Benson (TV series)

Benson is an American sitcom that originally aired on ABC from September 13, 1979, to April 19, 1986. The series was a spin-off of Soap in which the character Benson, portrayed by Robert Guillaume, first appeared as the wise-cracking yet level-headed African-American butler for the highly dysfunctional Tate family. However, Benson avoided the soap opera format of its parent series for a more conventional sitcom structure, and the lead character eventually moved from his service position to a role as lieutenant governor. The series was created by Susan Harris, and produced by Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions. In 1985, Guillaume won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his role in the series.[2]

Created bySusan Harris[1]
StarringRobert Guillaume
James Noble
Inga Swenson
Missy Gold
René Auberjonois (1980–1986)
Ethan Phillips (1980–1985)
Caroline McWilliams (1979–1981)
Didi Conn (1981–1985)
Lewis J. Stadlen (1979–1980)
Billie Bird (1984–1986)
Theme music composerGeorge Tipton
Composer(s)George Aliceson Tipton
Country of originUnited States
No. of seasons7
No. of episodes158 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)Paul Junger Witt
Tony Thomas
Susan Harris
Running time24–25 minutes
Production company(s)Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions
DistributorColumbia Pictures Television (1984–1987)
Columbia TriStar Television (1995–2002)
Sony Pictures Television (2002–present)
Original networkABC
Original releaseSeptember 13, 1979 (1979-09-13) 
April 19, 1986 (1986-04-19)
Preceded bySoap


Benson DuBois (Robert Guillaume), is hired to be the head of household affairs for widowed Governor Eugene X. Gatling (James Noble) and his daughter Katie (Missy Gold). Governor Gatling was a cousin of Jessica Tate (Katherine Helmond) from Soap.[3]

The series revolved around Benson's housekeeping dilemmas and his interactions with German cook Gretchen Wilomena Kraus (Inga Swenson) and John Taylor (David Hedison in the pilot episode, then Lewis J. Stadlen), who assisted Governor Gatling as chief of staff. After the first season, Taylor's job was filled by Clayton Endicott III (René Auberjonois).

Denise and Pete Downey (Ethan Phillips), the governor's press secretary, introduced in Season 2, met and later married, having a child in the show's fifth season. However, both were written out, with the reason given that Denise secured a job with NASA.

Benson worked his way up the ladder during the series, going from head of household affairs to state budget director, and eventually was elevated to the position of lieutenant governor. During the final episodes of the 1985–86 season, Benson ran for governor against Gatling.

Series finale

The term-limited Governor Gatling ran for reelection as an independent candidate, with Benson securing the party nomination, setting the stage for the two to go head-to-head in the general election.

At the end of the series' final episode, Benson and Gatling, who had strained relations due to the race, made peace with each other and watched the tight election returns together on television. As the broadcaster began to announce that a winner was at last being projected, the episode ended on a freeze frame of Benson and Gatling, leaving the series with an unresolved cliffhanger. Coincidentally, Guillaume's previous series, and the one from which Benson spun off, Soap, was also canceled with unresolved cliffhangers, though Guillaume had moved on to Benson by that point.

In 2007, Benson showrunner Bob Fraser said that the season ended on a cliffhanger at the request of the network. The show was canceled after the cliffhanger had aired. Fraser indicated that, had the show continued, Gatling would have won the election and Benson would have become a United States senator.[4]

According to Gary Brown, who directed the finale and 20 other episodes of Benson, three outcomes were filmed, with Benson winning, Gatling winning, and a tie. The intent was to decide over summer break which outcome to use. Brown also stated that, regardless of the outcome, the long-term intent for the next season was for Benson to become the governor.[5]

Cast and characters

  • Robert Guillaume as Benson DuBois, the main character, hired as head of household affairs for Governor Gatling and his daughter Katie. Quick-witted and quick-thinking, Benson has helped the governor on several issues, bailing him out of tight political and public situations.
  • James Noble as Eugene X. Gatling, the widowed and scatterbrained (but well-meaning) governor. Gatling has a penchant for telling off-the-wall stories, which Benson (and everyone else in the household) dread.
  • Missy Gold as Katie Gatling, the governor's pre-teen daughter.
  • Inga Swenson as Gretchen Kraus, the governor's chef. A fiercely proud German immigrant, she is often at odds with Benson and trades insults with him. A running gag in the series was whenever she would walk out of the room, under his breath, Benson would cast one last barb toward Kraus, to which she shouted from off-stage, "I He-e-e-ear You-u-u-u!". Despite their rivalry, Benson and Kraus become close friends. She later becomes Benson's strongest supporter when he runs for governor against Gatling.
  • Lewis J. Stadlen as John Taylor, Governor Gatling's chief of staff (season 1 only), played by David Hedison in the pilot episode.
  • Caroline McWilliams as Marcy Hill, the governor's personal secretary (seasons 1 and 2). Frequently unlucky in love, Marcy eventually marries toward the end of season 2.
  • Didi Conn as Denise Stevens, Marcy's replacement (seasons 3 through 5)
  • Ethan Phillips as Pete Downey, Gatling's press secretary. (seasons 2 through 5)
  • René Auberjonois as Clayton Endicott III; he replaced Taylor as Gatling's chief of staff beginning in season 2. Clayton is very snobbish and high-handed; he is also a hypochondriac.
  • Billie Bird as Rose Cassidy; she becomes Gatling's chef in season 6 when Kraus is promoted to Benson's administrative assistant.
  • Jerry Seinfeld played a small role as Frankie, a delivery boy and unsuccessful comedian, for three episodes in 1980; he was asked to leave because of creative differences.[6]


