Thursday, March 13, 2008
In the magical sitcom era of the 1970s, several breakthrough shows by the renowned Norman Lear helped to shape the television landscape as we know it.
The legendary series All in the Family sparked a spinoff: the classic Maude, after the popularity of Bea Arthur’s recurring role as Maude Findlay, Edith Bunker’s cousin. Maude in turn was the basis for its own spinoff: Good Times, based on Maude’s longtime housekeeper, Florida Evans.
But the Lear spinoff chain didn’t end there. Good Times too was responsible for an acclaimed spinoff, a connection of which few TV buffs are even aware. This rarely seen episode was recently recovered by the Museum of Television and Radio in New York.
Episode #52 — “News Honkey”
Open on the Evans’ apartment in the housing projects of North Chicago. Florida and Thelma are in the kitchen preparing dinner. Michael is sitting on the couch. Ted Koppel is sitting next to him reading a newspaper.
Michael: Momma, when are we eating?
Florida I told you Michael, we’ll eat when your daddy gets home.
Michael: But I’m hungry now, momma.
Ted Koppel: Yeah, momma.
Thelma: Typical men, just lying on the couch while the women do the work. When we’re done cooking, you’ll be the first to know …
Ted Koppel: Wait a second, Thelma—you’re cooking too? It’s like Julia Child meets the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Michael slaps Ted Koppel five.
Thelma: Shut up, Ted Koppel.
Ted Koppel: It’s just that when you cook, Thelma, even the ham hocks try to run away.
Florida: Now that’s enough out of you, young man.
Ted Koppel: Sorry Momma. (Looking at the paper:) Wow, it looks like the Ayatollah Khomeini is returning to Tehran after 15 years of exile.
Thelma: Here we go again … you always got your nose buried in that newspaper, Ted Koppel.
Florida: Now Thelma, I think it’s great your brother is up on the current events.
Thelma sticks her tongue out at Ted Koppel when her mother looks away.
The door swings open, J.J. walks in with a huge smile on his face.
J.J.: Hello my fellow ghetto dwellers!
Thelma: What are you so happy about, beanpole?
J.J.: Well, it seems the Casanova of the projects has struck again.
Thelma: You been hanging around the zoo again, jive turkey?
J.J.: Her name is Juanita, Thelma, and yeah I have been at the zoo. They were looking for you in the gorilla cages.
Florida: Stop it, you two. So, you really like this girl, J.J.?
J.J.: She’s definitely into me, momma, I mean … (J.J. strokes his moustache with his two index fingers and grins proudly.) … what can I say?
Ted Koppel: (looking up from his paper) It seems that Patty Hearst was released from prison. President Carter commuted her sentence.
Michael: President Carter … man, I wish we had a black president!
Florida: Now, Michael, President Carter is doing a fine job …
Michael: I just think the white man has run this country long enough, momma. No offense, Ted Koppel.
Ted Koppel: None taken.
The door opens, in comes James Evans. He looks upset. They all greet him.
Florida: What’s the matter, James?
James: They’re having layoffs at the car wash. I might be out of a job again.
Thelma: Oh, Daddy …
Florida: I’m sorry James …
Ted Koppel: It’s not surprising with American Motors just releasing declining sales figures for a fourth year in a row.
James: (Glaring at him.) Thanks for the newsflash, Ted Koppel.
J.J.: It’s O.K., Dad, I’ve got a potential buyer for one of my paintings. (Pulls out painting.) I call it Spring in da Ghetto.
Thelma: It looks more like Spring of da Garbage.
Florida: Come on now, let’s eat. Now what did I tell you about bringing that paper to the table, Ted Koppel?
Ted Koppel: (Placing the paper down.) Sorry, momma.
Florida: (Looking at him.) I made your favorite; cornbread.
Ted Koppel grins happily then slaps his hands wildly in the air.
Ted Koppel: Dy-no-mite!!!
J.J. glares at him for a second, then—they all laugh.
In November of 1979, the first episode of Nightline aired, with a young Ted Koppel at the helm, sparking the most famous late-night news program of our generation.