The most iconic African American father-son duo in the history of comedic television is none other than Sanford and Son, which made its debut January 14th, 1972, and went on to become a huge hit. Due to the era in which this series gained fame, the impact of the show led to numerous opportunities for African Americans throughout the nation. The creative minds behind Sanford and Son don’t get nearly as much credit as they deserve for the amount of cultural difference and opportunity they created with this show.
Sanford and Son came out around the time that America was transitioning away from “good ol’ family” TV shows like the Brady Bunch. At the time, All in the Family was the new face of American TV and had ushered in a different kind of look. Creators Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin took the same queues from their first show and created Sanford and Son, based on the British show Steptoe and Son. When actors Red Foxx and Demond Wilson demonstrated their great comedic timing together, based on a single scene, NBC ordered 17 episodes in a mid-season replacement slot. This led to the first season of Sanford and Son being highly entertaining, but in some ways whitewashed.
With the great success of the first season out of the way, the creators went to great lengths to make the material for the show more tailor-made to the characters they were portraying. This led to the hiring of Richard Pryor and Paul Mooney as writers for the show, with full-time writer Ilunga Adell becoming one of the first African American writers hired on a permanent basis for a network television program. Therefore, the source material was written in a way that wasn’t offensive to the actors that portray the characters. They didn’t stop there; Stan Lathan directed several episodes over the years, many of them legendary.
Never have there been so many unforgettable characters on one show. It was to the point that when they left the series, they couldn’t match that previous level of success. Whether it was Grady (Whitman Mayo), Rollo (Nathaniel Taylor), or Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page), there was always an interesting character to look forward to in any given episode. Considering the era, it could be said that the success of Sanford and Son opened the doors for shows like The Jeffersons, What’s Happening, and Good Times.
Sanford and Son was a great show that opened many doors. It is a one of a kind show that caught lightning in a bottle really has no current equal. And as icing on the cake, it introduced millions of people to the genius known as Quincy Jones.