“Moving on Up” best describes the creation of The Jeffersons, a sitcom that celebrated an African American family in 1970s America.
The theme song became a memorable favourite, but it was the show that became a fave of TV viewers.
Created by Norman Lear in 1975, The Jeffersons was a spinoff of All in the Family, as George and Louise Jefferson were neighbours of the Bunkers, played by Sherman Helmsley and Isabel Sanford.
The backstory of The Jeffersons – George worked at a dry cleaners, but was injured in a car accident and his settlement enabled him to buy the business. His success in having seven dry cleaning operations allowed him and Louise to move from Queens to Manhattan and live in a swanky apartment with their son Lionel and maid Florence.
As George raged on about his new status, his wife Louise always tried to smooth out his egotistical edges, while the maid Florence gave it back to him with her sharp-tongue and quick wit.
The Jeffersons had regular side-kicks – Tom and Helen Willis, a bi-racial couple and their two adult children Allan and Jenny, who became Lionel’s girlfriend and later wife. There was also the odd Brit gentlemen, Harry Bentley, who provided another form of comic relief.
This show wasn’t as political as some of Norman Lear’s other tv series, but it addressed many issues that seemed untouchable – African American wealth, bi-racial couples and children, racism, gun control, adult illiteracy, as well as used the racial slurs of the time period like nigger, honky, and zebra.
In its early seasons, this show landed in the top five of TV ratings, with viewers appreciating the wise cracks of George as he lived his new life in Manhattan, trying to do the right things for his family, while still holding onto some of the beliefs of his past.
I liked watching The Jeffersons, because it showed the trials and tribulations of a family; only when I was older did I begin to realize how rare it was to see a Black family on television, especially one that was wealthy.
This CBS series was on our screen for 11 seasons over 10 years, the longest running tv series featuring African Americans to date. Although the show was cancelled without notice to its actors, its such a definitive part of the 1970s landscape, with its bold move to show the changing face of America.