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What's Happening!! is an American sitcom that aired on ABC from August 5, 1976, to April 28, 1979, premiering as a summer series. With good ratings and reviews, and after the failure of several other series on the network, What's Happening!! returned as a weekly series from November 1976 until its April 1979 conclusion; ratings were modest. What's Happening!! was loosely based on the Eric Monte-penned film Cooley High.[2] From 1985 to 1988, a sequel series titled What's Happening Now!! aired in first-run syndication, with most of the major cast members reprising their roles.

What's Happening!!
Created byEric Monte
Based onCooley High
StarringErnest Lee Thomas
Haywood Nelson
Fred Berry
Danielle Spencer
Mabel King (Season 1-2)
Shirley Hemphill
Opening theme"What's Happening!!"
Composer(s)Henry Mancini[1]
Country of originUnited States
No. of seasons3
No. of episodes65 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)Bernie Orenstein
Saul Turteltaub
Bud Yorkin
Running time22–25 minutes
Production company(s)Bud Yorkin Productions
(seasons 1-2)
TOY Productions
(seasons 1-3)
DistributorColumbia Pictures Television
Columbia TriStar Television
Sony Pictures Television
Original networkABC
Original releaseAugust 5, 1976 (1976-08-05) –
April 28, 1979 (1979-04-28)
Followed byWhat's Happening Now!!
Seated, L-R: Fred Berry, Ernest Lee Thomas, and Haywood Nelson (back to camera). Standing: Shirley Hemphill.

What's Happening!! was Bud Yorkin's second series after he ended his partnership with Norman Lear and Tandem Productions. The show was produced by TOY Productions, which was formed by Yorkin, Saul Turteltaub, and Bernie Orenstein after the split.



What's Happening!! follows the lives of three working-class African-American teens living in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts. The show stars Ernest Thomas as Roger "Raj" Thomas, Haywood Nelson as Dwayne Nelson, and Fred Berry as Freddy "Rerun" Stubbs. Co-starring are Danielle Spencer as Roger's younger sister Dee; Mabel King as Roger and Dee's mother Mabel; and Shirley Hemphill as Shirley Wilson, a waitress at Rob's Place, the neighborhood restaurant where the boys are regular patrons. Recurring characters include Rob (Earl Billings), owner of Rob's Place; and Miss Collins (Fritzi Burr), a sarcastic history teacher and the sponsor of the school newspaper.


Principal castEdit

Roger "Raj" Thomas (Ernest Thomas), the show's protagonist, is a teenager living in Watts with his divorced mother Mabel and his younger sister Dee. Raj is an intelligent, well-mannered young man who sports large black horn-rimmed glasses and aspires to be a writer. Many episodes involve Raj taking steps to pursue his dream, from saving up for a screenwriting course or a typewriter to trying to impress a TV producer. Eventually, he graduates from high school, moves out, and goes to college at the University of Southern California. Raj is known for his trademark high-pitched laugh. Raj has some unique dance moves, such as placing his chin on his fist like “The Thinker” pose. He has also been known to try and impress older women by putting on a "super cool deep voice".

Frederick (Freddy) "Rerun" Stubbs (Fred Berry) is a bumbling, comedic young man, commonly seen wearing a red beret and matching suspenders. He is often teased by his friends for being overweight and unintelligent. However, Rerun is a very skilled dancer and is commonly seen entering dance contests or trying to get on TV commercials. He is nicknamed "Rerun" because, due to his failing grades in school, "every summer he has to go to school to rerun the stuff he did all winter." In the third season, Rerun shares an apartment with Raj and works as a page for ABC.

Dwayne Clemens Nelson (Haywood Nelson) is the youngest member of the trio. Dwayne has an unassuming, good-natured demeanor and suffers from debilitating shyness and acute fear of the dark. While Rerun attempts to enter dance contests and Roger aggressively pursues his dream of becoming a famous writer, Dwayne's plotlines often deal with his problems with girls, bullies, and uncertain future. Dwayne's character is well known for his greeting, "Hey, hey, hey!" (with an emphasis on the second "hey"). His other trademark catchphrase is when he utters "Uh-Uhn" when he denies or refuses something. Dwayne is the only character who appears in every episode of What's Happening!!

