Good Times has been a topic discussed by Janet Jackson in her new documentary that aired on A&E and Lifetime, but did you know why Janet Jackson was added to show?
Famed actress Esther Rolle would make TV history with the cast of ‘Good Times‘ in the mid-70s. Unfortunately after the shows 4th season, Rolle would leave the show.
Good Times started airing in 1974 and was television’s first black sitcom with a two parent home. Esther Rolle was previously in multiple episodes of “Maude” and that series became the spin-off for ‘Good Times.’
CREATING TELEVISION’S FIRST BLACK FAMILY SITCOM
Although viewers witnessed a father figure on “Sanford & Son,” Fred Sanford did not have a wife or children under the age of 18. So, television watchers were seeing a full family unit under ‘Good Times’. The show’s original plan by the producers was to have only a mother on the program, but Esther Rolle was determined to have a father for her children.
The actress grew up in a home with a strong father figure and wanted that presented on television. In an interview with Ebony Magazine in 1978 she stated, “I had a good father. I wanted the characters to portray a family as mine did”.
Esther Rolle put her job on the line as back then that type of tenacity was risky. The show’s producer Norman Lear was pretty adamant about not having a father in the sitcom. Not only that, but because the show was based around the Florida Evans character that Esther Rolle would portray.
She asked the question before production began, “Am I going to have some say about this show? Remember I’ve been black the longest.”
THE JJ EFFECT
John Amos speaks on the different direction the show took when the writers started focusing a bit too much on the comic relief of JJ. “Good Times intended to be a show focused on parenting in the black household, incorporating a humorous twist to a serious topic”.
The fatherly figure on the show felt that the popularity of JJ led the writers astray from the original premise of the series. “But once producers got wind of how much viewers loved JJ, the focus became more about him and his shady escapades,” said John Amos in an interview.
Esther Rolle was in agreement with John Amos’ take as in a 1975 Ebony magazine interview, Rolle stated “He’s 18 and he doesn’t work. He can’t read or write. He doesn’t think. The show didn’t start out to be that. Little by little-with the help of the artist, I suppose, because they couldn’t do that to me. they have made JJ more stupid and have enlarged the role”.
JOHN AMOS GETS FIRED
Esther Rolle would leave an exclamation mark and message to the writers in that Ebony magazine interview. She would proclaim, “I did not agree to do a clown show for you to degrade young black men.”
She didn’t want all the comic relief of JJ edited, but wanted balance and unity on the show with the message. After countless disagreements with how a black family should be portrayed on television, John Amos would be released from the show indefinitely.
He was in agreement with Esther Rolle over the development of JJ’s character. Amos’ character would be killed off preventing any reason for a return after James Evan got into a fatal car accident looking for work.
ESTHER ROLLE DEPARTURE
As season 4 had Florida Evans without a husband, a new love interest was made. However, Rolle disliked the direction of her character moving on from James Evans so quickly. She also believed that Moses Gunn’s character of Carl Dixon did not match up with Florida. Rolle would eventually leave the show at the end of the season.
You can’t teach what the Jacksons had/have that’s a gift
— Gordo (@IsXaeOkay) January 29, 2022
ENTER JANET DUBOIS
With the parental figures for the Evans children gone, the writers decided to step up the motherly role with Janet Dubois. She portrayed the neighbor, Wilona Woods, in all the seasons. She was a favorite of the television audience and it only made continuity sense.
She would check in on JJ, Michael, and Thelma, but the writers knew the parental element that was on the program was still missing. This brought us to Penny Gordon, on season 5 of the series. She would be played by Michael Jackson‘s baby sister, Janet Jackson. “To meet her is to know instantly that talent is in the room.” – Norman Lear on Janet Jackson in ‘Good Times’ from her new documentary.
Check out Comedy Hype’s video on why Esther Rolle quit Good times and came back.