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Norman Lear's Sanford and Son Premiered 49 Years Ago Today

  • On January 14, 1972, NBC premiered Sanford and Son, one of many Norman Lear sitcoms of the decade that featured edgier humor and social commentary that would have seemed unfathomable just a few years prior. Adapted from the British sitcom cSteptoe and Son, the show was transplanted to the Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles, and it became a huge ratings hit until it ended its six-season run in 1977. 

    The dynamic between salvage yard owner Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) and his son Lamont (Demond Wilson) often mirrored the one between Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor) and his son-in-law Meathead (Rob Reiner) on Lear's other hit sitcom All in the Family, which debuted a year prior — the cantankerous, stubborn, bigoted elder and the more thoughtful and progressive son — although Sanford never much went for the dramatic moments, preferring instead to let Fred get into all sorts of shenanigans and get-rich-quick schemes. 

    One of the show's running gags was Fred faking heart attacks to get sympathy, which happens within the first six minutes of the very first episode, seen above in its entirety. The show also featured one of the most iconic sitcom theme songs of all time, a piece called "The Streetbeater" composed by the great Quincy Jones. 

    Sanford and Son ended when Foxx, a stand-up comedy legend in his own right, left to host a variety show on ABC called The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour. There were a few spin-off attempts that didn't work. One was during the show's run, taking Fred's best friend Grady Wilson (Whitman Mayo) and giving him his own show called Grady. Another was called Sanford Arms, which focused on a new family who bought the junkyard from the Sanfords, but no one really wanted to watch a version of Sanford and Son without Sanford or Son involved (Whitman Mayo returned as Grady). Foxx himself even attempted a revival in 1980 that was just titled Sanford, because Wilson did not participate.

    Andy Hunsaker has a head full of sitcom gags and nerd-genre lore, and can be followed @AndyHunsaker if you're into that sort of thing.

    TOPICS: Sanford And Son , Demond Wilson, Norman Lear, Redd Foxx