Sanford and Son

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Sanford and Son
Sanfordandsontitlecard.jpg
From the Sanford and Son opening credits: the sign above the Sanfords' home and workplace
GenreSitcom
Based onSteptoe and Son 
by Ray Galton
Alan Simpson
Developed byNorman Lear (uncredited)
StarringRedd Foxx
Demond Wilson
Theme music composerQuincy Jones
Opening theme"The Streetbeater"
Composer(s)Quincy Jones
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons6
No. of episodes135 (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)Bud Yorkin
Norman Lear (uncredited)
Producer(s)Aaron Ruben (1972–1974)
Bernie Orenstein & Saul Turteltaub (1974–1977)
Camera setupMulti-camera
Running time22–24 minutes
Production company(s)Tandem Productions
(billed as "A Bud Yorkin/Norman Lear Tandem Production",
copyrighted as "NorBud Productions")
DistributorPITS Films
(1978-1982)
Embassy Telecommunications (1982-1986)
Embassy Communications (1986-1988)
Columbia Pictures Television (1988-1995)
Columbia TriStar Television (1995-2002)
Sony Pictures Television
(2002-present)
Broadcast
Original channelNBC
Picture format1.33:1 (fullscreen)
Audio formatMonaural
Original runJanuary 14, 1972 (1972-01-14) – March 25, 1977 (1977-03-25)
Chronology
Followed bySanford Arms
Sanford
Related showsSteptoe and Son
Grady
 
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Sanford and Son
Sanfordandsontitlecard.jpg
From the Sanford and Son opening credits: the sign above the Sanfords' home and workplace
GenreSitcom
Based onSteptoe and Son 
by Ray Galton
Alan Simpson
Developed byNorman Lear (uncredited)
StarringRedd Foxx
Demond Wilson
Theme music composerQuincy Jones
Opening theme"The Streetbeater"
Composer(s)Quincy Jones
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons6
No. of episodes135 (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)Bud Yorkin
Norman Lear (uncredited)
Producer(s)Aaron Ruben (1972–1974)
Bernie Orenstein & Saul Turteltaub (1974–1977)
Camera setupMulti-camera
Running time22–24 minutes
Production company(s)Tandem Productions
(billed as "A Bud Yorkin/Norman Lear Tandem Production",
copyrighted as "NorBud Productions")
DistributorPITS Films
(1978-1982)
Embassy Telecommunications (1982-1986)
Embassy Communications (1986-1988)
Columbia Pictures Television (1988-1995)
Columbia TriStar Television (1995-2002)
Sony Pictures Television
(2002-present)
Broadcast
Original channelNBC
Picture format1.33:1 (fullscreen)
Audio formatMonaural
Original runJanuary 14, 1972 (1972-01-14) – March 25, 1977 (1977-03-25)
Chronology
Followed bySanford Arms
Sanford
Related showsSteptoe and Son
Grady

Sanford and Son is an American sitcom, based on the BBC's Steptoe and Son, that ran on the NBC television network from January 14, 1972, to March 25, 1977.

Known for its edgy racial humor, running gags and catch phrases, the series was adapted by Norman Lear and considered NBC's answer to CBS's All in the Family. Sanford and Son has been hailed as the precursor to many other African American sitcoms. It was a ratings hit throughout its six season run.

While the role of Fred G. Sanford was known for his bigotry and cantankerousness, the role of Lamont Sanford was that of a conscientious peacemaker. At times, both characters would involve themselves in schemes. Other colorful/unconventional characters on the show included Aunt Esther, Grady Wilson, Bubba Bexley, and Rollo Lawson.

In 2007, Time magazine included the show on their list of the "100 Best TV Shows of All Time".[1]

Summary[edit]

Fred and Lamont Sanford

Sanford and Son stars Redd Foxx as Fred G. Sanford, a widower and junk dealer living at 9114 S. Central Ave. in the Watts neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles, California and Demond Wilson as his son Lamont Sanford. In his youth, Fred moved to South Central Los Angeles from his hometown of St. Louis.

