TelevisionWeek Executive Editor Tom Gilbert joins our roster of bloggers with this forum all about classic television, where anything from "Leave It to Beaver" to "Malcolm in the Middle" is fair game for discussion. Reunion specials, DVD releases of classic shows, vintage commercials -- anything that's ever been telecast is the hot topic here.


Timeless TV

'Family' Matters

May 7, 2007 5:58 PM

It’s been years since I’ve thought about “Family,” the 1976-80 ABC drama, but come to think of it, it was a damn good show—certainly one worth revisiting.


Executive produced by Aaron Spelling, Leonard Goldberg and Mike Nichols, “Family” was an intelligently scripted, beautifully performed show about the lives of an upper-middle-class family who lived in one of those big, stately homes in Pasadena. The late James Broderick (father of Matthew) was the patriarch Doug, a lawyer, and Sada Thompson played his reserved spouse Kate, a serious housewife who sought to expand her horizons through continuing education. The series examined intra-familiar relationships and addressed many real-life issues (some for the first time on TV) including alcoholism, adoption, marital infidelity, homosexuality, breast cancer and first menstruation.

There were three kids: eldest daughter Nancy, a single mom (played mainly by Meredith Baxter; role-originator Elayne Heilveil left after the first four episodes); sensitive middle child Willie (Gary Frank) and tomboy Buddy (a star-making role for Kristy McNichol).
The show garnered multiple Emmy nominations during its run, with Thompson, Frank and McNichol (twice) taking home the statuette.

Many say “Family” jumped the shark when Quinn Cummings joined the cast mid-run as 11-year-old adopted daughter Annie, in kind of the same lame way Ernie joined “My Three Sons” and Cousin Oliver joined “The Brady Bunch.” Lesson learned: No matter how badly a ratings boost is needed, it’s never a good idea to tack on a faux sibling.


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Comments (2)


Every girl my age LOVED "Family" -- it was a pivotal show, in the same way (and for much the same reasons) that "Are You There, God, It's Me, Margaret" was a pivotal book. Finally, someone being honest about families and all that other stuff!

"Family" really was a breakthrough, if a quiet one, as the always-entertaining Mr Gilbert says. I was disappointed during the run of the show, though, when a friend of mine who wrote for episodic TV - no amateur, he'd had scripts accepted and produced by other shows - submitted a first-rate "Family" script about the efforts of the family matriarch to lose weight -- her self-consciousness about being heavy, her attempt to spare the family what she imagined was embarrassment. But Sada Thompson, who played the part and who won universal acclaim, NIXED THE IDEA OUTRIGHT without even reading the script. Seems she was very very sensitive about her own extra pounds and refused to do an episode in which her character confronted the problem. Too bad -- certainly would have been better than shark-jumping with that pouty little snot of a child actress.

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