Sunday, November 23, 2014

Classic TV: Alice (1976)

Back in the day, CBS had a pretty decent comedy block on Sunday nights, which featured The Jeffersons, Archie Bunker's Place, One Day at a Time, and our next subject, Alice.

Spun off from the 1974 film, "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore", Alice enjoyed a 9 year run (1976-85), and I'd venture a guess that more people remember the series than they do the movie.

Widow Alice Hyatt (Linda Lavin, ex-Barney Miller) is en route to Los Angeles to pursue a singing career, but her car breaks down, forcing her and her son, Tommy (Philip McKeon) to settle in Phoenix, where Alice finds a job as a waitress. Most of the episodes put an emphasis on the ensemble cast, which, when the series began, had only one holdover from the movie, that being Vic Tayback reprising his role as Mel Sharples, the grumpy but good-hearted owner of the diner.

Amazingly, there were only three waitresses in the diner, the two constants being Alice and neurotic, dimwitted Vera (Beth Howland). Brassy Flo (Polly Holliday) was the breakout star, meriting her own series after the 4th season. Problem was, the producers had trouble filling the void. Diane Ladd was brought in as a new character (she played Flo in the movie), and won a Golden Globe, but had off-air issues that led to an abrupt departure. Celia Weston then was brought in as Jolene for the rest of the series, which led to a minor crossover with WB stablemate Dukes of Hazzard in which J. D. "Boss" Hogg (Sorrell Booke) and Enos Strate (Sonny Shroyer) visited. Seems Hogg was a distant relation of Jolene's. There were a couple of regular customers frequenting the diner. Henry, a telephone repairman (Marvin Kaplan, ex-Top Cat), often complained about the food. Earl (Dave Madden, ex-The Partridge Family) was Tommy's basketball coach.

The series was last seen on Ion a few years back, but otherwise is sitting in the WB vaults, although it'd be a good fit for Me-TV now.

Following is the first season open. The theme, "There's a New Girl in Town", is sung by Linda Lavin.

Rating: A.


magicdog said...

I used to like Alice - although Flo will always be my favorite Southern fried waitress!

It wasn't until I came across the film that I realized the series was based on it rather than an original concept. I thought it the height of irony that Diane Ladd was brought in to replace Polly Holliday!

It was also fun to see the rest of the gang - Henry, Earl, Tommy, and of course, Mel. He was born for this role!

I agree that the show would be a good fit for either ME-TV. Although I noticed WGN America is trotting out some 70s treadures (All In The Family and Barney Miller) and Rural TV has been running some sitcoms too (a Monkees block on Saturday mornings, followed by I dream of Jeannie & Bewitched - very much like Nick @Nite used to be!) so it depends who has the rights and the will.

hobbyfan said...

Rural TV (formerly RFD TV) is a premium service where I am, which sucks. I'd like to get a clip of Henry (Marvin Kaplan) for the Archives one of these days.

There were many Sunday nights where my dad had gone to bed early, so Mom & I would be watching Alice, Jeffersons, etc.. Vera was proof that you didn't have to be blonde to be dim.....