After the show's premiere in 1972, newspaper ads touted Foxx as NBC's answer to Archie Bunker, the bigoted white protagonist of All in the Family. Both shows were adapted by Norman Lear from BBC programs. Sanford and Son was adapted from Steptoe and Son and All in the Family from Till Death Us Do Part.

Fred Sanford[edit]

Redd Foxx played Fred Sanford, portraying him as a sarcastic, irascible schemer whose frequent get-rich-quick ideas routinely backfired. His son Lamont longs for independence, but loves his father too much to move out on his own and leave the trouble-prone Fred unsupervised. Though each owns an equal share in the business (technically Fred is the boss), Lamont often finds himself doing all the work and ordering his father to complete tasks and duties. Fred often insults his son, usually calling him "dummy." Lamont returns the favor, referring to him as an "old fool." Despite this, the two share a close bond and regularly come to each other's aid. An episode in the second season featured a plot in which Fred and Lamont had such a heated argument over the business Lamont quit and went to work for one of Sanford and Son's chief rivals. Meanwhile, Fred filled Lamont's position with a lay-about who spent Fred's money on a useless item. When Lamont quits his job and Fred fires his new man, the two decide to reform their partnership, despite being too proud to admit they could not make it without each other.

According to Fred, his wife Elizabeth died around 1947. A running gag in the series would see Fred in times of distress, looking up (as to heaven) with his hand across his chest, faking a heart attack and saying, "This is The Big One, Elizabeth! I'm coming to join ya honey."[2] Fred raised Lamont alone and missed Elizabeth deeply. According to Fred, his son was named for Lamont Lomax, a (presumably fictional) pitcher from the Homestead Grays. In one episode, Lamont asks why he did not have a middle name; Fred tells him that Lamont is his middle name: he and Elizabeth never came up with a first name. However, it was revealed in the 3rd episode of the first season Lamont was named "Lamont Grady Sanford."

At first, Fred's main foil on the show is his sister-in-law and Lamont's aunt, Ethel (Beah Richards). Ethel's involvement in the Sanford family squabbles lasts until midway through the second season, where she was replaced with her more tart-tongued sister, Esther (LaWanda Page). Fred and Esther's relationship as in-laws goes on to become a major part of the plot. The two frequently trade insults, usually instigated by Fred, who contorts his face upon Esther's entrance and uses disparaging and colorful metaphors to describe her. Sometimes in response, Esther will say "Watch it, sucka!", attack Fred with her purse, and refer to him as "You old heathen." Esther's disdain for Fred goes back to when he and Elizabeth were dating; she disapproved of Fred marrying her sister.

A running gag on the show is that whenever Lamont threatens to move out or things are not going Fred's way, he will fake a heart attack and say something like, "You hear that, Elizabeth? I'm coming to join ya, honey!" No one, however, falls for the transparent ruse. Foxx himself died of a heart attack in 1991 during the filming of The Royal Family. Despite his stubbornness and irascible nature, Fred sometimes redeems himself with acts of kindness, even to those (like Esther) whom he insists he does not like. In the last episode of the series, Fred earns his high school diploma, and is the valedictorian of his graduating class.

Earlier in the show's run it adhered closer to the format of its British predecessor, Steptoe and Son with 16 episodes (12 in season one and 4 in season two) being re-made from the original "Galton and Simpson" scripts with Fred and Lamont often at odds over various issues. Fred and Lamont are also depicted as being equally manipulative. Fred manipulates with constant threats of "The big one" and avoids manual labor due to his "arthur-itis". In earlier episodes, Lamont through various antics would try and drive a wedge between his father and his girlfriend, Donna Harris (Lynn Hamilton), whom he sees as usurping his mother's place.

