mini-celebrity, despite only running the community theater. Played by Rod McCary.
  • Luann Fayette, Naomi Harper's flamboyant and flirtatious best friend. She is only seen once but mentioned several times. Played by Jennifer Richards.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Boylen, Iola's elderly, predominantly unseen parents, who live across the street from Thelma. Not much is mentioned of her father, but her mother is often alluded to as a grotesquely large, temperamental, T.V.-watching invalid. Although they are largely unseen, Mama once called out a greeting to an elderly woman living next to her whom she referred to as "Ms. Boylen." This was a brief moment from the episode "Mama Learns To Drive," from the show's first life (season 2), prior to the appearances of Iola.
  • Roselle Huplander, an obese acquaintance of Thelma and Iola who is never seen. On a few occasions Thelma has spoken to her over the phone, but more often she is gossiped about by Thelma and Iola. Once, at a church fair, she gave Vint a black eye when he suggested that she weighed 309 pounds at the "Guess Your Weight" booth he was running. The character was named after the show’s wig designer, Roselle Friedland.
  • Dwayne and T-Boy, Bubba's best friends, played by Beau Bishop and Grant Heslov respectively. More spoken of than ever seen.
  • Mr. Alan Hanson, an intelligent, laid-back night-school teacher of Thelma and Bubba and love interest of Thelma Harper. Her relationship with him is unceremoniously discontinued in the series, however. Played by Joseph Campanella.
  • Amy Johnson, girlfriend of Bubba Higgins. Played by Amy Benedict.
  • Lolly Purdue, member and later president (succeeding Thelma) of the Church Ladies League. Revealed to be illiterate. Played first by Doris Hess, then Marge Redmond.
  • Officer Sneed, an extremely youthful-looking, strange police officer. Played by Allan David Fox.
  • Claude Cainmaker, Vint's seedy friend, who is always thinking up schemes. Played by Geoffrey Lewis.
  • Alistair Quince, the erudite host who introduced Mama's Family during the first and second seasons. The character was a takeoff on Alistair Cooke, who at the time introduced Masterpiece Theater each week on PBS. These intros were edited out when the show went into syndication but have been restored in the DVDs released by StarVista/Time Life. The character first appeared as Alistair Cookie on The Carol Burnett Show. Played by Harvey Korman.
  • Mama Crowley (played by Vicki Lawrence), Thelma's dearly departed mother, who only appeared in flashback sequences or by photo. She had a dismal, forbidding appearance, constantly grimacing and wearing nothing but dark, somber dresses. She first appeared in the first NBC incarnation of the show (episode "Mama's Birthday") as a burly elderly woman with a surly nature. In this appearance, she spoke to a middle-aged Thelma over the phone. The conversation ended with Mama Crowley hanging up on Thelma, following Thelma's resentful protests against Mama Crowley's contemptuous remarks about her husband, Carl. Mama Crowley's second appearance was in the show's reincarnation in first-run syndication (episode "My Mama, Myself"). In this appearance, Mama Crowley appeared as a slender ghost, haunting Mama. Taking on a menacing, overbearing, and harassing nature, she spent the entirety of the episode relentlessly criticizing, insulting, ordering about and hissing at Thelma. On more than one episode of the show's second life, Thelma alluded to needing forbearance in dealing with her mother's harassing, censorious nature growing up. For example, in the episode "Mama Makes Three," Thelma visited a psychiatrist with Vinton and Naomi. During the session, she began ranting and raving about her childhood and her mother, even referring to Mama Crowley as a "complainful stubborn old biddy." Vinton has also described Mama Crowley as being "mean" in her treatment of him, Eunice, and Ellen when they were all children.
  • Church Ladies League, also known as CLL. Their motto is "Gentle Helpers; Kind and Good" and First Lady Alberta Meechum served as the first president. Members include Thelma Harper, Lolly Purdue, Iola Boylen, Roselle Huplander, Inez, and Florence. The association was first mentioned in "Where's There's Smoke", when Mama was nominated for president of the Church Ladies League. It was mentioned later in the episodes "Reading the Riot Act", "Ladies Choice" and "Mama's Medicine Show". Their award bears the name "Church Ladies League Woman of the Year."


