Family (1976 TV series)
Family is an American television drama series that aired on the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) television network from 1976 to 1980. Creative control of the show was split among executive producers Leonard Goldberg, Aaron Spelling, and Mike Nichols. A total of 86 episodes were produced. It is seen occasionally on Decades, a digital subchannel TV network.
Family Title Card
|Created by||Jay Presson Allen|
|Starring||Sada Thompson |
Meredith Baxter Birney
|Opening theme||John Rubinstein|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||5|
|No. of episodes||86 (list of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||Leonard Goldberg |
|Running time||50 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Icarus Productions|
|Distributor||Lexington Broadcast Services Company|
Sony Pictures Television
|Original release||March 9, 1976 –|
June 25, 1980
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||6||March 9, 1976||April 13, 1976|
|2||22||October 6, 1976||May 3, 1977|
|3||23||September 13, 1977||May 16, 1978|
|4||22||September 21, 1978||May 17, 1979|
|5||13||December 11, 1979||June 25, 1980|
The show features Sada Thompson and James Broderick as Kate and Doug Lawrence, a happily married middle-class couple living at 1230 Holland Street in Pasadena, California with their three children: Nancy (portrayed by Elayne Heilveil in the original miniseries and Meredith Baxter Birney), Willie (Gary Frank), and Letitia, nicknamed "Buddy" (Kristy McNichol). An early episode establishes that the couple had another son, Timothy, who had died five years prior. The show raised the profile of all of its featured actors and, in particular, catapulted McNichol to stardom. The initial showrunners of Family were Nigel McKeand and Carol Evan McKeand, who previously had been writers for The Waltons, among other TV projects.
Family is an attempt to depict a contemporary traditional family with realistic, believable characters. Kate is the practical, rational voice of the show. She always stands by her opinion and is motivated to do what is right, even if it makes her unpopular ("Jury Duty"). An accomplished full-time homemaker, she resents people telling her that because she had high aspirations in school and had achieved a great deal academically ("Home Movie"), she could have attained much more in life. However, at one point she expresses frustration with the monotony of her life, feeling that all she does is run errands and make phone calls, usually on behalf of other people ("An Eye to the Future"). She eventually returns to college as a music major. Doug is an independent lawyer who aspires to be a judge but never uses his intellect to make others feel inferior. He is a family man who listens to what Kate tells him and always makes time for Buddy.
Younger daughter Buddy is somewhat tomboyish, although she sometimes considers adopting a more feminine appearance ("Coming of Age"). She is a loyal friend, compassionate toward others, and well-liked by her classmates. She has a habit of walking into a room where adults are discussing something confidential and demanding (in a friendly way) to know what is transpiring. She usually seeks her mother's help when faced with a dilemma. She considers herself short and is self-conscious about that, and also worries that her body isn't developing quickly enough. When her anger erupts Buddy yells and cries. But she is a lovable teen loved by her family and friends. Buddy has dealt with many heartbreaking issues such as being cheated on and the suicide of a classmate. But through it all Buddy persevered. In later seasons Buddy began driving and got her drivers license. Buddy also prepared for college in the final season of Family. Buddy was like her portrayer Kristy McNichol. McNichol went through some emotional growing pains in real life and the producers wrote Buddy's emotional problems to allow McNichol to incorporate her growing pains with Buddy. When McNichol was 16 years old she got her drivers license and her own car. As Buddy McNichol loved to drive cars on Family.
Son Willie has a close relationship with Buddy, whom he affectionately calls "Peaches". An aspiring writer, he secures his parents' permission to take a year off high school to write a screenplay, but later drops out of school completely, to his father's chagrin. Although he is making passing grades and his father believes he has a high IQ, some of his fellow students speculate that he is failing. Ironically, the school's yearbook names him most likely to succeed. He later pursues work, assisting in a photography studio, at an advertising agency, and at a TV show called "The Dame Game" but eventually quits, dubbing the work uninspiring. He says he aspires to leave Pasadena.
Eldest daughter Nancy Lawrence Maitland moves back home with her young son Timmy during the premiere episode, after catching her husband of several years, Jeff Maitland (John Rubinstein, who composed the show's theme song), in bed with another woman. Later in the series, they divorce and Nancy enrolls in law school, where she excels.
In the fourth season, a new character named Annie Cooper (Quinn Cummings) is added to the show in the episode titled "Starting Over". Eleven-year-old Cooper joins the family due to the death of her parents in a car accident.
Storylines are very topical, and the show is one of the first to feature what has recently been termed "very special episodes". In the first episode, Nancy walks in on her husband having sex with one of her friends. During the second season she and Jeff divorce, but he appears regularly as an active father to Timmy and becomes involved in more of the Lawrence family's affairs. Other topical storylines include Kate's possible breast cancer and Buddy's dilemmas about whether to have sex; she always chooses to wait, most notably in an episode with guest star Leif Garrett, a popular teen idol at the time. Other episodes deal with homosexuality: in a 1976 episode ("Rites of Friendship"), Willie's childhood friend Zeke returns from college and after being arrested in a gay bar is forced to come out to the Lawrence family, with Willie struggling to accept his friend's homosexuality. A 1977 episode ("We Love You, Miss Jessup") deals with Buddy's friendship with a teacher who is revealed to be a lesbian. Family also contends with alcoholism (Doug's sister; Buddy's old friend) as well as adoption (the family adopts a girl named Annie Cooper (Quinn Cummings) after her parents die). A 1979 episode directed by actress Joanne Woodward guest-stars Henry Fonda as a visiting elderly relative who is starting to experience senility and memory loss. Two years later, Fonda would win an Academy Award for playing a similar character in On Golden Pond.
