"The Jeffersons" Celebrates its 35th Anniversary

On January 18, 1975, The Jeffersons began its ten-year run on CBS. A spin-off, the series had its “pilot” episode air on All in the Family (on Jan. 11). The Jeffersons began in a period in TV history when African-American characters were becoming the leads of their own shows. Isabel Sanford, in fact, was the first African-American Emmy winner as Best Actress in a Comedy Series (in 1981). The series broke ground in its inclusion of an interracial marriage (in Tom and Helen Willis) and explored the same types of topical issues as All in the Family. Although, as the Museum of Broadcast Communications’ Encyclopedia of Television notes, “America’s black community remained divided in its assessment of the program,” the show was unique in the television landscape for its portrayal of an affluent African-American family.

The Archive of American Television interviewed many of the contributors to The Jeffersons. Watch interviews with Isabel Sanford (who admits she was reluctant to take the spin-off), Sherman Hemsley (who describes the creation of “George Jefferson’s” famous “walk”), Marla Gibbs (who comments on how she kept her job at American Airlines in the beginning of the show’s run), director Jack Shea (whose kids told him their classmates were doing impressions of the characters– he then knew the show was a hit), and many others.

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