Family (1976 TV series)

Last updated
Family title card
Created by Jay Presson Allen
Starring Sada Thompson
James Broderick
Gary Frank
Kristy McNichol
Meredith Baxter Birney
Quinn Cummings
Opening theme John Rubinstein
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons5
No. of episodes86 (list of episodes)
Executive producers Leonard Goldberg
Mike Nichols
Aaron Spelling
Camera setup Single-camera
Running time50 minutes
Production companiesIcarus Productions
Spelling-Goldberg Productions
Distributor Lexington Broadcast Services Company
Sony Pictures Television
Original network ABC
Audio format Monaural
Original releaseMarch 9, 1976 (1976-03-09) 
June 25, 1980 (1980-06-25)

Familyis an American television drama series that aired on the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) television network from 1976 to 1980. It was originally conceived as a limited series; its first season consisted of six episodes. [1] A total of 86 episodes were produced. Creative control of the show was split among executive producers Leonard Goldberg, Aaron Spelling, and Mike Nichols.



Family depicted, for its time, a contemporary traditional family with realistic, believable characters. [2] The show starred Sada Thompson and James Broderick as Kate and Doug Lawrence, a happily married upper-middle-class couple living at 1230 Holland Street in Pasadena, California with their three children: Nancy (portrayed by Elayne Heilveil in the original miniseries, then by Jane Actman for the first 2 episodes of Season 2, and finally Meredith Baxter Birney (who re-filmed Actman’s scenes and played the Nancy character for the remainder of the show's run); Willie (Gary Frank); and Letitia, nicknamed "Buddy" (Kristy McNichol).

The eldest daughter character of Nancy had a young son, Timothy (called Timmy, portrayed by siblings Michael and David Shackelford). Timmy was named after a younger brother who died off-screen years prior in a freak fishing canoe accident that was briefly mentioned in season one.

Family raised the profile of all of its featured actors and, in particular, catapulted Kristy McNichol and Meredith Baxter Birney to stardom.

In the 1978 fourth season, eleven-year-old Andrea “Annie” Cooper (Quinn Cummings) is adopted by the family after the off-screen death of her biological parents, Kate and Doug's college friends, in a car accident. Annie excels in academics with her extensive vocabulary and strives to fit in with her new family and classmates at school.

Storylines were often topical. Family often featured what has come to be known as "very special episodes". In the first episode, Nancy walks in on her husband, Jeff, having sex with one of her friends. During the second season she and Jeff divorce, but he appears occasionally thereafter to complicate the Lawrences' lives. Other storylines include Kate's possible breast cancer and Buddy's dilemmas about whether to have sex; she always chooses to wait. Other episodes deal with homosexuality: in a 1976 episode ("Rites of Friendship"), Willie's childhood friend, Zeke Remsen, is arrested in a gay bar and Willie struggles to accept his friend's sexuality, while a 1977 episode ("We Love You, Miss Jessup") deals with Buddy's friendship with a lesbian teacher. Family also contends with alcoholism (Doug's sister; Buddy's friend) and dementia: A 1979 episode directed by Joanne Woodward guest-stars Henry Fonda as Doug's father, who is beginning to experience cognitive decline. Two years later, Fonda would win an Academy Award for playing a similar character in On Golden Pond .

Episodes and production details

SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
1 6March 9, 1976 (1976-03-09)April 13, 1976 (1976-04-13)
2 22October 6, 1976 (1976-10-06)May 3, 1977 (1977-05-03)
3 23September 13, 1977 (1977-09-13)May 16, 1978 (1978-05-16)
4 22September 21, 1978 (1978-09-21)May 17, 1979 (1979-05-17)
5 13December 11, 1979 (1979-12-11)June 25, 1980 (1980-06-25)

The initial showrunners of Family were Nigel McKeand and Carol Evan McKeand, who previously had been writers for The Waltons . After the fourth season, the McKeands departed [3] and were replaced by Edward Zwick, who would go on to produce the acclaimed series thirtysomething , My So-Called Life and Once and Again .

The pilot episode was filmed inside a private residence located at 1230 Milan Avenue in South Pasadena, California. A set, that was almost identical to the house, was built at 20th Century Studios in Century City (Los Angeles), California to film all other episodes. The exterior shots of the Lawrence family home were filmed at the same private residence for the duration of the series.

The house has been featured in the following productions: 1) Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves (1997 film); 2) Jurassic Park III (2001 film); 3) Bringing Down the House (2003 film); 4) The Whispers (2015 television series); 5) “Red Baron” pizza “Sweet 16” commercial ad (2022).

Broadcast history and Nielsen ratings

SeasonTime slot (ET)RankRating
1975–76 Tuesdays 10 p.m.   34 [4] N/A
1976–77 Tuesdays 10 p.m.   39 [5] N/A
1977–78 Tuesdays 10 p.m.   31 [6] 19.8
1978–79 Thursdays 10 p.m. (Sep 1978-Mar 1979)
Fridays 8 p.m. (Apr-May 1979)
   52 [7] N/A
1979–80 Mondays 10 p.m. (Jan-Feb 1980)
Mondays 9 p.m. (Mar 1980)
Wednesdays 8 p.m. (June 1980)
   61 [8] N/A

Notable guest stars

Willie with Doug and Kate. Gary frank James Broderick Sada Thompson Family 1976.JPG
Willie with Doug and Kate.

