The Jeffersons debuted in 1975 and was one of the longest-running TV series at that moment. And who would have believed that, especially when the show was actually a spin-off of another popular show (All in the Family)? Even more, it wasn’t even the first spin-off, the spot being taken by Maude. So why was it such a popular show after all?
The producer Norman Lear was well known at that time for giving a political tone to all of his creations. However, despite the here and there references, The Jeffersons managed to remain a more traditional sitcom, centered on a higher-class African-American family. The accent wasn’t put on the characters’ social status, but on the characters themselves and how they interacted with each other (given the setting they lived in).
Some sensible subjects were touched from time to time, subjects such as racism, gun control and controversies about the education system. But this was a lighthearted comedy series, a TV show that put an emphasis on the life of the family rather than something else.
And the satire existed, underlying, and it was the family’s lifestyle itself: a successful African-American family entrapped by their own achievements (the best example is their own house, filled with expensive furnishings nobody needed). What does that mean?
In my opinion, the concept of the show was to present a rather peculiar family (the Jeffersons don’t know how/don’t want to behave as their social status dictates) in an even more peculiar social setting (the show featured one of the first African-American families as the lead characters, as well as the first mixed-racial couple in the history of television shows). This means shifting the focus from having out of the ordinary leads in an ordinary setting to having out of the ordinary characters in an out of the ordinary setting .
So I believe that playing with concepts and reinventing their meaning always pays when it comes to comedy series. I believe that this is one of the strongest reasons for which The Jeffersons was a prime-time series for 10 years.
But then again the show was canceled, unexpectedly and unannounced (as the stars say), after the 11th season. The reason seems to be the fact that the audiences dropped. However, I believe that this was caused by how the producers decided to change the tone of the series, making it a bit more politically correct (so to speak): the best example that comes to mind is how George’s racist outburst became tamer and more acceptable for the general public (but, at the same time, becoming blander and ordinary).
In the end, I’ll leave a quote which best describes the Jeffersons. Check it out: Rich people never even see money. All they know is, ‘Charge it,’ ‘I’ll sign for it,’ and ‘Sue me.’ Quite the paradox, isn’t it?