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Good Times

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Florida sets out to not only prove she’s the best housekeeper in the project, but also that winning the “best kept apartment” contest is not dependent on who you know.

Good Times is an American sitcom that originally aired from February 8, 1974, until August 1, 1979, on the CBS television network. It was created by Eric Monte and Michael Evans, and developed by Norman Lear, the series’ primary executive producer. Good Times is a spin-off of Maude, which was itself a spin-off of All in the Family along with The Jeffersons.

While the series was set in Chicago, all episodes of Good Times were produced in the Los Angeles area. The first two seasons were taped at CBS Television City in Hollywood. In the fall of 1975, the show moved to Metromedia Square, where Norman Lear’s own production company was housed.


John Amos and Esther Rolle, 1974

Good Times is based on Eric Monte’s childhood—although one of the main characters’ name is “Michael Evans”, which was the real name of co-creator Mike Evans, who portrayed Lionel Jefferson on the Norman Lear-produced series All in the Family and The Jeffersons.

The series stars Esther Rolle as Florida Evans and John Amos as her husband, James Evans, Sr. The characters originated on the sitcom Maude as Florida and Henry Evans, with Florida employed as Maude Findlay‘s housekeeper in Tuckahoe, New York and Henry employed as a firefighter. When producers decided to feature the Florida character in her own show, they applied retroactive changes to the characters’ history. Henry’s name became James, there was no mention of Maude, and the couple now lived in Chicago.

Florida and James Evans and their three children live in a rented project apartment, 17C, at 963 N. Gilbert Ave., in a housing project (implicitly the infamous Cabrini–Green projects, shown in the opening and closing credits but never mentioned by name on the show) in a poor, black neighborhood in inner-city Chicago. Florida and James’ children were James, Jr., also known as “J.J.” (Jimmie Walker), Thelma (Bern Nadette Stanis), and Michael (Ralph Carter). When the series began, J.J. and Thelma were seventeen and sixteen years old, respectively, and Michael, called “the militant midget” by his father due to his passionate activism, was eleven years old. Their exuberant neighbor, and Florida’s best friend, was Willona Woods (played byJa’net Dubois), a recent divorcée who worked at a boutique. Her adopted daughter, Millicent “Penny” Woods (Janet Jackson), a victim of child abuse, joined the show in season five. Willona affectionately called Michael Evans “Gramps” because of his wisdom. Their building superintendent was Nathan Bookman (Johnny Brown), to whom James, Willona and later J.J. referred as “Buffalo Butt”, or, even more derisively, “booger”.

Florida and son J.J., 1974

As was the case on other Norman Lear sitcoms, the characters and subject matter in Good Times were a breakthrough for American television. Sitcoms had featured working class characters before (dating back at least to The Life of Riley), but never before had a weekly series featured black characters living in such impoverished conditions. (Fred and Lamont Sanford of Sanford and Son, though they lived in the poor Watts area of Los Angeles, at least had their own home and business.)

Episodes of Good Times dealt with the characters’ attempts to “get by” in a high rise project building in Chicago, despite all the odds stacked against them. When he was not unemployed, James Evans was a man of pride and would often say to his wife or family “I ain’t accepting no hand-outs”. He usually worked at least two jobs simultaneously, from a wide variety such as dishwasher, construction laborer, etc. When he had to he would gather his pool stick, much to Florida’s disappointment, and sneak out and hustle up a few bucks as he struggled to provide for his family. Being a sitcom, however, the episodes were usually more uplifting and positive than they were depressing, as the Evans family stuck together and persevered.

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