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The History of Sanford & Son – Black History Month

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Sanford and Son is an all-time classic sitcom that broke barriers on television for blacks coming out of the civil rights movement.

Redd Foxx was notable for helping his childhood friends to also make history. LaWanda Page, Bubba, Leroy and Skillet, Pat Morita, and Gregory (Julio) were on the show due to their friendship to the iconic comedian. 

STEPTOE AND SON

Based off the United Kingdom sitcom, Steptoe and Son, Norman Lear brought a revamped version of the hit series to America. Steptoe and Son is fascinating, the characters hated one another but were trapped together in a toxic codependent relationship when they both wanted to escape – and the actors were the exact same. It originally aired on BBC One in the United Kingdom from 1962 to 1974.

THREE TIMES A CHARM

Sanford and Son wasn’t the first attempt at trying to create that magic in Hollywood. A United States version was tried twice before eventually morphing into the Sanford and Son we all know and love. Television Heaven described the long journey of ups and downs that came with the idea in North America through original scriptwriter Alan Simpson.

“We spent two months writing a pilot.” Said Alan Simpson. “But they couldn’t cast it. They said it was too ethnic and didn’t know where to set it. ‘We can’t set it in New York – they’d be Italian or Jewish. We can’t set it in Chicago – they’d be Italian, too. We can’t set it in Los Angeles, they’d be Mexicans. So it’s a bit of a problem, really.’

Eventually it was decided that the show would be best with an all-black cast. “They said, ‘that’s a wonderful idea but if they are poverty stricken the network won’t wear it. Black people have to be doctors or lawyers.'”

 

Wanting to tap into the social commentary that All In The Family was successful at, Norman Lear hired Bernard Hughes and Paul Silva. After not being picked up with a white son and father, Lear saw an opportunity to give the idea a twist with black characters. The NBC network loved the twist and would order a season of episodes.

THE PIONEER OF BLACK SITCOMS

The rest is history as it became the predecessor for Black sitcoms in the decades to come such as  The Cosby Show and black-ish. Foxx was 49 when he first did the show, and wore makeup to appear older. He also wore heavy shoes to give the character his distinctive walk.. The series is celebrating its 45th anniversary this weekend, and remains a cultural staple within the African-American community.

The stars of the show, Wilson and Foxx, did not think the series would last and were doing a cash grab. CBS thought the same thing by turning down the series. Fortunately, the two men would become huge hits and have a run of six seasons on NBC.

Check out the mini documentary below about the behind the scenes drama and the evolution of the television classic. The show turned 50 years on January 14, 2022.