Season Episodes First aired Last aired Network
1 13 January 22, 1983 (1983-01-22) May 7, 1983 (1983-05-07) NBC
2 22 September 29, 1983 (1983-09-29) April 7, 1984 (1984-04-07)
3 25 September 27, 1986 (1986-09-27) March 28, 1987 (1987-03-28) Syndicated
4 25 September 26, 1987 (1987-09-26) March 26, 1988 (1988-03-26)
5 25 November 5, 1988 (1988-11-05) May 27, 1989 (1989-05-27)
6 20 September 23, 1989 (1989-09-23) February 24, 1990 (1990-02-24)

Altogether, Mama's Family had six seasons consisting of 130 episodes. The show's first life consisted of thirty-five episodes, making for two seasons. The show's second life consisted of ninety-five episodes, making for four seasons.

Favorites of Vicki Lawrence[edit]

On September 30, 2013, Vicki Lawrence was asked what her favorite episodes of the series are:

  • Lawrence answered that among the early seasons, her favorite is the episode "The Wedding (Part 2)." Her reason for favoring this episode is the big names featured in it. She listed Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Betty White, Ken Berry and Dorothy Lyman. In admiration, Lawrence remarked, "How much help does one girl get?" and "It's just an amazing supporting cast. Dear God, Carol was funny in that show!"[24]
  • Lawrence has described another favorite from the early seasons as the episode "Rashomama," which is a takeoff on the Japanese film Rashomon. The episode is about Mama getting hit with a kettle in the kitchen and it is her, Betty, Dorothy, and Carol. At the emergency room, the three of them all have different versions of what happened to Mama. Lawrence explained, "We redo the scene three different ways, and it's pretty funny."[24]
  • As other episode favorites, Lawrence has named "Family Feud" and "Mama on Jeopardy!" Lawrence stated she loved having this dysfunctional family sent out into the real world. In particular, she enjoyed the inclusion of game shows because "people know the format of these shows so perfectly, and to watch this crazy family get stuck in that format was really fun to me. Probably because I also love game shows so much."[24]
  • As another episode favorite, Lawrence named "The Love Letter." Stated Lawrence, "It was a great episode, a record-holder actually. I think Bubba writes a love letter for Vint, who is having some problems with Naomi. In the course of the 22-minute episode, everybody thinks that the love letter is meant for them. Mama thinks it is for her from the repair guy who is there. Iola is sure Vint has written it to her. The show actually ran 22 minutes with no costume changes or anything. I remember the night that we did it. We did it in 22 minutes and were out at 7:25, and our director said, 'Good night, you're done!'" Lawrence added, "Honestly, I have to say, by the time we finished the show, we had it down to a four-day workweek, so I kind of felt like we got paid to play dress up really."[24]


  • Season 1: #59
  • Season 2: #66

Home media[edit]

DVD Cover Art
DVD information
Mama's Family—The Complete First Season

On September 26, 2006, Warner Bros. Television released season 1 of Mama's Family on DVD. The DVD release features the syndicated versions of the episodes, which edits roughly three minutes from what originally aired. Warner Bros. claimed to only own the rights to the syndicated form.[27]

Due to issues relating to ownership rights between the show's production companies, Mama's Family for a long time had difficulties coming out on DVD, with only its first season available for many years.

However, in May 2013, it was announced that StarVista Entertainment would release all 6 seasons of the sitcom to DVD, as well as a complete series box set, which was available only through the StarVista website. Most of the original unedited versions, dubbed "The Joe Hamilton Cuts," were presented on DVD. Included with the package were extras of over 10 hours of bonus material, as well as a new cast reunion with Vicki Lawrence and the show's syndicated cast members. In addition, StarVista offered a "Signature" collection of the entire series, autographed by Vicki Lawrence, which was limited to 500 copies.[28]

In the fall of 2013, Star Vista began releasing individual season sets, Seasons 1 & 2 were released on September 10, 2013,[29] followed by season 3 on February 25, 2014.[30] Season 4 was released on June 24, 2014,[31] Season 5 on September 23, 2014[32] and the sixth and final season was released on February 10, 2015.[33] In conjunction with the complete seasons, Star Vista released a "best-of" single-disc unit for each season. Selected by Vicki Lawrence, each release has 6 (season 1 has 7) of her personal favorite episodes from each season.