Family was widely acclaimed, with many critics calling it a bright spot of quality in ABC's primetime schedule, which contained Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and The Love Boat during the show's original run.
Family was nominated three times for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, in 1977, 1978, and 1980. Three of its stars won acting Emmy Awards: Sada Thompson, Gary Frank, and Kristy McNichol. James Broderick and Meredith Baxter Birney were nominated.
In the fourth season, critics quibbled with the show's direction. In February 1979, Noel Holston of The Orlando Sentinel called Family "ABC's most prestigious program" but claimed "the producers' crisis-of-the-week approach is starting to strain the series' credibility."  Some critics complained that Family, like many TV shows of the period, had become too reliant on sex-related plots. At the same time, ABC shifted the show's time slot to Friday at 8pm, and its previously solid ratings dropped to near the bottom of the chart. As a result, Family was renewed for a final season of only 13 episodes that began at midseason.
Despite its occasionally adult themes, the series was consistently praised by the National Parent-Teacher Association. In February 1979, the PTA said Family contained "good parenting lessons" and "slightly controversial" but "excellent" content, recommending it for viewing by teens and older.
After the fourth season, the series' original showrunners departed and were replaced by Edward Zwick, who would go on to produce the acclaimed TV series thirtysomething, My So-Called Life and Once and Again.
Seven years after the series' cancellation, it was widely reported that a Family Reunion TV movie was planned for the 1987–88 season. At least one report indicated that if its ratings were strong enough, the series would be revived for the then-current ABC schedule. The plot was to involve the Lawrence children gathering for Kate's remarriage. (James Broderick had died of cancer in 1982.) But the writers' strike that year halted production, and the project was abandoned.
Broadcast history and Nielsen ratingsEdit
|Season||Time slot (ET)||Rank||Rating|
|1975–76||Tuesdays 10 p.m.||34 ||N/A|
|1976–77||Tuesdays 10 p.m.||39 ||N/A|
|1977–78||Tuesdays 10 p.m.||31 ||19.8|
|1978–79||Thursdays 10 p.m. (Sep 1978-Mar 1979)
Fridays 8 p.m. (Apr-May 1979)
|1979–80||Mondays 10 p.m. (Jan-Feb 1980)
Mondays 9 p.m. (Mar 1980)
Wednesdays 8 p.m. (June 1980)
In the original spring 1976 miniseries run of Family, the theme music is a dramatic-sounding, yet low-key piano solo with minor orchestral contingents, composed by cast member John Rubinstein (son of classical musician Arthur Rubinstein). When Family was picked up as a regular series for the fall 1976 schedule, the theme music was changed to a more cheery, upbeat instrumental dominated by trumpets and horns, also written by Rubinstein. This version lasted the rest of the run.
Family became the subject of a 24-year legal dispute due to a lawsuit filed by writer Jeri Emmet in 1977. The claim was against Spelling Television and alleged that Spelling had stolen the idea for the show from a script that Emmet had submitted, entitled "The Best Years". Spelling responded to the lawsuit with a statement explaining that he had conceived the idea in his kitchen with Leonard Goldberg, his professional partner. Next they pitched the idea to scriptwriter Jay Presson Allen to create the pilot. She had just completed writing the screenplay for the film Funny Lady, starring Barbra Streisand and directed by Herbert Ross.
In October 1981, the suit was dismissed for lack for prosecution. Jeri Emmet filed an appeal the same month. Approximately a year later, she withdrew her appeal as part of a settlement with Spelling and Goldberg for $1,000. Emmet later filed a legal malpractice action against her own lawyers in which it was argued that she would have won her original lawsuit but for the malpractice. The case went to trial and a jury awarded her $1.7 million in damages. The verdict was then successfully appealed based on the resumption of the suit having occurred beyond a one-year limitation period allowed in the law: the trial result and judgment were overturned.
Emmet sued Spelling a second time, in 1996, after Spelling published his memoirs. She claimed that Spelling had defamed her in his book, as she had not been credited with conceiving the original idea for Family. She lost on appeal in 2001, with the court saying she had not met the standard for showing damages due to the alleged defamation and that she had not explained how the defamation legally constituted a second theft of the same intellectual property. The litigation finally concluded with Allen retaining her "Created by" credit for the series.
On September 5, 2006, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the first two seasons of Family on DVD in Region 1. On January, 2016, two box sets containing a total of 28 episodes were released in Germany by ALIVE VERTRIEBS- UND MARKETING. These box sets contain select episodes from seasons 1 to 3.
- Rowland Barber (21 January 1978). "Three Strikes and They're On". TV Guide. Retrieved 30 May 2016.
- "Starting Over". IMDb. Retrieved 9 Feb 2020.
- Noel Holston (21 February 1979). "Is this the last season for these series?". Orlando Sentinel.
- Howard Rosenman (1 January 1979). "'Family' sex themes hint ideas exhausted". Los Angeles Times.
- Paul Weingarten (14 February 1979). "PTA TV ratings, from Alice to Wonder Woman". Chicago Tribune.
- Lee Margulies (25 June 1979). "Inside TV". Los Angeles Times.
- Susan Stewart (2 June 1987). "Reunion Fever". Detroit Free Press.
- staff and wire reports (8 June 1987). "Ch. 8 noon news score: One born, another on way?". Akron Beacon Journal.
- Chicago Tribune (June 27, 1976)
- Chicago Tribune (July 3, 1977)
- Kenneth Ofgang (19 November 2001). "C.A. Rules for Aaron Spelling in Long-Running 'Family' Litigation". Metropolitan News. Metropolitan News Company. Retrieved 27 June 2012.
- Cal Sup Ct (7 May 1992). "Laird v. Blacker (1992) 2 C4th 606". online.ceb.com/. Unknown. Retrieved 27 June 2012.
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