Shirley Wilson (Shirley Hemphill) is a waitress at the neighborhood restaurant Rob's Place, where the main cast are regular patrons. She is a brash person who likes to take shots at the boys and most often clashes with Rerun (with both Shirley and Rerun being overweight, they exchange "fat jokes"). Some episodes turn the spotlight briefly on Shirley and her joys and sorrows. Shirley moves into the Thomas residence in the last season to be a guardian to Dee after Raj moves out and Mrs. Thomas leaves to tend to a sick relative.

Dee Thomas (Danielle Spencer) is Raj's younger sibling. She personifies the typical "annoying little sister." She is bratty, keen, shrewd, and obsessed with making money, usually by blackmailing her brother and his friends a quarter at a time. As the series progressed and Dee grew older, her caustic personality mellowed into a sly sense of sarcasm, which includes put downs of Rerun aimed at his weight and his intelligence (or lack thereof). While Dee still enjoyed scamming Raj out of a quarter every so often, she became more likable and got along better with him. After Raj moved into an apartment in the third season, Dee remained in the Thomas house with waitress Shirley moving in to help out. Her trademark phrase is "Ooooohh, I'm tellin' Mama!" or "Ooooohh, you're gonna get it!" when she witnesses or hears about a wrongdoing, especially by her brother. Her favorite food is peanut butter. Her birthday is September 17.

Mabel Thomas (Mabel King) is Raj's "large-and-in-charge" mother. She is typically the voice of wisdom, and the parental authority over not only Raj and Dee, but Dwayne and Rerun as well. Mabel's ex-husband drifts in and out of her life during the first season. Her role became less important in later episodes until eventually, she disappeared from the show, though her character was never really written out and still mentioned off-screen. Supposedly, King disagreed with the show's concept and direction and decided to leave the show. Her trademark phrase is "This is true" when agreeing with something said.

Recurring charactersEdit

Bill Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala) is Mabel's ex-husband and the father of Roger and Dee. He divorced Mabel, ran out on his family, and became a shady character. When he first appears, he tries to con Mabel out of money. Later episodes in which he appears to depict him in a more positive light and culminates with his marriage to Lee Henderson (Lee Chamberlin). After his marriage, Bill was never seen again on the show, although he is mentioned. On follow-up series What's Happening Now!!, he guest starred in that show's Season 2 premiere episode "Nadine's Surprise". In that particular episode, it was explained that him and Roger had a strained relationship since he remarried and the latter's wife Nadine had planned a surprise reunion because Bill was planning to make amends with his estranged son.

Gene "Rabbit" Walker (Ray Vitte) is a political-science major at the University of Southern California, and a track-team member. He appears in two first-season episodes as a boarder at the Thomas home, renting Dee's bedroom. In his first appearance, he is referred to as "Dean" which is even written on the end credits. Gene took a liking to Dee, giving her the nickname "Small Portion". In another episode, his character is mentioned as being away (although his name was not given) so Mrs. Thomas offered his room to Dee's ex-con pen-pal.

Detective "Big Earl" Barnett (John Welsh) is a police detective who lives in the apartment building Raj and Rerun move into in the third and final season.

"Little Earl" Barnett David Hollander is Big Earl's son. He has a huge crush on Dee, who is about 5 years his senior.

Rob (Earl Billings) is the owner of Rob's Place.

Terry "Snake" Simpson (Leland Smith) is a basketball player whom Roger tutored. He eventually became a friend of Roger, Dwayne, and Rerun.

Miss Collins (Fritzi Burr) is a high-school teacher. She admired Roger but had trouble with Rerun.

Marvin (Bryan O'Dell) is the boys' high-school classmate. He was a reporter for the school paper and was sometimes seen at Rob's Place.

Leon (Henry Robinson) made two appearances as Rob's customer in "Shirley's a Mother" and as a strong arm gangster who bets on Rerun's disco dance abilities in "Disco Dollar Disaster".