Release Ep # DVD release date Bonus features
The Complete 1st Season 13 September 26, 2006
(re-released September 10, 2013)
Featurette: Mama's Family Tree: The Branches (All About Eunice and Ellen)

Family History: A Classic "Family" Sketch from The Carol Burnett Show, featuring Betty White

The Complete 2nd Season 22 September 10, 2013
The original TV movie Eunice

Featurette: Mama's Family Tree: The Roots (all about Mama and Fran)
Interviews: Vicki Lawrence interviews Mama; Vicki Lawrence and Carol Burnett; Betty White

The Complete 3rd Season 25 February 25, 2014
Family History: A Classic "Family" Sketch from The Carol Burnett Show, featuring Maggie Smith

Featurette: Mama's Family Tree: The Sprouts (All about Bubba)
Mama Knows Best: A Mama's Family Cast Reunion
Interview: Allan Kayser (Bubba)

The Complete 4th Season 25 June 24, 2014
Featurette: Mama's Family Tree: The Neighbors (All about Iola)

Interview: Beverly Archer (Iola Boylen)
Under One Roof: A Mama's Family Cast Reunion

The Complete 5th Season 25 September 23, 2014 Interviews:

Vicki Lawrence
Dorothy Lyman
Ken Berry
Rick Hawkins

The Complete 6th Season 20 February 10, 2015 Interviews:

Jim Evering
Manny Basanese
Vicki Lawrence and Rick Hawkins
Bob Mackie and Ret Turner

Mama's Family: Mama's Favorites (Season 1) 7 September 10, 2013 "Vint and the Kids Move In", "The Wedding, pt. 1", "The Wedding, pt. 2"; "Cellmates", "Family Feud", "Positive Thinking", "Mama's Boyfriend"
Mama's Family: Mama's Favorites (Season 2) 6 September 10, 2013 "Country Club", "Rashomama", "Aunt Gert Rides Again", "Mama Learns to Drive", "Mama Buys a Car", "Dear Aunt Fran"
Mama's Family: Mama's Favorites (Season 3) 6 September 9, 2014 "Soup to Nuts", "Cat's Meow", "Steal One, Pearl Two", "Where There's Smoke", "Birthright", "It Takes Two to Watusi"
Mama's Family: Mama's Favorites (Season 4) 6 January 27, 2015 "Zirconia's are a Girl's Best Friend", "Educating Mama", "The Sins of the Mother", "Mama on Jeopardy!", "Mama Goes Hawaiian, pt. 1", "Mama Goes Hawaiian, pt. 2"
Mama's Family: Mama's Favorites (Season 5) 6 April 28, 2015 "Naomi's New Position"; "The Really Loud Family", "Found Money", "Mama's Layaway Plan", "Mama in One", "Dependence Day"
Mama's Family: Mama's Favorites (Season 6) 6 July 28, 2015 "Mama Fights Back", "Bubba's House Band", "The Big Nap", "Pinup Mama", "Look Who's Breathing", "Bye-Bye Baby!"
The Complete Series 130 September 10, 2013
(online exclusive)
September 23, 2014
(retail release)

Awards and nominations[edit]

Primetime Emmy Awards[edit]

Year Category Nominee(s) Episodes(s) Result
1983 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Costumes for a Series Bob Mackie and Ret Turner for ""The Wedding: Part 2" Nominated
1984 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Costumes for a Series Bob Mackie and Ret Turner for "Mama's Birthday" Won
1987 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Costumes for a Series Bob Mackie and Ret Turner for "The Love Letter" Nominated

TV Land Awards[edit]

Year Category Nominee(s) Episodes(s) Result
2004 Favorite "Big, Bad Momma" Vicki Lawrence N/A Won

Young Artist Awards[edit]

Year Category Nominee(s) Episodes(s) Result
1984 Best Young Actress in a Comedy Series Karin Argoud N/A Nominated
Best Young Actor in a Comedy Series Eric Brown N/A Nominated
1985 Best Young Actress – Guest in a Television Series Tanya Fenmore for "Mama's Birthday" Nominated
Best Young Actor – Guest in a Television Series David Friedman for "Mama's Birthday" Nominated
1989 Best Young Actor Guest Starring in a Syndicated Comedy, Drama or Special Ryan Bollman for "Child's Play" Nominated
Best Young Actor Guest Starring in a Drama or Comedy Series Allan Kayser N/A Nominated


