Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! Although we’ve just wrapped our coverage on the best episodes from Sanford And Son (1972-1977, NBC), most of the characters went on to several unsuccessful, but moderately well-remembered, spin-off series. None of these shows deserve to get their own Sitcom Tuesday posts, but like Archie Bunker’s Place (1979-1983, CBS), I wanted to share a little bit about what happened after Fred and Lamont went off the air.
Of course, the first spin-off actually ran concurrent with the fifth season of the original series. Entitled Grady, it starred Whitman Mayo and aired for ten episodes from December 1975 to March 1976. I have never seen an episode of the short-lived show, but if the backdoor pilot (which aired at the end of Sanford And Son‘s fourth season) is any indication, I’m not missing much. (I do have access to at least one episode, however, so perhaps I may cover the show at a later date. Stay tuned…) The story involved Grady moving from Watts to Wentwood, where he lived with his daughter and son-in-law. After the show’s cancellation, Mayo made two more appearances in the last year of Sanford And Son.
When Redd Foxx decided that the sixth season would be his last (and he took up a variety show option on ABC), the producers intended to continue the series with Demond Wilson as the star. But Wilson’s outrageous demands — he was ready to leave too — necessitated his departure as well. Because the series was still a Top 30 show, NBC wasn’t ready to let go, and with the same production team, they turned the series into Sanford Arms, which starred Theodore Wilson as Phil Wheeler, a widower with two kids who bought the property after Fred and Lamont moved to Arizona. He turned the Sanford Arms into a hotel and hired Bubba as his bellboy. Aunt Esther was on hand to collect mortgage payments and give Phil hell, and Grady even popped in on occasion, having married his ugly girlfriend, Dolly. (Here’s the whole pilot episode, “Bye, Fred, Hi, Phil,” which aired September 16, 1977.)
It is often said today that the key to Sanford And Son‘s success was Redd Foxx, and apparently audiences of the time felt the same way. Eight episodes were produced for the 1977-1978 season, but only four aired. I have all four episodes. Although similar in tone to the end of the “father series” (and Esther and Bubba are still great), the new characters are nowhere close to Fred and Lamont. And, truthfully, why would we want to see a show with Sanford in the title if there are no Sanfords in sight?
Cut to two years later when NBC is in last place and looking for a hit of the calibre of Sanford And Son. Redd Foxx returned as Fred Sanford for Sanford, which debuted in March of 1980 for a first season of 14 episodes. Lamont was working on the Alaska pipeline (the events of Sanford Arms were ignored) and Fred took on a new business partner in Cal Pettie, played by Dennis Burkley, an overweight white southerner. Fred got a new love interest in wealthy widow Evelyn (Marguerite Ray), who had a teenage daughter with whom Fred bonded. However, Evelyn’s snooty brother and snobbish maid were less accepting. The only regular from the original series was Nathaniel Taylor’s Rollo. Later in the first season, Aunt Esther’s adopted son, now in college and re-named Cliff (in the original series he was Daniel) moved in with Fred and Cal. The ratings were adequate, and the show was renewed for a second season, which premiered midseason in January of 1981 to even weaker numbers. Esther and Grady made a few guest appearances, but the show was put on hold after five episodes. The remaining seven installments produced were burned off that summer.
I have all 26 episodes, but I’ve been unable to get through them. Yes, Redd Foxx is back. But, with an inferior supporting cast and weak scripts, even he can’t overcome the mediocrity. Are there laughs in the re-boot? Some, especially when the show returns to its roots, like in the two part Season Two premiere in which Esther and Fred learn that they accidentally got married. (Below is that full episode, “Here Comes The Bride,” which originally aired on January 9, 1981.)
However, none of Fred’s new relationships could compare with his bond to Lamont, and Sanford proves that their chemistry was the REAL reason for Sanford And Son’s success. It wasn’t the writing/producing team (Sanford Arms), it wasn’t even Redd Foxx (Sanford), it was the characters.