Lamont Sanford[edit]

Demond Wilson played Lamont Sanford, who is depicted at times as the greedier of the two. In one episode, for example, he refuses to sell two coffins for less than what he thinks they were worth, despite the fact that this clearly upsets his superstitious father. Lamont sometimes receives his comeuppance for being disdainful of his father's habits and ways. (One example of this is the time Lamont is upbraided by a Nigerian woman he hopes to impress by "adopting" African culture; she considers his attitude towards Fred to be disrespectful.) There are moments when Lamont is shown to be naive and foolish, such as the episode where he invites his new "friends" over to play poker. His street-savvy father sees right away that they are out to cheat Lamont after they gain his confidence by letting him win a few smaller-stakes games. Fred then turns the tables on the scammers by pretending to be ignorant of poker himself, agreeing to play a few hands and then taking all of their money by means of a marked deck of cards and special glasses that allow him to see what he is dealing. A similar predicament befalls Lamont in the second season when he gets involved in an unethical deal by buying a possibly valuable Regency commode from a woman for a rock-bottom price, then selling it back to her husband at double the price. He then takes an offer from a third party for quadruple that price while Fred tries over and over again to warn him that he is doing something immoral. Lamont becomes so put out that he threatens to lock Fred in his bedroom. Finally, due to some investigation on Fred's part, it is revealed that Lamont has been scammed, the pot is a fake and the two men have made off with several hundred dollars of Lamont's money.

One constant with Lamont (particularly in the second season) is that he is always trying to find new ways to move up in the world, and away from the junk business; like his British counterpart, Harold Steptoe (played by Harry H. Corbett), but is often thwarted by Fred's interference. In the first episode, he buys a possibly valuable piece of porcelain from an elderly woman in Beverly Hills with the intention of selling at auction. However, Fred messes things up at the auction and Lamont ends up buying the piece back from himself. In the second season, Lamont buys a revolutionary war rifle from an auction with the intent to sell it for thousands. While investigating it, Fred accidentally fires the gun through the front window and he and Lamont spend all night wondering if he's accidentally killed the neighbor across the street. In a panic, Lamont melts the gun down with a blowtorch before realizing that the neighbor went out on a rare trip out of town. In one episode, he attempts to become an actor, Lamont and Rollo answer an ad for wannabe black film actors for an independent film company only to realize that it is really a pornographic film factory. In another episode, he answers an ad to travel around the world working on a tramp steamer, which would mean putting Fred in a nursing home, but Fred tricks him into not going. During the third season, Lamont attempts to open a side business with Julio selling used automobile parts. Fred is so put out by the idea that he moves out and into a flop house. Lamont eventually gets Fred to come home, but it is never said whether or not he changed his mind about the new business venture.

The most significant change in Lamont's character throughout the series was his attitude toward his work, his father and his future. In the very first episode, he is portrayed as hostile and angry toward Fred and the life he is forced to live, especially when Fred's interference ruins his plans; similar to the relationship of Harold Steptoe and Albert Steptoe (played by Wilfred Brambell). This would last through the middle of the first season, especially in an episode when he takes Fred out for his birthday and is angry and frustrated every time Fred says or does anything. At the end of the night, he becomes so angry that he abandons Fred at the restaurant, leaving his father to walk home in the rain. His attitude towards Fred would soften by mid-season as episodes tended to focus more on the two working together to solve a problem, as when several bill collectors converged on the house threatening to repossess their belongings. He would change throughout the series and become a man dedicated to his work and to his father, but also who would try new things and new ideas to better himself, such as when he attempts to embrace his African heritage or later when he tries to run for State Assemblyman.

Series progression[edit]

As the series progressed, however, it became more focused on Fred's antics and schemes, with Lamont often adopting the role of the gentler, more open-minded progressive who attempts to broaden his father's horizons, in much the same way that Mike attempts to broaden Archie's horizons on sister show All In The Family. A notable example of the softening of Lamont's character is his change in attitude towards Donna Harris (Lynn Hamilton), Fred's girlfriend. Early in the show's run Lamont derides her as "the barracuda" and is openly hostile towards her, attempting to ruin her relationship with his father at least twice. In later episode, however, Lamont invites Donna out to dinner with himself and his girlfriend, remarking that it would do his reputation good to be seen with "two lovely ladies."