After the series finale in 1990, the entire series (including the NBC episodes) was placed in off-network syndication, airing in most cities every weekday. Mama's Family also ran on TBS from January 1997 until August 2006 premiering weekday mornings. In October 1998, TBS aired a full hour of Mama’s Family weekday afternoons at 6:05 pm/et and then moved the show to 4:05pm/et in November 1998.[34] That same month, ION Television (formerly the PAX network) began airing reruns of the series. The show aired Monday through Friday at 8:00 to 9:00 pm from 2006 to 2008. ET.[34]

In December 2006, CMT began re-airing the series.[35]

Mama's Family currently airs on Logo TV.

International versions[edit]

An Italian version called La mamma è sempre la mamma (Mom is always mom) aired on Odeon TV in 1988.

Post-television show appearances of Thelma Harper/Mama[edit]

Vicki Lawrence as Thelma Harper, 2009
  • Vicki Lawrence has been reprising her role of Mama in her untelevised touring stage show, entitled Vicki Lawrence and Mama: A Two-Woman Show. In the show, Lawrence first performs stand-up comedy as herself, then comes out in character as Mama, giving her opinions on modern-day topics. During the break between the two acts, the audience is shown bloopers from the syndicated seasons of the series. Lawrence also sings the lyrics she wrote for "Bless My Happy Home," the show's theme song, which were omitted from the version used on-air.
  • Lawrence has also appeared in her Mama role on several Halloween-themed episodes of the 1998–2004 run of Hollywood Squares with Tom Bergeron at the helm.
  • Lawrence appeared on RuPaul's Drag Race in the "All-Stars" season as Mama in the skit "RuPaul’s Gaff-In."
  • Lawrence appeared on The Queen Latifah Show as Mama the Monday after Mother's Day 2014 in a comical skit that aired prior to each commercial break. Lawrence also appeared on the show 8 days later alongside two other well-known actresses to speak about her role of Mama and her personal life.
  • Lawrence resurrected the character in promos for reruns of Mama's Family on the MeTV channel in 2015–2016.[36]
  • Lawrence resurrected the character during the 2015 and 2016 TV seasons of The Doctors, where she talked about health-related issues.