Diane Harris (Debbi Morgan) is another classmate of Roger, Dwayne, and Rerun. For the first two seasons she was frequently seen in the classroom or at Rob's Place with them, and at a birthday party for Roger. (In the pilot episode, she was referred to as "Diane Stewart".)

Larry Nelson (Greg Morris) is Dwayne's father, a local politician.

Notable guest starsEdit

  • The Doobie Brothers appeared as themselves to perform a concert at Jefferson High (which was portrayed as the Doobies' alma mater), where Raj, Rerun, and Dwayne attend. Incidentally, one of the band's members (Patrick Simmons) stated he remembered Rerun from one of his old classes, saying "Glad you came back!" Rerun responded, "Came back? I'm still here!".
  • Actor Theodore Wilson made three appearances on What's Happening!! as three different characters: in the pilot episode he played the father of a classmate named Betty who hosted a house party without her parents' permission; a card player alongside Mabel's employer, who gambled away his wife's jewelry but pointed the finger at Mabel as a coverup; and as bootlegging criminal Al Dunbar, who forced Rerun to illegally record the Doobie Brothers concert.
  • Actress Chip Fields appeared on What's Happening!! as two different characters: Shirley's pregnant sister Norma; and Rerun's sister Donna, with whom (and her husband Ike) Rerun lived before moving in with Raj.
  • The dance group The Lockers appeared in the first season as a group called "The Rockets" that Rerun auditioned to perform with on TV. (Fred Berry was an original member of the Lockers.) Wolfman Jack also made an appearance in this episode.
  • Sorrell Booke, Hazzard County's corrupt commissioner Boss Hogg from The Dukes of Hazzard, appears in the Season Three episode "Basketball Brain," as an agent of the star basketball player whom Roger is tutoring.
  • Actor Tim Reid appeared as Dr. Claymore in the episode "It's All in Your Head".
  • Future Academy Award & Grammy Award winner Irene Cara guest-starred as Rerun's would-be immigrant bride Maria in the episode "Rerun Gets Married."
  • Musician and actor Slim Gaillard appeared as Al in the episode "The Thomas Treasure" (March 16, 1979).

Series changesEdit

During the second season, using the show's first season success as leverage, Fred Berry demanded a higher salary and better studio accommodations for the actors. The accommodations issue eventually led to a full-fledged walkout by Berry and Thomas during the second-season episode "If I'm Elected" (leaving Haywood Nelson to carry the entire episode, with Shirley Hemphill stepping in to a much more featured role).[3] The dispute was quickly settled, and both returned the following episode. In addition, Mabel King had a much-reduced role in the series during the second season, largely due to creative differences with the producers (she wanted the Roger and Dee characters to have married parents, rather than divorced). Her character, Mama, was not written out of the show, but rather limited to brief appearances on set (where she would say she was "leaving for work" or "going to the store"), or mentioned in passing by other characters as being "at work."

The show changed significantly in the third season, with Raj and Rerun graduating high school (Rerun after seven years), with the two moving into their own apartment near the University of Southern California. Mabel King finally left the show, and Shirley moved into the Thomas household as a boarder and Dee's guardian. Also, several new recurring characters were introduced. The first was a basketball player whom Roger tutored, nicknamed "The Snake," (played by Leland Smith). The other characters were Caucasian detective "Big Earl" Barnett (played by Johnathan Welsh) and his son "Little Earl" Barnett (played by David Hollander), who were neighbors in the apartment building where Roger and Rerun lived.

