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“Good Times” ahead

January 17, 2011

By Kyle Huneycutt, A&E Editor

The Civil Rights movement has had an incredible impact on virtually every aspect of the entertainment industry including music, movies, books and much more; but one of the best ways to actually see and understand the transition that African Americans experienced throughout this movement is by observing the iconic television series that aired throughout this time period and revolved around the lives of African American families for the first time in history.

The Civil Rights movement generally began in the 1950s, but the first time viewers at home watched a television show with an all African American cast did not occur until the late 1960s. These are shows that, today, any family is familiar with and are simply another aspect of our society’s culture; however, when they originally aired, these shows represented the changing times taking place in America.

Some of television’s earliest examples include the premiere of “Julia” in 1968, which the first show to depict an African American woman in a role other than a servant, or Fred and Lamont Sanford and their dubious money-making schemes in “Sanford and Son,” broadcasted in 1972.

One of the earliest TV series to air that concentrates on the fictional home life of an African American family, also serves as a reflection of the effects the Civil Rights movement. “Good Times” originally aired in 1974, and focuses on the struggles and obstacles of the Evans family as they try to get by while living in the infamous and impoverished projects of Chicago. Despite having a limited income, the Evans represented the eventual benefits that result from determination, perseverance and the importance of sticking together through hard times.

Soon after “Good Times,” a new show premiered in 1975 that would be a turning point for television sitcoms. “The Jeffersons,” which lasted for 11 seasons, holds the record for being the longest running TV show with a predominately black cast. Where the Evans had been a family struggling to make ends meet, the Jeffersons were an upper-middle class family not unlike any other family in America.

The main difference between “Good Times” and “The Jeffersons” is that “Good Times” was about a black family trying to live their lives. “The Jeffersons” was more about a family living their lives.

The progressive pattern continues with the premiere of “The Cosby Show” in 1984. The show is about an affluent family living in Brooklyn. The famous comedian Bill Cosby portrays obstetrician Cliff Huxtable who is married to attorney Clair Huxtable, resulting in a very lucrative lifestyle.

Unlike its predecessors, “The Cosby Show” barely mentions any issues of race, rather focusing on comedic material and some more serious issues including teen pregnancy, dyslexia and the obstacles that come with raising a family. Many more shows have followed “The Cosby Show” into the nineties such as “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Family Matters” and many more continue to surface in the 21 century with no particular emphasis on race such as “Lincoln Heights” and “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.”

Now, the later shows focus more on entertainment, but through the television series like “Good Times” and “The Jeffersons” the bar was set for a brighter future in the entertainment industry.

UPDATE1 (11:18 a.m.) — Added hyperlink to “Julia” from Museum of Broadcast Education.

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