“Hey Hey Hey!” Celebrating the importance and legacy of the 1970’s Black Sitcom Era.

Kendall Rivers
5 min readApr 15, 2023

Hey Hey Hey! The 70's was a funky and groovy time for many reasons, but on the tv front the second golden age of sitcoms reigned supreme with giant hits that included All in The Family, Barney Miller, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, M.A.S.H. etc. But one of the greatest parts of that era was the renaissance of sitcoms featuring predominatly black casts that were hilarious, heartwarming as well as bold and topical. Not since the cancellation of Amos & Andy did a network have the guts and the balls to produce sitcoms with black leads and to tell those stories from the specific black point of view that still managed to be universal. Sure you had Julia starring the great late Diahann Carroll, but she and her fictional son were the only major black characters on the show. The 70's would give us shows that had a predominate if not all black cast, starting with Sanford and Son starring Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson which debuted to astronomical numbers and started a renaissance of black television because as Demond Wilson aka Lamont Sanford once said: “television likes to jump on the bandwagon.”

John Amos and Esther Rolle.

The sixties paved the way with hit shows such as I Spy, Hogan’s Heroes, Mission: Impossible, Star Trek, and more having major black characters in pivotol roles. But the seed planted in the sixties grew a whole tree in the 1970s and changed the face of television forever. All In The Family developed by Norman Lear inspired by popular British sitcom “Till death do us part” got the ball rolling when lovable bigot Archie Bunker’s nightmare came true and a black family named The Jeffersons moved in next door. Louise, Lionel, Henry and later George quickly became fan favorites

Archie, Weezy and George in All In The Family.

The popularity of The Jeffersons as well as the plead from the black community to see more diverse depictions on television of the black race led Norman Lear, Don Nicholl, Michael Ross and Bernie West to spin off the beloved family to their own series where The Jeffersons moved on up to the east side. The show ended up running for eleven seasons from 1975–1985 and became a landmark sitcom and one of television’s longest running sitcoms, especially featuring a predominantly black cast.

Cast of The Jeffersons.

But if we want to really get into where this huge reniassance of black television of the decade started we’d have to travel back to 1972 when Sanford and Son premiered on NBC and took over the world.

Cast of Sanford and Son.

Starring late great comic genius Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson, Sanford and Son was the first sitcom with a black cast to be produced and aired since the cancellation of Amos & Andy. That first episode would garner a 52 share (That’s basically as much eyeballs as the Superbowl gets these days if not more) and become an instant classic in the eyes of people of all colors who fell in love with Fred Sanford and his lovable crew. The show was such a hit that NBC and the other two networks wanted to chase that success, and that really got the ball rolling with Good Times, The Jeffersons, That’s My Momma, What’s Happening, and others hitting the small screen.

Cast of That’s My Mama.
Cast of Diff’Rent Strokes.
Raj, Rerun and Dwayne.
The Evans family in front of the classic 1974 Tv Guide cover.

Each of these shows represented different aspects of black life. Good Times and Sanford and Son represented the working class family lifestyle that many black families in America could identify with, and even families of different persuasians could watch and see some of their own financial struggles in the plights of the Sanfords and the Evanses. What’s Happening gave us a glimpse at the lives of typical american teenagers who just so happened to be black. A strong single mother household, and just wild hijinks and fun to be had. That’s My Momma put the spotlight on the strong bond between a mother and her son as well as seeing black people in the workplace making That’s My Momma one of the first black workplace sitcoms. Diff’Rent Strokes was the first (and still one of the few) interacial families in television. It showed us that love, family and laughter went beyond color. The Jeffersons showed a rags to riches story from a black perspective with George Jefferson going from one dry cleaning store to a whole chain and moving from a modest blue collar neighborhood in Queens to a deluxe apartment in the sky in Manhattan. The Jeffersons paved the way for other sitcoms with well to do black families on television such as The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, The Hughleys, My Wife and Kids and Blackish just to name a few. These shows didn’t just influence television, they very much influenced pop culture in general with various catchphrases, clothing styles and dances becoming iconic and still remembered to this day.

These shows were set and made in the 1970's but they have been passed down from generation to generation due to the timelessness of the humor and the identifiable real life aspects that are still relevant in society today.

It was an honor making my 200th article all about these classic gems. I want to thank everyone for supporting me by reading, clapping and sharing these little articles so that I can flex my creative muscles and entertain you all. With love and grace, see you for 200 more! And remember, sticking by me makes you out of sight. I got mad love for my readers like I got love for kid…

Till next time, folks!

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Kendall Rivers

Kendall is a screenwriter who’s a huge fan of classic tv and movies. He enjoys creating good stories and characters. https://www.facebook.com/kendall.rivers.3