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Theodore Mikheev
Theodore Mikheev

Mama's Family - Season 1

Mama's Family aired on NBC, debuting on January 22, 1983. After several timeslot changes and a subsequent drop in ratings, the network cancelled the series; the final episode of this two-season NBC incarnation of the series aired on April 7, 1984.[1] NBC broadcast reruns until September 1985, which unexpectedly performed well in ratings.

Mama's Family - Season 1

Two years after its cancellation, original series producer Joe Hamilton Productions (JHP) revived Mama's Family for new episodes in first-run syndication on local stations across the United States. The reincarnation, distributed by Lorimar-Telepictures, premiered on September 27, 1986.[2][3] The modified four-season series revival garnered substantially higher ratings than its first incarnation, eventually becoming the highest-rated sitcom in first-run syndication, with its final episode airing on February 24, 1990.

In the ninth season of The Carol Burnett Show, producer Joe Hamilton wanted to spin off Mama into her own series, but Lawrence turned him down. She did not wish to wear a "fat suit portraying an old lady every week," and she had misgivings about playing the role without Harvey Korman (who played Mama's son-in-law, Ed Higgins) and Carol Burnett (who played Mama's daughter Eunice Higgins) regularly by her side as in "The Family" sketches. Burnett and Korman told Lawrence that they would only appear as guest stars on the new series, and that it was Lawrence's time to shine and take what she had learned from The Carol Burnett Show and make it on her own. Shortly after the highly-rated Eunice TV movie, with continued urging by Korman and Burnett, Lawrence finally changed her mind and accepted the offer for her character's own sitcom.[1]

For 1 seasons from 1983 through 1984, Mama's Family ran on NBC. In the series' first episode, Thelma Harper lives with her uncomfortable, uptight spinster sister Fran (Rue McClanahan), a journalist for a local paper. Thelma's son Vinton (whose wife Mitzi had left him to become a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas) arrives to inform Thelma that he and his two children, Sonja and Buzz, have been evicted from their home and need a place to stay. Much to Fran's chagrin, Thelma allows the trio to move in.

During the first season, Vinton forged a relationship with the Harpers' flirtatious next-door neighbor Naomi Oates, whom Thelma disliked, and soon married her. After selling Naomi's house and losing the money in a bad business deal, Naomi and Vint are forced to move into Thelma's basement, where they remain for most of the show's run. Also seen on a recurring basis were Thelma's two daughters: the snobbish Ellen (Betty White) and the ornery Eunice (Carol Burnett). Harvey Korman, who directed many of the earlier episodes, made featured appearances as Eunice's husband, Ed Higgins. (During the eleventh and final season of The Carol Burnett Show, the Ed Higgins character left Eunice and was written out of "The Family" skits.)

In 2013, StarVista Entertainment released the original NBC seasons with the Alistair Quince intros and original opening credits intact, except for two episodes in Season 1 ("Cellmates" and "Mama's Boyfriend"), as the master prints of those episodes are lost and were replaced by the syndicated version in the re-release.

While not a huge ratings success, the first season garnered solid enough numbers to justify being renewed for a second season.[13] For instance, the premiere episode ranked #25 for the week with an 18.6 rating and a 28 share. However, during the second season, the show dropped out of the top 50 shows, losing share to CBS' hit Magnum, P.I. As a result, NBC canceled the series in May 1984.

To fill the void left by Mama's grandchildren, Allan Kayser was cast as Thelma's delinquent teenage grandson Bubba Higgins, Ed and Eunice's son. Bubba was ordered to live with his grandmother after being released from juvenile hall and placed on probation as Thelma was not pleased that Eunice and Ed forgot their own son. Also added to the cast was Beverly Archer, who played the new character of Iola Boylen, the family's wildly quirky and prissy neighbor and Mama's best friend. Her catchphrase was calling out "Knock, knock!" in place of ringing the doorbell.

