The Jeffersons

The Jeffersons is an American sitcom that was broadcast on CBS from January 18, 1975, to July 2, 1985, lasting 11 seasons and a total of 253 episodes.[1] The Jeffersons is one of the longest-running sitcoms,[2] the second-longest-running American series with a primarily African American cast (surpassed in 2012 by Tyler Perry's House of Payne by one episode, though The Jeffersons ran for more seasons),[1][3] and the first to prominently feature a married interracial couple.[1][4]

The Jeffersons
Seasons 3–11 title card
Created by
Developed byNorman Lear
Directed by
Theme music composerJeff Barry
Ja'net Dubois
Opening theme"Movin' On Up" performed by Ja'net Dubois
Composer(s)Don Great
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons11
No. of episodes253 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)
  • David Duclon
  • Ron Leavitt
  • Michael G. Moye
  • Jerry Perzigian
  • Donald L. Seigel
  • Jack Shea
Production location(s)
Camera setupMulti-camera
Running time22–24 minutes
Production company(s)
DistributorT.A.T. Communications Company
Embassy Communications 1987-88
Columbia Pictures Television 1988-95
Columbia TriStar Television 1995-2002
Sony Pictures Television 2002-present
Original networkCBS
Picture formatColor
Original releaseJanuary 18, 1975 (1975-01-18) 
July 2, 1985 (1985-07-02)
Preceded byAll in the Family
Followed byChecking In
Related shows


The show focuses on George and Louise Jefferson, a prosperous African-American couple who have been able to move from Queens to Manhattan owing to the success of George's dry-cleaning chain. The show was launched as the second spin-off of All in the Family, on which the Jeffersons had been the neighbors of Archie and Edith Bunker.[5][6] The show was the creation of Norman Lear.[5][7] The Jeffersons eventually evolved into more of a traditional sitcom but did reference such issues as alcoholism, racism, suicide, gun control, being transgender, and adult illiteracy. The epithets "nigger" and "honky" were used occasionally, especially during the earlier seasons.[2][4]

The Jeffersons had one spin-off, titled Checking In. The series was centered on the Jeffersons' housekeeper, Florence.[8] Checking In only lasted four episodes, after which Florence returned to The Jeffersons.[9] The Jeffersons also shared continuity with the sitcom E/R, which featured Lynne Moody, who made a guest appearance in one episode of The Jeffersons.[10] Sherman Hemsley guest-starred as George in two episodes of the series, which lasted for one season.[11] The cancellation of The Jeffersons cleared the way for Marla Gibbs, who played Florence Johnston on the series, to move on to the new NBC sitcom 227 in the fall of 1985, a year earlier than scheduled.

The Jeffersons ended in controversy after CBS abruptly canceled the series without allowing for a proper series finale. The cast was not informed until after the July 2, 1985, episode "Red Robins", and actor Sherman Hemsley said he learned that the show was canceled by reading it in the newspaper.[12] Sanford, who heard about the cancellation through her cousin who read it in the tabloids, has publicly stated that she found the cancellation with no proper finale to be disrespectful on the network's part.[13] Per an article in the May 8, 1985, Los Angeles Times, the series was cancelled by announcement at the CBS network "upfront" presentation the day before, nearly two months before the airing of the final episode.

The cast reunited in a stage play based on the sitcom.[14] In the 1996 series finale of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the Jeffersons made a guest appearance as the buyers of the Banks family house.[1] In an episode of Tyler Perry's House of Payne in 2011, Sherman Hemsley and Marla Gibbs reprised their roles of George Jefferson and Florence Johnston.[15]

In 1985, Hemsley and Sanford made a special joint guest appearance in the Canale 5 comedy show Grand Hotel, starring Italian actors Paolo Villaggio, Franco & Ciccio comic duo and Carmen Russo. They were guests in the fictional hotel and their voices were dubbed by Italian actors Enzo Garinei (George) and Isa di Marzio (Louise), who also dubbed their characters for the full series.

Series development

Louise Jefferson, played by Isabel Sanford, first appeared in the All in the Family episode "Lionel Moves Into the Neighborhood", which was broadcast on March 2, 1971. The episode, the eighth of the series, centers on Louise, her son Lionel, and her husband George's moving next door to Archie and Edith Bunker in the working-class section of Queens.[2] Lionel, played by Mike Evans, first appeared in "Meet the Bunkers", the premiere episode of All in the Family.[2]

Norman Lear created the character of George Jefferson specifically for Hemsley. Lear originally intended for George to appear in the first season of the series; however, Hemsley was starring in the Broadway musical Purlie at the time, and Lear decided to postpone introduction of the character until Hemsley was available. Lear created the character of Henry Jefferson, George's younger brother, and replaced George with Henry in the series's scripts until Purlie finished its run. Mel Stewart was cast as Henry.[2][3] George was introduced in the episode "Henry's Farewell", and Hemsley and Stewart share their only scene together in its final minutes. The episode marked the final appearance of Henry.

