This is the thirty-fifth in a series of examinations of legends about television and the people involved in TV and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous TV urban legends.
TV LEGEND: The Golden Girls spun out of a joke at an NBC function introducing the 1984-85 NBC lineup.
Quite often, to this very day, networks make a big production out of introducing their new fall lineups to basically anyone who will listen.
This was true back during the 1980s, as well, and in 1984, NBC was filming an “all-star special” to promote their 1984-85 TV schedule.
One of their biggest shows, hype-wise, was the brand-new police drama, Miami Vice…
Well, during the special, two of NBC older actresses, Selma Diamond (from a show that had debuted as a mid-season replacement in January of 1984, Night Court)…
and Doris Roberts (Remington Steele)…
did a skit that revolved around Diamond mishearing the title as “Miami Nice,” where Diamond would jest that the show must be about a bunch of old people in Miami playing pinochle.
The skit got a big laugh from the NBC executives, who also thought, “Hey, there might be an actual show there” (specifically Warren Littlefield, senior vice president for NBC entertainment under Brandon Tartikoff).
A few weeks later, two TV producers, Paul Witt and Tony Thomas, were pitching Littlefield on a series about a young female lawyer. Littlefield turned them down, but he asked them to pitch him on “Miami Nice,” instead. Witt was incredulous, but Littlefield insisted him that he was very serious about the concept, so Witt went back to his wife, Susan Harris (who presumably was going to be a writer for the proposed female lawyer show) with the idea and she wrote up a pilot script. Littlefield LOVED it.
The rest is, as you know, television history….
Thanks to Jon Anderson of the Chicago Tribune and Nicholas Fonseca of Entertainment Weekly (working 24 years apart) and Susan Harris for the information!
TV LEGEND: John Amos quit Good Times.
Good Times was a spin-off, of sorts, from Maude, with her housekeeper Florida Evans (played by Esther Rolle) and her husband, James (John Amos) getting their own show examining their home life. The “of sorts” part is the fact that Maude took place in New York and on Maude, James’ name was Henry. Besides the name change and the show now being set in Chicago, no mention of Maude is ever made. It’s basically like they just took the basic idea of a lower-class family led by Florida Evans and her husband and started from scratch, otherwise.
Both Rolle and Amos believed that the show would be about the struggles of a husband and wife as they try to raise their kids life in tough economic times (Rolle specifically liked the idea that the show would depict a “traditional” family, and not a single mother). However, the eldest son on the show, JJ, played by Jimmie Walker, clearly became the breakout character on the show.
JJ was a buffoonish goofball, and soon the stories in the series became less of the plight of a working class African-American family in modern society and more about what wacky antics JJ would get up to that week. And America ate it up! Good Times made it to the Top Ten in its second season!
Amos and Rolle were both appalled at how the show had evolved (or, as I imagine they would argue, devolved), and they were quite vocal about it (Rolle a bit more publicly so – Amos kept his criticisms behind the scenes directly with the producers of the show).
It is often said that Amos, sick of the situation, quit the program after the third season (heck, Amos’ Wikipedia page says, “Unhappy with the scripts and tension with producers, he quit the show after the third season.”).
This is not true, though, although, in a lot of ways, I suppose it is pretty darn close. Amos’ option was not picked up for the fourth season, so he was effectively fired. However, it was pretty clear that his constant clashes with the writers and the producers directly led to his being let go, so if you want to REALLY stretch things, you could argue he quit by making it impossible to keep him. That’s a stretch, though, especially since Amos definitely did not want to leave.
The writers got their revenge on Amos by killing him off in the first episode of the fourth season. Now stuck on a show with a premise diametrically opposed to what she had originally signed on for, Rolle was not happy, either. She hung on for another season in the hopes that perhaps the death of her character’s husband would bring about some growth in JJ’s character (some maturation as he became the nominal “man of the house”), but after seeing little to that effect in season four, Rolle quit the show. She eventually returned for the sixth (and final) season of the show.
Thanks to John Amos (who has repeated this information in dozens of interviews over the years, and yet it still gets perpetuated – and it’s not like anyone disagrees with him, the rumors just started in 1976 and have kept going for over twenty years!) for the information!
TV LEGEND: Richard Dawson married a contestant from the Family Feud.
Richard Dawson was the original host of the very popular game show, the Family Feud, where two teams (each team consisting of five family members) would compete against each other based on their knowledge of what 100 Family Feud audience members would respond to different questions, such as “Name a U.S. President” or “Name something you save up for.”
In a 1981 episode, there was a very special guest…Richard Dawson’s future wife!
Yep, in 1991, Richard Dawson ended up marrying one of the contestants that he first met when she appeared as a contestant on the Family Feud ten years earlier!! The 78-year-old Dawson is still married to Gretchen (born Gretchen Johnson) and they have a 20-year-old daughter, Shannon Nicole Dawson.
Here is the introduction of Gretchen’s family…
She is on the far right.
Here she is when Richard kisses her for the first time…
and here she is when she plays for “Fast Money” at the end of the show (her family won the money)…
Isn’t that neat?
It’s a fun way to meet your future in-laws, at the very least (even if they didn’t know that at the time)!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org