A funny thing happened the day I signed with Lorimar. Carol called and said, 'I think I'd like to put together maybe a little syndicated show with the family characters. I'll do Eunice, you do Mama. Doesn't that sound like fun?' I said, 'It does, but I just signed with Lorimar to do Mama's Family for Joe.' It became a very abrupt conversation, and Carol hung up. I then went to Al and asked him what he made of the whole thing. He agreed it was really weird. I wondered if I was about to get caught in the middle of yet another struggle between the two of them . . . During her divorce, Carol and I went through a 'cool' period. She 'divorced' everyone and remained distant for a lot of years. She called the house a few years ago. I was standing at the sink peeling carrots, fifteen feet from the phone, but Garrett got to it first and I only heard his half of the following conversation: 'Hello? Oh hi. Yeah, sure, he's in the other room, on the other line. You want me to tell him you're calling? My mom's here, you want to talk to her? No? Okay. Goodbye.' When he hung up I asked him who it was. 'Carol Burnett.' I was shocked. 'What did she say?' 'She didn't want to talk to you. She only wanted to talk to Dad.' Al called her back later that night, made a point of telling her how much we missed and loved her, and she told him, 'I'll be back. It's just going to take a while longer. Give me another year or so."[17]

Thelma is the widowed matriarch of a rural Southern family.[20] She is an elderly country woman in her mid-to-late 60s, who speaks in a southern drawl.[9] Always active with housework and the nurturance of her family, Mama is usually seen cooking, cleaning, and providing (begrudgingly) support to her family.

By the show's second life, Mama was no longer naive (Vinton overwhelmingly assumed this role) and far more capable of high spirits than ever before. This version of Mama had the fewest stereotypically elderly traits. She was dutiful in caring for her home, garden and family; independent; and active in the community along with best friend Iola Boylen. For example, Mama returned to high school and graduated (episodes "Educating Mama," "Teacher's Pet," and "Pomp and Circumstance"); she was heavily involved in the Church Ladies League and at one point its president (episode "Where There's Smoke"); Mama participated in dirty dancing (episode "Very Dirty Dancing"); went on a trip (episode "Mama Goes Hawaiian"), etc. Highlighting her much more relaxed nature during the syndicated seasons, Mama's main character trait during this time was her many fretful wisecracks, typically made in a high-pitched, whiny voice. Despite that, this era of Mama was more derogatory than ever; rough, abrasive and brash in manner; volatile and explosive in temper; and smart-mouthed with a proneness for making snappy retorts.[9]

Unlike the preceding sketch comedy and television movie, Thelma had many characteristic expressions on the program, "Good Lord!" being her most frequently used. She occasionally stated this in alternate ways, such as "Good Lord in heaven!" "Well Good Lord!" "Good heavens!" or "Good night Louise!" Among her additional expressions included "Horse pucky!" "The hell you say!" "Hell's bells!" "(insert the sender's claim or statement here) my aunt Fanny!" "Now hear this," "God-awful," "In a pig's eye!" "In a pig's patoot!" "Shoot!" "For crying out loud!" "For pity's sake!" "For heaven's sake!" "Real good!" (sarcastically) etc. Disparaging and impudent, Thelma had a series of name-calling catchphrases she often used to refer to certain members of her family or her family as a whole, such as "Nitwit," "Dimwit," "Goon," "Goober goon," "Lamebrain," "Dunce," "Tramp," "Floozy," etc.

Lawrence has stated that it took her a while to warm up to this, but that she later came to greatly appreciate how Mama "blossomed" and "matured" from her early years on "The Family". She added that she still favors the adjustments in Mama's character and partly credits Korman with who Thelma Harper is today. "The Family" sketch writers, however, who had based "The Family" characters on their own family members, disliked the less aggressive Mama designed for sitcom television. In February 2013, Lawrence also remarked that "The Family" sketch version of Mama was created by writers (Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon) who hated their mothers.[1][24][25] Clair and McMahon also created and wrote for Mama's Family.

*Note: Thelma's mother was shown on two occasions on the show (once in a flashback and once as a ghost, played both times by Vicki Lawrence), but her name wasn't revealed. There were at least two Crowley brothers (mentioned in passing in "Double Standard" and "Mama with the Golden Arm"); one was named Clyde ("Pomp and Circumstance"). A cousin named Cora is seen in "There's No Place Like...No Place", and an Uncle Oscar is mentioned in "Mama Gets the Bird", but it is not known if he was from Thelma's side of the family or her husband Carl's. Eunice also mentions having a son named Billy, but Billy's whereabouts are unknown in Mama's Family.

Altogether, Mama's Family had six seasons consisting of 130 episodes. The show's first life consisted of thirty-five episodes, making for two seasons. The show's second life consisted of ninety-five episodes, making for four seasons.

On September 26, 2006, Warner Bros. Television released season 1 of Mama's Family on DVD. The DVD release features the syndicated versions of the episodes, which edits roughly three minutes from what originally aired. Warner Bros. claimed to only own the rights to the syndicated form.[27] 041b061a72

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