SeasonEpisodesOriginally airedRankRating
First airedLast aired
124September 13, 1979 (1979-09-13)May 8, 1980 (1980-05-08)2320.6
222October 31, 1980 (1980-10-31)May 22, 1981 (1981-05-22)N/AN/A
322November 6, 1981 (1981-11-06)May 14, 1982 (1982-05-14)63[7]N/A
422October 22, 1982 (1982-10-22)March 31, 1983 (1983-03-31)43[8]N/A
522September 16, 1983 (1983-09-16)May 4, 1984 (1984-05-04)39[9]16.3[10]
624September 21, 1984 (1984-09-21)April 5, 1985 (1985-04-05)33[11]15.5[12]
722October 4, 1985 (1985-10-04)April 19, 1986 (1986-04-19)74[13]10.0[14]

Broadcast history

SeasonTime slot[15]
1 (1979–1980)Thursdays at 8:30–9:00 pm ET on ABC
2 (1980–1981)Fridays at 8:00–8:30 pm ET on ABC
3 (1981–1982)Fridays at 8:00–8:30 pm ET on ABC
4 (1982–1983)Fridays at 8:00–8:30 pm ET on ABC (October 22, 1982 – March 18, 1983)
Thursday at 8:00–8:30 pm ET on ABC (March 31, 1983)
5 (1983–1984)Fridays at 8:00–8:30 pm ET on ABC
6 (1984–1985)Fridays at 8:00–8:30 pm ET on ABC (September 21, 1984 – February 22, 1985)
Fridays at 9:00–9:30 pm ET on ABC (March 15 – April 5, 1985)
7 (1985–1986)Fridays at 9:30–10:00 pm ET on ABC (October 4, 1985 – January 3, 1986)
Saturdays at 8:30–9:30 pm ET on ABC (January 18 – April 19, 1986)

Home media

On July 24, 2007, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released Season 1 of Benson on DVD in Region 1.

On April 3, 2012, Sony released season 2 on DVD.

On August 27, 2013, it was announced that Mill Creek Entertainment had acquired the rights to various television series from the Sony Pictures library including Benson.[16] They re-released the first and second seasons on DVD on September 2, 2014.[17]

DVD name Ep # Release date
The Complete First Season 24 July 24, 2007
The Complete Second Season 22 April 3, 2012


The exterior shots of the "governor's mansion" are actually of a private home located at 1365 South Oakland Avenue in Pasadena, California.[18] The same house was seen in the movie The Beverly Hillbillies (1993), in a 2006 U.S. television commercial for the RE/MAX real estate company, and the Columbo episode "Etude in Black".

The home has some Palladian and Neoclassical features.


  1. "Golden Girls' Creator Adds Shows". LA Times. September 10, 1991. Retrieved August 24, 2010.
  2. "37th Emmy Awards Nominees and Winners". Retrieved April 19, 2016.
  3. O'Connor, Joh' J. (September 13, 1979). "TV: Move To Mansion By Benson". The New York Times.
  4. "Benson". TV Series Finale. Archived from the original on November 20, 2008. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  5. Daniel D'Addario. "Surprise! "Benson" filmed three endings — find out which one was most likely". Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  6. Alana Horowitz; Vivian Giang (April 17, 2012). "17 people who got fired before they became rich and famous". Business Insider. Archived from the original on May 27, 2014. Retrieved September 7, 2015 via MSN Money.
  7. 1981-82 Ratings History
  8. 1982-83 Ratings History
  9. 1983-84 Ratings History
  10. 1983-84 Ratings History
  11. 1984-85 Ratings History
  12. 1984-85 Ratings History
  13. 1985-86 Ratings History
  14. 1985-86 Ratings History
  15. Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle (2007). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-Present (Ninth Edition). Ballantine Books. p. 1689. ISBN 978-0-345-49773-4.
  16. "Site News DVD news: Mill Creek Licenses 52 TV Shows from Sony for Low-Cost DVD Release -". Archived from the original on October 6, 2014. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  17. "Benson DVD news: Announcement for Benson - The Complete Seasons 1 & 2 -". Archived from the original on September 22, 2015. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  18. James Dean Died Here – The Locations of America's Pop Culture Landmarks (By Chris Epting), pg. 263
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