George, Louise, and Lionel continued to appear on All in the Family until 1975, when the spin-off The Jeffersons, also created by Lear, premiered.[8] The characters of Lionel's biracial fiancée, Jenny, and her family, all of whom first appeared in the 1974 All in the Family episode "Lionel's Engagement", were also written into the new series.[16] However, the roles were all recast, with Berlinda Tolbert taking over the role of Jenny, veteran actor Franklin Cover playing her father, Tom Willis, whose first name was changed from Louis, as it was in their first AITF appearance, and Roxie Roker as her mother, Helen. Roxie Roker was asked during a casting interview if she'd be comfortable with her character having a white husband. In response she showed a picture of her husband, Sy Kravitz, who was white.


During the January 11, 1975 episode of All in the Family, titled "The Jeffersons Move Up", Edith Bunker gave a tearful good-bye to her neighbor Louise Jefferson as her husband George, their son Lionel, and she moved from a working-class section of Queens, New York, into the luxurious Colby East, a fictitious high-rise apartment complex in Manhattan.[17] The Jeffersons premiered the following week, on January 18, 1975.[8]

George's career as a dry-cleaner began in the first season of All in the Family in the third episode "Oh, My Aching Back" (though the character himself did not appear on-camera). After his car was rear-ended by a bus, he filed a civil action and won $3200, enough to open his first store in Queens.[3] At the beginning of The Jeffersons, he was operating five stores throughout New York City, with another two opening during the following seasons.

Louise made friends with Tom and Helen Willis, an interracial couple with two adult children of their own[8] (whom George derided as "zebras"):[1][18] son Allan (played by Andrew Rubin in the first-season finale, and by Jay Hammer throughout season 5), a white-passing college drop-out; and daughter Jenny, an aspiring fashion designer. Jenny and Lionel became a couple, married on December 24, 1976, and later became the parents of a daughter, Jessica (played in later seasons by Ebonie Smith).[8][19] Lionel and Jenny experienced marital issues, and filed for divorce in 1985, but remained friends.[8]

Marla Gibbs portrayed the role of Florence Johnston, the Jeffersons' back-talking, wisecracking, and devoutly religious housekeeper. Florence often teased George, mostly about his short stature and receding hairline.[20] Paul Benedict arrived as Harry Bentley, a loyal, kind, friendly yet somewhat dimwitted British next-door neighbor,[8] who worked as an interpreter at the United Nations.[21]

A common sight-gag of the show was George slamming the door in Bentley's face mid-conversation.[21] Bentley also had a bad back, and frequently needed George to walk on his back.[22][23] He also became known for addressing the Jeffersons as "Mr. J" and "Mrs. J".[23] Zara Cully played George's mother, Olivia "Mother" Jefferson, who constantly disparaged her daughter-in-law.[6][18][19] Cully, who had first appeared in the 1974 All in the Family episode, "Lionel's Engagement", reprised her role.[24] She appeared regularly in the first two seasons, but made sporadic appearances over the next two years and was written out in the fifth season (Cully died in 1978, from lung cancer; no episode was centered on Mother Jefferson's death, but it was mentioned that she had died in season 5). Ned Wertimer played the doorman, Ralph Hart, throughout the series,[25] along with Danny Wells who played Charlie the bartender.[26]

Cast changes

Mike Evans ("Lionel") left the show after the first season; his replacement was Damon Evans (no relation),[6] who took over the role until halfway through the fourth season.[8] Damon Evans's last episode was "Lionel Gets the Business".

Mike Evans and Tolbert returned in the 1979–1980 season, with Tolbert's character, Jenny, pregnant with a daughter named Jessica. However, Mike Evans appeared for only one more season, along with Tolbert.[8] The Jeffersons' sixth season peaked at #8 in the summer of 1980. The characters of Lionel and Jenny were written out by stating that they had marital problems, the result of which became a two-part episode storyline as the series' eighth-season premiere. The series' eighth season was the first African-American sitcom in years (since Sanford and Son) to peak in the top 5 (the series' eighth season debuted at #3).

Evans and Tolbert appeared in the two-part episode together; Evans made his final appearance in two episodes during the series' eleventh and final season. Tolbert became a regular guest star throughout the rest of the series. In the spring of 1981, Paul Benedict left the show for a season and a half, returning in the final two seasons of the series.[8] However, the ratings sank below the top 30, and The Jeffersons aired its last episode, "Red Robins", on July 2, 1985.[27]

Main cast

Actor/Actress Character Seasons
Isabel SanfordLouise JeffersonMain
Sherman HemsleyGeorge JeffersonMain
Mike EvansLionel JeffersonMainMainRecurringGuest
Damon EvansMain
Roxie RokerHelen WillisMain
Franklin CoverThomas "Tom" WillisMain
Zara CullyOlivia "Mother" JeffersonMain
Berlinda TolbertJenny Willis JeffersonMainRecurring
Paul BenedictHarry BentleyMainMain
Marla GibbsFlorence JohnstonRecurringMain
Jay HammerAllan WillisMain
Ned WertimerRalph HartRecurring
Danny WellsCharlie the bartenderRecurring
Ebonie SmithJessica JeffersonRecurring

