Benson (TV series)

Last updated

Benson title screen.jpg
Genre Sitcom
Created by Susan Harris [1]
Starring Robert 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 composer George Tipton
ComposerGeorge Aliceson Tipton
Country of originUnited States
No. of seasons7
No. of episodes158 (list of episodes)
Executive producers Paul Junger Witt
Tony Thomas
Susan Harris
Running time24–25 minutes
Production company Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions
Distributor Columbia Pictures Television (1984–1986, 1988-1995)
Coca-Cola Telecommunications (1986-1987)
Columbia TriStar Television (1995–2002)
Sony Pictures Television (2002–present)
Original network ABC
Original releaseSeptember 13, 1979 (1979-09-13) 
April 19, 1986 (1986-04-19)
Preceded by Soap

Benson is an American sitcom television series that originally aired on ABC from September 13, 1979, to April 19, 1986. The show stars Robert Guillaume in the title role of Benson DuBois, the head of the household for Governor Eugene X. Gatling, played by James Noble. The show focused on the conflicts and relationships within the Governor's household, with Benson generally providing the sarcastic voice of reason. Inga Swenson, Missy Gold, Didi Conn, Ethan Phillips, and René Auberjonois all played long-term supporting roles.


The series was a spin-off of Soap in which the character Benson 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]


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).

The governor's press secretary Pete Downey (Ethan Phillips) was introduced in Season 2, and Benson's secretary Denise Stevens (Didi Conn) was introduced in Season 3. They 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 cancelled 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




SeasonEpisodesOriginally airedRankRating
First airedLast aired
1 24September 13, 1979 (1979-09-13)May 8, 1980 (1980-05-08)2320.6
2 22October 31, 1980 (1980-10-31)May 22, 1981 (1981-05-22)N/AN/A
3 22November 6, 1981 (1981-11-06)May 14, 1982 (1982-05-14)63 [7] N/A
4 22October 22, 1982 (1982-10-22)March 31, 1983 (1983-03-31)43 [8] N/A
5 22September 16, 1983 (1983-09-16)May 4, 1984 (1984-05-04)39 [9] 16.3 [10]
6 24September 21, 1984 (1984-09-21)April 5, 1985 (1985-04-05)33 [11] 15.5 [12]
7 22October 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 nameEp #Release date
The Complete First Season24July 24, 2007
The Complete Second Season22April 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 in the Columbo episode "Etude in Black", as well as in Season One, Episode 11 of Barnaby Jones , entitled, "To Denise, with Love and Murder", in which it was used as the outside view of the mansion belonging to the married couple played by Louise Troy and Bill Bixby.

The home has some Palladian and Neoclassical features.

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  14. 1985-86 Ratings History
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