Also, during the third season (1978-79), Berry again threatened to strike, not appearing in the third-season episode "Dee, the Cheerleader." Thomas again joined Berry and threatened to strike, leading to a contentious meeting with the executive producers, who opted to cancel the series, rather than give a pay raise to the stars.[4]

What's Happening!! aired its last episode on April 28, 1979. A year later, Hemphill starred in her own sitcom, One In A Million, which premiered in January, 1980, and ended on July 23, 1980, after being on ABC for a few months.[5]


What's Happening!! was a modest ratings success:

Season Time slot (ET) Rank Rating[6]
1976-1977 Thursday at 8:30-9:00 PM (Episodes 1-4, 10-21)
Saturday at 8:30-9:00 PM (Episodes 5-9)
25 20.9
1977-1978 Thursday at 8:30-9:00 PM (Episodes 1-15, 22)
Saturday at 8:00-8:30 PM (Episodes 16-20)
Thursday at 8:00-8:30 PM (Episode 21)
42 N/A (Tied with Dallas and The Rockford Files)[7]
1978-1979 Thursday at 8:30-9:00 PM (Episodes 1-12)
Friday at 8:30-9:00 PM (Episodes 13-18)
Saturday at 8:00-8:30 PM (Episodes 19-22)
28 19.8 (Tied with Monday Night Football)

Success and What's Happening Now!!Edit

The show was a modest success in its network run, despite some serious production problems, and repeats of the show's 65 episodes did reasonably well in syndication. In some markets, the show was perceived to appeal to both children and adults in a similar way to The Brady Bunch and Happy Days. The show was often aired in transitional hours where stations would go from cartoons to evening sitcoms. In a few markets the show actually had higher ratings in syndication than during the network run. With this success in mind, a revival of the show was produced entitled What's Happening Now!! It ran from 1985 to 1988 in first-run syndication.

Home mediaEdit

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has released all three seasons of What's Happening!!

On August 27, 2013, it was announced that Mill Creek Entertainment had acquired the rights to various television series from the Sony Pictures library including What's Happening!![8] On September 2, 2014 they re-released the first two seasons on DVD.[9]

On April 21, 2015, Mill Creek released a budget-priced complete series set, a 6-disc set featuring all 65 episodes.[10]

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The Complete 1st Season 21 February 3, 2004
September 2, 2014 (re-release)
The Complete 2nd Season 22 October 5, 2004
September 2, 2014 (re-release)
The Complete 3rd Season 22 August 23, 2005
The Complete Series 65 June 10, 2008
April 21, 2015 (re-release)


The show was syndicated on many local channels (with all 66 episodes of sequel series What's Happening Now!! joining the syndication package in the fall of 1988 to total 131 episodes) and continued in an on-again, off-again manner until 2009.

BET reran both series from September 20, 1993, to October 27, 1995.

TV Land reran the show during the 2005–2006 season.

As of March 1, 2013, cable network TV One shows reruns of What's Happening!!

On December 2, 2013, the newly rebranded Encore Black channel started airing What's Happening!!

Starting January 2, 2017, the digital broadcast network Antenna TV began airing the original series.


  1. ^ "Full cast and crew for What's Happening!!". IMDB. Retrieved July 8, 2007.
  2. ^ "What's Happening!!: ABC's popular teen-age sitcom succeeds in spite of itself". Ebony. Johnson Publishing Company. 33 (8): 76. June 1978. ISSN 0012-9011.
  3. ^ "'Messy' Dressing Room Cleaned Up, 'What's Happening' Stars Return". Jet. Johnson Publishing Company. 53 (5): 57. October 20, 1977.
  4. ^ Huff, Dominique . (April 19, 2006). "'The Exploitation of Fred 'Rerun' Berry". The Signal. Georgia State University.
  5. ^ "Shirley Hemphill: A Star is Born". Ebony. Johnson Publishing Company. 35 (7): 93. May 1980.
  6. ^ Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle (2007). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-Present (Ninth Edition). Ballantine Books. p. 1688. ISBN 978-0-345-49773-4.
  7. ^ |1977-78 Ratings History|
  8. ^ Mill Creek Entertainment Signs Deals With Sony Pictures Home Entertainment To Expand Their Distribution Partnership Archived 2014-10-06 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Mill Creek to Re-Release 'Seasons 1 & 2' on DVD Archived 2014-07-07 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ 'The Complete Series' Returns to DVD this Spring Archived 2015-02-13 at the Wayback Machine

External linksEdit