On January 18, 1975, the first ever-episode of The Jeffersons aired on CBS, kicking off an 11 season run.
As All in the Family fans know well, this wasn't the first appearance for characters. Lionel Jefferson (Mike Evans) appeared on the very first episode of All in the Family in 1971, and his mother Louise (Isabel Sanford) showed up on the eighth episode, when they became neighbors with Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor) in his Queens neighborhood. George didn't appear until Season 4, because Norman Lear had written the part — as sort of a mirror image of the stubborn, opinionated Archie, but with a more upbeat attitude — specifically for Sherman Hemsley, and had to wait until he was free from his Broadway commitments. Watching the flamboyant Hemsley in action, it's hard to imagine anyone else playing that role.
The premise of the show is that the Jeffersons managed to be successful enough to move on up into a fancy Manhattan high-rise apartment building, which at the time was rare for a black family, as evidenced by Diane's reaction in the clip above to finding out that Louise wasn't a maid like herself. This first episode ends with the Jeffersons hiring their own domestic, much to Louise's discomfort, introducing the snarky Florence (Marla Gibbs), who would become one of the most popular characters on the show. In typical Lear fashion, The Jeffersons dealt with plenty of different social issues, including having an interracial couple Helen (Roxie Roker) and Tom Willis (Franklin Cover) as their neighbors in the building, a sadly controversial subject at the time.
If this clip above looks familiar, you may have watched ABC's Live in Front of a Studio Audience, which restaged both George Jefferson's first appearance on All in the Family and the pilot episode of The Jeffersons back in 2019. That special presentation also included Jennifer Hudson's knockout rendition of Ja'Net Dubois' classic theme song. If we're honest, when we think about The Jeffersons, this song gets in our head for days, and we don't mind it at all.
Trivia note: Du'Bois was also one of the stars of Lear's Good Times, playing Florida's neighbor Willona Woods.
The Jeffersons ran from 1975 until 1985, winning 14 Emmy Awards. Sadly it ended without a proper series finale. CBS cancelled the show so abruptly that most of the cast was not aware that it was ending until they saw it in the news, which is more than a little disrespectful for such a long-running hit show.
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: The Jeffersons, All in the Family, Isabel Sanford, Norman Lear, Sherman Hemsley