Notable guest appearances



SeasonEpisodesOriginally airedRankRatingTied with
First airedLast aired
113January 18, 1975 (1975-01-18)April 12, 1975 (1975-04-12)427.6N/A
224September 13, 1975 (1975-09-13)March 6, 1976 (1976-03-06)2121.5N/A
324September 25, 1976 (1976-09-25)April 11, 1977 (1977-04-11)2421.0N/A
426September 24, 1977 (1977-09-24)March 4, 1978 (1978-03-04)N/AN/AN/A
524September 20, 1978 (1978-09-20)April 18, 1979 (1979-04-18)N/AN/AN/A
624September 23, 1979 (1979-09-23)April 13, 1980 (1980-04-13)824.3N/A
720November 2, 1980 (1980-11-02)March 29, 1981 (1981-03-29)623.5N/A
825October 4, 1981 (1981-10-04)May 16, 1982 (1982-05-16)323.4N/A
927September 26, 1982 (1982-09-26)May 1, 1983 (1983-05-01)1220.0Newhart
1022October 2, 1983 (1983-10-02)May 6, 1984 (1984-05-06)1916.6N/A
1124October 14, 1984 (1984-10-14)July 2, 1985 (1985-07-02)5013.2N/A

The Jeffersons had many two-part episodes, either over two consecutive weeks, or aired as an hour-long episode.

Theme song

Ja'Net DuBois and Jeff Barry co-wrote The Jeffersons theme song, "Movin' on Up", which was sung by DuBois with a gospel choir.[31] Sammy Davis, Jr. recorded a cover version of the song in 1978.[32]

Broadcast history and Nielsen ratings

The Jeffersons changed time slots at least 15 different times during its 11-year run, unusual for a popular long running series.[33] The most common time slot was on Sunday night.[7]

In its first season (1974–75), the show ranked at number four, surpassed by its parent series All in the Family (which landed at number one for the fifth year in a row).[34] The show's ratings for the following two seasons placed it in the Top 30, but during the 1977–78 and 1978–79 seasons (the show's fourth and fifth seasons), it fell out of the top 30.[19]

It returned to the Top 10 in 1979–80, and at the end of the 1981–82 season, The Jeffersons finished third overall, only surpassed by fellow CBS series Dallas and 60 Minutes. As a result, the series remained among the Top 20 for the next two seasons.[19]

2019 special

On May 22, 2019, ABC broadcast Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons, produced by Lear and Jimmy Kimmel and starring Woody Harrelson, Marisa Tomei, Jamie Foxx, Wanda Sykes, Ike Barinholtz, Kerry Washington, Ellie Kemper.[35] Marla Gibbs reprised her role as Florence Johnston.

Awards and nominations

The Jeffersons received 14 Emmy Award nominations during its time on the air. Marla Gibbs was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series each year from 1981-85. Sherman Hemsley was nominated for Best Actor in 1984. Larry M. Harris won the Emmy for Outstanding Video Tape Editing for a Series in 1983.[36]

Isabel Sanford was nominated for seven consecutive Best Actress Emmys, from 1979 until 1985.[36] Her victory in 1981 made her the first African-American actress to win an Emmy for Best Actress in a Comedy Series,[1][19][37] and the second to win any Emmy Award; Gail Fisher, who played Peggy on the TV show Mannix, preceded her in 1970. Sanford was also the recipient of five of the eight Golden Globe Awards nominations the program received.[38]

Home media

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the first six seasons of The Jeffersons on DVD in Region 1 between 2002 and 2007.[39] These releases have been discontinued and are now out of print.

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 The Jeffersons.[40] They subsequently re-released the first two seasons on DVD on May 20, 2014.[41]

On August 8, 2014, it was announced that Shout! Factory had acquired the rights to the series; they subsequently released the complete series on DVD in a 33-disc collection on December 9, 2014.[42][43]

On April 28, 2015, Shout! released season 7 on DVD in Region 1.[44] Season 8 was released on August 11, 2015.[45]

DVD NameEp #Release Date
The Complete First Season13August 6, 2002
May 20, 2014 (re-release)
The Complete Second Season24May 13, 2003
May 20, 2014 (re-release)
The Complete Third Season24April 12, 2005
The Complete Fourth Season26October 11, 2005
The Complete Fifth Season24August 15, 2006
The Complete Sixth Season24March 27, 2007
The Complete Seventh Season20April 28, 2015
The Complete Eighth Season25August 11, 2015
The Complete Series253December 9, 2014


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Further reading

  • Newcomb, Horace (Ed.). (1997). Encyclopedia of Television. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers: Chicago, IL; ISBN 1-884964-26-5.
  • Mitchell, Gordon Whitey. (2008). Hackensack to Hollywood-My Two Show Business Careers. BearManor Media: Albany, NY; ISBN 1-59393-121-2.
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