Good Times was produced by Norman Lear and aired on CBS from February 1974 through August 1979. An instant hit, the ground-breaking show was a favorite among audiences and has become a cult classic in syndication.
Good Times follows the challenges and joys of the close-knit Evans family -- patriarch James, mother Florida, eldest son and accomplished amateur painter J.J. (James Evans, Jr.), brainy and beautiful daughter Thelma, and youngest son Michael, a political and social activist -- who live together in a high-rise housing project on the South Side of Chicago.
Audiences first met Florida as the no-nonsense maid on the series Maude, which was produced by Bud Yorkin and Norman Lear. Viewers responded to Florida's wit, sass and the way she managed the formidable Maude (played by the equally formidable Bea Arthur), and the team of Yorkin and Lear agreed that the character had the potential to be spun-off into her own hit comedy. In 1974, Good Times brought viewers home with Florida Evans. Created by Eric Monte and Michael Evans (the original Lionel from All in the Family and The Jeffersons) and produced by Yorkin and Lear, Good Times was remarkable on many levels. In a TV landscape populated almost exclusively by prosperous white characters living in idealized settings, and where black families were always presented as somehow broken or fractured, Good Times was the first primetime series that featured a strong black man at the head of a close-knit lower-middle-class black family.
The show took an honest look at the reality of life in the urban Projects, and tackled social and political issues around race, poverty, unemployment, inflation, crime and addiction -- hot button issues that cut across 1970s America. Even the most serious storylines were handled with great comic skill, and Good Times managed to portray the strength and devotion of the Evans family without ever becoming maudlin.
While the show was extremely successful at handling controversial topics with humor and dignity, a behind-the-scenes controversy was brewing. John Amos and Esther Rolle, who played James and Florida, were adamant about highlighting the Evans family's values and morality against the dangers and temptations of life in the projects. Equally important, the show provided a solid role model for young black men in the character of James. But the balance of the show shifted as the J.J. character gained popularity, and an increasing number of episodes focused on J.J.'s academic failures, woman-chasing, thievery and ubiquitous catchphrase "Dyn-o-mite!" while the character's artistic brilliance and dreams of success were given less attention. Critics were dismayed by J.J.'s clown-like behavior, which was compared to an early 1900s minstrel show performance. A battle between co-stars and producers ensued for control over the show's direction. Amos left the sitcom after two seasons. Rolle departed the show in 1977, but returned for the final season. With ratings in decline, Good Times was pulled from the CBS schedule, and the last original episode aired on August 1, 1979.
Art aficionados may recognize J.J.'s paintings as the work of artist Ernie Barnes. Credited as the founder of the Neo-Mannerism movement by art critic Frank Getlein, Barnes is widely regarded as one of the foremost American figurative painters and the leading African-American artist living today. Barnes was introduced to Norman Lear in 1974 by television producer and writer Danny Arnold, one of Barnes' most ardent supporters and collectors. Lear subsequently commissioned Barnes to paint a series of original pieces for Good Times.