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Vicki Lawrence". The Interviews: An Oral History of Television. 22 October 2017. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  2. ^ "Vicki Lawrence on the comedy legacy of "Mama's Family," now on DVD". Retrieved 2013-10-05.
  3. ^ "Seven Questions with Vicki Lawrence of Mama's Family; Charmed Coming to Lifetime to Compliment [sic] Witches of East End, Project Runway All-Stars with Alyssa Milano – News Blog". Retrieved 11 May 2015.
  4. ^ "Interesting facts about Vicki Lawrence". Archived from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 2013-03-09.
  5. ^ "Vicki Lawrence - Mama's Family Theme Song With Lyrics - Lorain Palace - 3/11/17". Archived from the original on 2021-12-21.
  6. ^ "Mama Sings the 'Mama's Family' Theme!". Archived from the original on 2021-12-21.
  7. ^ Lawrence, Vicki. "Vicki Lawrence and Mama: A Two Woman Show". The Broker Company. United States. Retrieved December 17, 2021.
  8. ^ Brooks, Marla (2005). The American Family on Television: A Chronology of 121 shows, 1948–2004. McFarland & Co. p. 141. ISBN 0-7864-2074-X.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g "Vicki Lawrence Reflects on 'Mama's Family' Legacy and Reveals Her Favorite Episodes (Q&A)". The Hollywood Reporter. 2013-06-09. Retrieved 2013-09-07.
  10. ^ a b "FILMING LOCATION SPOTLIGHT – "MAMA'S FAMILY"". Limelight. United States. September 11, 2020. Retrieved January 18, 2022.
  11. ^ Hawkins, Rick. "Rick Hawkins". Mama's Family The Complete 5th Season DVD (Interview). Interviewed by Mama's Family The Complete 5th Season DVD.
  12. ^ Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle (2007). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946–Present (9 ed.). Random House Digital, Inc. p. 843. ISBN 978-0-345-49773-4.
  13. ^ Lewis, Dan (1983-04-23). "A shaky reunion for 'Mama's Family'". Merced Sun-Star. p. 12. Retrieved 2 December 2012.
  14. ^ a b c Margulies, Lee (September 26, 1986). "THE FALL TV SEASON : TV REVIEWS". The Los Angeles Times. United States. Retrieved October 4, 2021.
  15. ^ Lyman, Dorothy. "Mama Knows Best: A Mama's Family Cast Reunion". Mama's Family The Complete 4th Season DVD (Interview). Interviewed by Mama's Family The Complete 4th Season DVD.
  16. ^ "Humor Helps Carol Burnett Cope – ABC News". Retrieved 2013-03-01.
  17. ^ Lawrence, Vicki; Eliot, Marc (1995). Vicki!: The True-Life Adventures Of Miss Fireball. Simon & Schuster. p. 164. ISBN 0-684-80286-4.
  18. ^ "'Mama's Family' hits top in field in sitcom". Eugene Register-Guard. 19 July 1987. p. 8E. Retrieved 2 December 2012.
  19. ^ "Mama's Family". The Interviews: An Oral History of Television. 22 October 2017. Retrieved 16 March 2019.
  20. ^ West, Beverly; Bergund, Jason (18 December 2007). TVtherapy: The Television Guide to Life – Beverly West, Jason Bergund – Google Books. ISBN 9780307423429. Retrieved 2013-03-09.
  21. ^ a b c d e "Ret Turner". The Interviews: An Oral History of Television. 17 June 2003. Retrieved 16 March 2019.
  22. ^ Karol, Michael (March 2004). Funny Ladies – Michael Karol – Google Books. ISBN 9780595312993. Retrieved 2013-03-09.
  23. ^ Indianapolis Monthly – Google Books. September 2003. Retrieved 2013-03-09.
  24. ^ a b c d e Pavan -- (2013-09-30). "Seven Questions with Vicki Lawrence of Mama's Family; Charmed Coming to Lifetime to Compliment Witches of East End, Project Runway All-Stars with Alyssa Milano – News Blog". Retrieved 2013-10-04.
  25. ^ "Comedian Vicki Lawrence talks about life with Mama – Theater & art". The Boston Globe. 2013-02-16. Retrieved 2013-02-27.
  26. ^ "Rue McClanahan". The Interviews: An Oral History of Television. 4 May 2006. Retrieved 16 March 2019.
  27. ^ "Chat transcripts with Warner Home Video TV and Animation". Retrieved 2007-10-18.
  28. ^ "Mama's Family DVD news: DVD Plans for Mama's Family". 2007-05-25. Archived from the original on 2013-06-07. Retrieved 2013-05-31.
  29. ^ "Mama's Family DVD news: Press Release for The Complete 1st Season and The Complete 2nd Season -". Archived from the original on 7 February 2015. Retrieved 11 May 2015.
  30. ^ "Mama's Family DVD news: Release Date for Mama's Family - The Complete 3rd Season -". Archived from the original on 7 February 2015. Retrieved 11 May 2015.
  31. ^ "Mama's Family DVD news: Press Release for Mama's Family - The Complete 4th Season -". Archived from the original on 7 February 2015. Retrieved 11 May 2015.
  32. ^ "Mama's Family DVD news: Release Date for The Complete 5th Season and The Complete Collection -". Archived from the original on 7 February 2015. Retrieved 11 May 2015.
  33. ^ "Mama's Family DVD news: Press Release for Mama's Family - The Complete 6th Season -". Archived from the original on 30 December 2014. Retrieved 11 May 2015.
  34. ^ a b Mama's Family Schedule
  35. ^ "CMT's PROGRAMMING HIGHLIGHTS FOR 12/25-12/31". 2006-12-25. Archived from the original on 2011-12-06. Retrieved 2 December 2012.
  36. ^ "METV Promos BTS". MeTV. Archived from the original on 2016-06-10. Retrieved 1 June 2016.


  • Mama for President: Good Lord, Why Not?, by Thelma Harper, as told to Vicki Lawrence and Monty Aidem, Thomas Nelson, 2008. ISBN 978-1-4016-0409-7
  • "Mama's Family": The Unofficial Episode Viewing Guide, by Andrew Whitenack, ANDDAR Publications, 2011. ISBN 1466292105

External links[edit]