The story of CBS‘ The Jeffersons came into existence from the other CBS show All In The Family which focused on the lives of the Bunkers in the working-class area of Queens. A few characters of the Jeffersons family were playing supporting roles and extended cameos as Bunker’s neighbors.
Norman Lear, the creator and developer of this comedy universe, had no such plans to have a separate sitcom for Bunker’s neighbors. It was the members of the Black Panther Party who met Norman Lear in his office and raised the topic of black portrayals in these existing sitcoms that gave birth to the idea of separating the Jeffersons from the Bunkers and give a try. The outcome was groundbreaking and culturally significant in US television history.
All In The Family ran for 9 seasons but The Jeffersons ran for 11 seasons and became one of the longest-running American sitcoms ever. The decade of 70s was also a milestone for black television entertainment with The Jeffersons being one of the pillars of the black sitcom cementing the trend for many dozens of Black sitcoms to lead in the following decades; the others being Sanford And Son (1972) and Good Times (1974). Soul Train in music and Roots in history were the other accomplishments on television for Black entertainment that decade.
Moving to a new lavish apartment, new characters in the neighborhood makes this sitcom even more special. The most prominent was the Willises (Tom and Helen), an interracial couple who became friends of George’s wife Louise (Isabel Sanford) and headache for George; their daughter Jenny (Berlinda Tolbert) who becomes Lionel‘s (Mike Evans) girlfriend and later his wife, Harry Bentley (Paul Benedict) the British neighbor who works for the UN, and Florence (Marla Gibbs) the talkative house-maid who is always on George’s nerve.
George is fond of no one in the new neighborhood and is greedy about generating more money all the time. His verbal one-on-one with Florence in every episode is the highest point of any rib-tickling humor in the show and worth enjoying.
The Jeffersons was communally significant for the black Americans to present a portrayal of a struggler who gives a shot into making money and becomes a successful entrepreneur. There was no such story centering around a black American who is rich and successful on which a comedy can really stretch to many seasons, this sitcom achieved it.
With 253 episodes, The Jeffersons held the record for most episodes in any black sitcom for around 25 years until House Of Payne broke in its 8th season.
In my observation, I believe the humor of the sitcom began to decline from its 8th season. I felt Norman Lear was stretching to create new tv records. The new arcs in the story, by that time, were not really that interesting. But the biggest disappointment about the show was CBS canceling the show, not bothering to inform the lead actors about the news, and not giving the show its proper and deserving finale. It was an insult after 11 years of the legacy of the sitcom and the hard work of the actors, writers, and directors.
Lastly, The Jeffersons will always be remembered for being the greatest black sitcom any American network has ever produced. I want to personally thank Norman Lear for creating this entire universe and to the Black Panther Party. Had they not stepped into his office, The Jeffersons would have never happened.