Hollywood Flashback: Norman Lear’s ‘Good Times’ Rolled 50 Years Ago

The legacy of Good Times continues 50 years on, as Netflix rolls out an animated reboot of the series on April 12.

The original CBS sitcom, created by Eric Monte and Mike Evans and developed by Norman Lear, offered a heartfelt focus on a working-class Black family and starred Esther Rolle as Florida Evans and John Amos as husband James, who were raising three kids in a Chicago public housing project. Rolle and Amos originated their characters on Maude, a spinoff of Lear’s seminal comedy All in the Family.

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BernNadette Stanis, who was a teen when she landed her first-ever role as middle child Thelma, tells The Hollywood Reporter that Lear let her improvise audition lines with Jimmie Walker, who was already cast as older bro J.J. “I started in on Jimmie just like I would treat my real brothers,” says Stanis, who recalls stunning Walker when she playfully smacked his shoulder.

The series premiered Feb. 8, 1974. Credited as the first sitcom to focus on a two-parent Black family, Good Times earned praise for its depiction of a lower-income household and for tackling topics — including unemployment, evictions, crime and discrimination — that weren’t common fodder for TV comedy.

“The show had an impact on the whole sociological face of America and covered so many issues that are relevant today,” Amos tells THR. Good Times was also famous for Walker’s “Dynomite!” catchphrase, which became a point of contention for the show’s creative forces. Walker shared during a 2014 TCA panel that Lear, a champion of character-driven comedy, was never a fan of the line: “It literally made him throw up.”

Amos exited Good Times after three seasons (his character met an untimely death just as it seemed the family was poised to escape the projects) and has discussed frustration with such elements as the focus on J.J.’s antics, which some saw as buffoonery. But he and Lear, who died in December, patched things up and collaborated on other projects. “Even though we had our differences, we got back together again, and we respected each other,” says Amos. The show went through various cast changes, with Janet Jackson joining for seasons five and six.

Ahead of the fifth season, THR’s review emphasized that each of the remaining characters “can carry the ball, with the program’s appeal intact.” Says Stanis, who reunited with the team for ABC’s Live in Front of a Studio Audience special in 2019, “When we got on the set on Thursdays, we were really a family.”

This story first appeared in the April 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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