Saturday, July 28, 2012

Remembering Sherman Hemsley

Sherman Hemsley who died last week aged 74 was in that strange TV category known as "one hit wonders".
He enjoyed huge success as George Jefferson on the decade long hit The Jeffersons (1975-1985) --it ran for 253 episodes but before and after he struggled for recognition.
Back in those days a mediocre show like The Jeffersons could go on and on provided the network liked it.
One of several spinoffs from All In The Family The Jeffersons kept chugging along --it originally anchored CBS's Saturday night block of comedies that included Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart.
The Jeffersons started off as recurring characters on All In The Family which spawned a number of spinoffs including Maude and Good Times.
CBS was vastly dependent at that time on the sitcoms of Lear and his closest competition --the MTM comedies which included Mary Tyler Moore and her spinoffs: Rhoda, Phyllis and Lou Grant.
Because The Jefferson's creator Norman Lear was one of CBS's most prolific producers the network wanted to keep him happy --in turn The Jeffersons ran season after season without ever cracking TV's coveted Top Ten shows.
In later years it was part of CBS's Monday night comedy block running hammocked between Alice and Trapper John M.D.
All in all The Jeffersons had 13 different time period changes --it was one of those shows CBS could toss in anywhere and see it perform to expected satisfactory ratings.
I remember one afternoon  in 1978 a bunch of TV critics were invited on set to watch a rehearsal but the intensely private Hemsley would only answer a few questions before he left. By contrast his co-star Isabel Sanford was extremely gracious and winning as she offered a tour of the set.
He made a good team with Stanford as his wife and few people noticed she was a good 20 years his senior. Fans adored his slow burn comedic technique, his cock of the walk and that constant attempt to get some recognition from his family.
The Jeffersons moved from being Archie Bunker's neighbors and moved "on up to the East Side/to a deluxe apartment in the sky."
After The Jeffersons was cancelled Hemsley tried a new sitcom, NBC's Amen which had five shaky seasons --he was a church deacon. So desperate was he to make good he even consented to appear before the assembled TV critics and answer personal questions.
Then came UPN's Goode Behavior where he played a paroled con man living with his son. He later provided his voice on the ABC puppet series Dinosaurs.
No matter he would always be George Jefferson --he even returned to the character in commercials he made with Sanford. Before TV he'd been a Broadway staple.
Late nights I'm still watching Golden Girls and enjoying its superb ensemble playing and the crackling wit of the creator Susan Harris.
The Jeffersons just hasn't stood the test of time sad to say.
In fact The Jeffersons doesn't seem to be around much anymore. Black sitcoms have come and gone and TV's diversity is all the weaker for that absence..

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