Sunday, May 26, 2013

Classic TV: Sanford & Son (1972)

One year after All In The Family became an overnight sensation for CBS, Norman Lear mined British sitcoms again for his next creation. Not only that, but he tweaked the concept to flip the race card.

Sanford & Son, like Family, was a mid-season replacement when it bowed on NBC. Set in Los Angeles, the show revolved around Fred G. Sanford (don't ask what the G stood for---not even Fred was sure), who operated a junkyard out of his home, aided by his son, Lamont. Fred was a widower who'd lost his wife, Elizabeth, some years earlier, and any time he felt threatened by something, he'd feign a fatal heart attack, not so much to gain sympathy, but as a defensive mechanism.

Nightclub comic Redd Foxx was cast as Sanford, with Demond Wilson as Lamont. The two had the same kind of chemistry that Carroll O'Connor & Rob Reiner had created on Family with their antagonistic, generational humor. Lamont was level-headed and a ladies man. Fred was old and close-minded, even to his sister-in-law, Esther (LaWanda Page), who seemed to always have a Bible in her hand, in case she needed to preach to Fred, literally. Esther didn't arrive on the scene until season 2, but would stick around for most of the run.

Fred had his friends, particularly Bubba (Don Bexley) and Grady (Whitman Mayo). In one memorable episode, Fred & Bubba found themselves on Let's Make a Deal, and there was another case where Fred ended up on Chuck Barris' Gong Show. Grady would later be spun off into his own series, which, sadly, didn't last very long.

Sanford & Son, based on the British series, Steptoe & Son, lasted 5 years before being rechristened The Sanford Arms, after Fred converted his home into a boarding house. That didn't last, and before long, the show was shortened to, simply, Sanford.

For a while, the Sanfords had a Latino neighbor, Julio (Gregory Sierra), who left after a couple of years when Sierra left to join the cast of Barney Miller. Pat Morita appeared as two different characters before landing his iconic role as Arnold on Happy Days. As was often the case in those days, repeats aired on weekday mornings to fill out the schedule before going into syndication. Small wonder, then, that you couldn't get the theme song, composed by the legendary Quincy Jones, out of your head.

Doop72 uploaded the open that everyone knows:

The theme song actually has a title, as it appeared on one of Jones' albums. It's called "The Streetbeater". Maybe I'll put the full version up sometime.

Rating: A.

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