Similarly, Fred is initially depicted as a man who, if not always ethically or culturally sensitive, has the wisdom of experience and significant street smarts. As the show goes on, Fred is seen getting into increasingly ludicrous situations, such as: faking an English accent to get a job as a waiter; convincing a white couple that an earthquake was really the "Watts Line" of the non-existent L.A. subway (a wordplay on the common phrase "WATS line"); taking over a play featuring George Foreman; or sneaking into a celebrity's private area, such as Lena Horne's dressing room or Frank Sinatra's hotel room. Many of these situations invariably revolve around Fred trying to make a quick buck.

One constant throughout the show is the loyalty of father and son to each other. Even in the show's earliest episodes when one or the other leaves the house, seemingly for good (Lamont moves out at least twice, and at one point he even puts Fred in an old folks' home), something always occurs that returns things back to normal. (Lamont gets homesick and worries about his father, or something does not work out and Lamont schemes his way back in; Lamont feels lonely without his father around the house thanks to a plan Fred hatched with his friend Bubba.)

Perhaps the best example of this bond between father and son occurs in the episode where a friend from Fred's past shows up and claims to be Lamont's real father. After hearing the news, Lamont tells a tearful Fred that he is "the only pop I've ever known" and as far as he is concerned, it is "always" going to be Sanford and Son. (In the humorous twist that closes the episode, it turns out the friend had actually slept with Aunt Esther, thinking she was her sister Elizabeth.) Lamont's birthday is mentioned in the third season episode "Libra Rising All Over Lamont" as September 27, 1940, although in a season five episode called "Ebenezer Sanford", Lamont says his birthday is in February.

Other characters[edit]

Nathaniel Taylor as Rollo Lawson

Episodes[edit]

SeasonEpisodesOriginally airedDVD release date
Season premiereSeason finale
114January 14, 1972 (1972-01-14)April 14, 1972 (1972-04-14)August 6, 2002
224September 15, 1972 (1972-09-15)March 16, 1973 (1973-03-16)February 4, 2003
324September 14, 1973 (1973-09-14)March 29, 1974 (1974-03-29)October 7, 2003
425September 13, 1974 (1974-09-13)April 25, 1975 (1975-04-25)March 30, 2004
524September 12, 1975 (1975-09-12)March 19, 1976 (1976-03-19)September 14, 2004
624September 24, 1976 (1976-09-24)March 25, 1977 (1977-03-25)June 7, 2005

Reception and cancellation[edit]

Sanford and Son has long been hailed as the precursor to many African American sitcoms, such as The Cosby Show. Although sometimes gregarious in its humor, Sanford and Son was groundbreaking for African Americans on television. James Whittle of The Washington Post called it "a show that broke new ground and paved the way for Cosby...". And Gene Siskel, known best for his critical reviews of both television and movies, said this: "What All in the Family did for the Caucasian race in our nation with television, Sanford and Son did for African Americans. It is one of the two most noted and significant African American sitcoms since the invention of television."

Sanford and Son was enormously popular during most of its run, and was one of the top ten highest-rated series on American television from its first season (1971–1972) through the 1975–1976 season.

With its coveted 8 p.m. Eastern Friday night time slot, Sanford and Son put enough of a dent into the middling audience of ABC's The Brady Bunch to drive it off the air in 1974. Sanford and Son peaked at #2 in the Nielsen ratings during the 1972–1973 season, and stayed there for three years in a row. The series was second only to All in the Family in terms of ratings. By the 1974–1975 season, Sanford and Son's high lead-in helped the entire NBC Friday night lineup to place in the coveted bracket of Top 20 shows (Chico and the Man, following Sanford, placed in the Top 10, while the police dramas The Rockford Files and Police Woman aired later in the evening and ranked in the lower reaches of the Top 20).

In the midst of taping episodes for the 1973–1974 season, Redd Foxx walked off the show in a salary dispute. His character was written out of the series for the rest of the season. The continuity of the show explained that Fred Sanford was away in St. Louis attending his cousin's funeral and leaving his friend Grady (Whitman Mayo) in charge of the business. NBC sued Foxx and as part of the settlement, Foxx later returned. Foxx had taped 18 of that season's 24 episodes before Fred "left for St. Louis." The show was still quite popular when it was canceled in 1977.

