It aired for the first time on this day 48 years ago!
The ’70s was an era for Black situational comedies featuring a variety of shows that did away with stereotypical representations of Black life. The new wave of shows opted, instead, for accurate representations of the Black experience and reminded viewers that Black people are not a monolith. While shows like Sanford and Son focused on relationships between Black men and their sons while shining a light on the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, shows like Good Times focused on the realities of the working-class poor in inner-cities. The Jeffersons, however, a spin-off from the uber-popular All In the Family show, focused on an affluent upper-class Black family who rose from an underserved neighborhood to a deluxe apartment in the sky. It was a rags-to-riches story.
The show ran for 11 seasons, totaling 253 episodes, which featured Isabel Sanford as Louise “Weezy” Jefferson and Sherman Hemsley as the hilarious patriarch George Jefferson. Their son, Lionel Jefferson, was played by Good Times co-creator Mike Evans while iconic actress Marla Gibbs played Florence Johnston, the Jeffersons’ maid. The show tackled a number of social issues and featured the first interracial couple ever in television history, Helen and Tom Willis, played by Roxie Roker and Franklin Cover. A groundbreaking show, it consistently performed high in ratings throughout its time on air, and “Movin’ on Up” became a part of the cultural ethos in the Black community as a result. In honor of the first airing of this iconic show 48 years ago on January 18, 1975, here are our favorite moments, courtesy of Kendall Rivers via Medium:
Friend in Need
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When Weezy asks George why they can’t deal with their arguments like Tom and Helen, George reminds her that there are certain limitations to an interracial relationship. The hilarious exchange is a whole ki-ki; George drops the n-bomb, causing him and Tom to go at it in a classic moment that set the tone for the first episode of a legendary show.
Now You See It, Now You Don’t
When Weezy randomly catches a man in a big, white rabbit suit shooting another man via her terrace telescope, Halloween quickly takes a turn. When the suspect locates them inside their apartment, he holds the entire crew hostage, Halloween costumes and all, in this hilarious two-part episode
The First Store
This episode reflects back on George’s early days as a business owner when he was trying to get a loan for his very first store. His attempts at upward mobility and his navigation as a Black man needing help from white institutions coincides with the assassination of Martin Luther King as George and his family reflect on many different realities that could exist as they try to fight the system.
984 W. 124th Street, Apt. 5C
In this heartwarming Christmas episode, George returns to the apartment where he grew up in his old neighborhood with his wife. Reflecting on how far he had come, Weezy learns that George has been paying it forward, acting as a secret Santa to the new family who occupies his old place for years. In a touching moment, George tells Weezy that he once promised himself that if they ever made it big, there would be no more bad Christmases in that apartment. And he kept the promise.
Louise Gets Her Way
When Florence is about to get evicted from her apartment, Weezy recommends Florence move in with them and become their full-time live-in maid. After failing to pass George’s test, he fires Florence but after she saves him money on a huge deal, he decides to rehire her, and the chemistry between the three is part of what makes this show so memorable. While Gibbs’ character was supposed to be limited, her performance in episodes like this proves that she was a star in her own right.
And the Doorknobs Shined Like Diamonds
After learning her childhood building is set for demolition, Weezy takes one last visit to her old home in Harlem. The good times come flooding back in, and she remembers the moments with her mother and sister, adding a nostalgic essence to the show. Sanford would go on to win an Emmy in 1981 for best actress in a comedy series for her performance as Weezy.
Florence Meets Mr. Right
Florence soon discovers that her devout Christian fiancee Buzz is actually a hypocrite and controlling narcissist, hellbent on insulting her and her friends. When Florence sees his true colors, she gives him a little piece of her mind, resulting in the engagement being called off, to which Florence emphatically agrees.
George’s Old Girlfriend
In this suspenseful episode, George meets up with his childhood girlfriend to catch up on old times. Turns out, she has a grudge to settle, holding George at gunpoint in retribution for breaking up with her all those years ago, causing her life to turn out terribly. Barbara McNair stars opposite Hemsley, and the two together make for quite a performance.
Sorry, Wrong Meeting
Tom invites George to a tenant’s meeting that turns out to be a Ku Klux Klan meeting. Previously known for his in-your-face approach to racism, George ends up saving the leader using CPR. This episode marks a turn from George’s usual “fight fire with fire” approach to one that is more nuanced and level-headed.
The Break Up
This episode explores family dynamics and how quickly one incident can break up an entire family. After George buys Lionel a term paper to cheat in school, it causes an explosive fight between The Jeffersons and The Willises and really showcases the chemistry of the entire cast.
Cheers to classic Black television shows like The Jeffersons! Because of them, we can!
Remembering The Jeffersons: Our favorite moments from the classic TV show. Photo Courtesy of Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images