Ratings[edit]

Sanford and Son was a ratings hit through its six-season run on NBC. Despite airing in the Friday night death slot, it managed to peak at #2 in the ratings (behind All in the Family).

SeasonRankRating
1971–72#625.2
1972–73#227.6
1973–74#327.5
1974–75#229.6
1975–76#724.4 (Tied with Rhoda)
1976–77#2720.3

Production notes[edit]

The series was produced by Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin's Tandem Productions, which were also responsible for All in the Family. The two shows had a number of things in common. Both were based on popular British sitcoms and both were pioneers of edgy, racial humor that reflected the changing politics of the time. Both series also featured outspoken, working-class protagonists with overt prejudices. However, Sanford and Son differed from All in the Family and other Norman Lear shows of the era in that it lacked the element of drama. Sanford and Son helped to redefine the genre of black situation comedy.

The show was taped at the NBC Studios in Burbank, California.

Foxx did not appear in nine episodes due to his conflicts with the series producers Bud Yorkin and Norman Lear. Foxx was absent from the third season's final six episodes and the first three episodes of the fourth season (in which the episodes were held back from broadcast and aired later in the season). The series continued with Fred's best friend Grady Wilson stepping in to serve as guardian for Lamont.[3]

The pickup truck depicted in the series is a 1951 Ford, which was crashed on July 12, 1997 by its owner, Donald Dimmitt of Dimmitts Auto Salvage, a real-life junk dealer in Walnut Township, Marshall County, Indiana.[4]

Redd Foxx's Death[edit]

On October 11, 1991, during a break from rehearsals for Foxx's last sitcom The Royal Family he suffered a fatal heart attack on the set. (Adding still further to the irony is that the working title for the series was "Chest Pains.") Reportedly, co-star Della Reese and the rest of the cast and crew thought he was doing his classic: "It's the Big One... You hear that Elizabeth... I'm comin' to join ya', honey!"[5] fake heart attack routine he made famous on Sanford and Son, even going as far as collapsing to the floor, although that was not part of the usual schtick.[6] However, this heart attack was real, and Foxx never regained consciousness.

Theme music[edit]

Titled "The Streetbeater", the theme music was composed by Quincy Jones through A&M Records and released on record in 1973.[7] Although the song did not reach Billboard status, it has maintained mainstream popularity and is featured on Jones' greatest hits album.[8]

Spin-offs and 1980–1981 revival[edit]

After the series was canceled in 1977, a short-lived continuation featuring the supporting characters titled Sanford Arms aired. Whitman Mayo starred in a spin-off series, Grady, during the 1975–1976 season.

In 1980–1981, Foxx attempted to revive the show with the short-lived Sanford, but Demond Wilson refused to reprise his role as Lamont Sanford for the new series.

DVD releases[edit]

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has released all six seasons of Sanford and Son on Region 1 DVD between August 2002 and June 2005, with a Complete Series box set following in 2008.

DVD NameEp #Release Date
The First Season14August 6, 2002
The Second Season24February 4, 2003
The Third Season24October 7, 2003
The Fourth Season24March 30, 2004
The Fifth Season24September 14, 2004
The Sixth and Final Season24June 7, 2005
The Complete Series136October 28, 2008

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The 100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME". time.com. September 6, 2007. Retrieved 22 February 2010. 
  2. ^ Memorable, Quotes. "Sanford and Son". 
  3. ^ "Sanford and Son FAVORITE I'VE WATCHED THIS 276". TV.com. Retrieved 9 May 2013. 
  4. ^ Moor, Bill (2006-07-26). "'Sanford and Son' truck back on the road". South Bend Tribune. Retrieved 2008-09-02. 
  5. ^ "IMDb: Sanford and Son". Retrieved 2012-04-15. 
  6. ^ Ingram, Billy. TVparty!: Television's Untold Tales, Bonus Books, 2002, p. 262. ISBN 1-56625-184-2
  7. ^ Sanford & Son Theme (The Streetbeater) by Quincy Jones : Reviews and Ratings – Rate Your Music
  8. ^ Greatest Hits Manhattan by Quincy Jones @ ARTISTdirect.com

External links[edit]