Many well-known (or soon-to-be well-known) actors and actresses appeared on the series, including Howard Hesseman, Ted Danson, Michael J. Fox, Willie Aames, Leif Garrett, Doris Roberts, Lauren Tewes, Vic Tayback, Linda Lavin, Tommy Lee Jones, James Woods, Michael Keaton, Lance Kerwin, Kim Cattrall, Lisa Whelchel, Charlotte Rae, Shelley Long, Henry Fonda, Dinah Manoff, Mare Winningham, Helen Hunt, Kim Richards, Dana Plato, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Annie Potts, Blair Brown, Alice Ghostley, Jameson Parker, Dominique Dunne, Steve Guttenberg, René Auberjonois and Stephanie Zimbalist.

Meredith Baxter's real-life mother, Whitney Blake, guest starred, as did David Birney, who was Baxter's husband at the time.

Critical reception

Family was widely acclaimed, with many television critics calling it a rare quality offering [9] [10] in ABC's primetime schedule, which at the time contained light-hearted shows such as Happy Days , Laverne & Shirley and The Love Boat .

The principal cast of Family was featured on the January 21-27, 1978, and March 15-21, 1980, covers of TV Guide magazine.

In the fourth season, some critics took issue with the show's direction. In February 1979, Noel Holston of the Orlando Sentinel called Family "ABC's most prestigious program" but claimed "the producers' crisis-of-the-week approach is starting to strain the series' credibility." [11] Some critics complained that Family, like many TV shows of the period, had become too reliant on sex-related plots. [12] In spring 1979, ABC shifted the show to a Friday night death slot of 8 p.m. Eastern Time, and its previously solid ratings dropped to near the bottom of the chart. As a result, Family was renewed for a final season of 13 episodes that began at mid-season and aired intermittently.

Despite its occasionally adult themes, the series was consistently praised by the National Parent-Teacher Association. In February 1979, the PTA said Family contained "good parenting lessons" and "slightly controversial" but "excellent" content, [13] recommending it for viewing by teens and older.

Seven years after the series' cancellation, it was widely reported that a Family Reunion TV movie was planned for the 1987–88 season. [14] At least one report indicated that if its ratings were strong enough, the series would be revived for the then-current ABC schedule. [15] The plot was to involve the Lawrence children gathering for Kate's remarriage. (James Broderick had died of cancer in 1982.) But the writers' strike that year halted production, and the project was abandoned.

Awards and nominations

1976 Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series Glenn Jordan (for "Rites of Friendship")Won [16]
1977 E. W. Swackhamer (for "Acts of Love: Parts 1 and 2")Nominated [17]
1976 Golden Globe Awards Best Television Series – Drama Nominated [18]
Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama Sada Thompson Nominated
1977 Best Television Series – DramaNominated
1978 Nominated
Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama Kristy McNichol Nominated
Sada ThompsonNominated
1979 Nominated
1976 Humanitas Prize 60 Minute Network or Syndicated Television Jay Presson Allen (for "Pilot")Nominated [19]
Nigel Evan McKeand and Carol Evan McKeand (for "A Right and Proper Goodbye")Nominated
1978 David Jacobs and Carol Evan McKeand (for "Annie Laurie")Won
Carol Evan McKeand (for "The Princess in the Tower")Nominated
1980 Sally Robinson (for "Thanksgiving")Won
1977 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Drama Series Leonard Goldberg, Nigel McKeand, Mike Nichols, and Aaron Spelling Nominated [20]
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Sada ThompsonNominated
Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Gary Frank (for "Lovers and Strangers")Won
Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Meredith Baxter Birney Nominated
Kristy McNicholWon
1978 Outstanding Drama SeriesLeonard Goldberg, Nigel McKeand, and Aaron SpellingNominated
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series James Broderick Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama SeriesSada ThompsonWon
Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Drama SeriesMeredith Baxter BirneyNominated
Kristy McNicholNominated
Outstanding Lead Actor for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series John Rubinstein (for "And Baby Makes Three")Nominated
Outstanding Film Editing for a Drama Series Jim Faris (for "Acts of Love: Part 1")Nominated
1979 Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama SeriesSada ThompsonNominated
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Kristy McNicholWon
1980 Outstanding Drama SeriesLeonard Goldberg, Aaron Spelling, and Edward Zwick Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama SeriesKristy McNicholNominated
Sada ThompsonNominated
1979 Young Artist Awards Best Juvenile Actress in a TV Series or Special Quinn Cummings Nominated [21]
Kristy McNicholNominated
1980 Best Young Actress in a Television SeriesQuinn CummingsWon [22]

Theme music and opening credits

In the original spring 1976 miniseries run of Family, the theme music is a dramatic-sounding, yet low-key piano solo with minor orchestral contingents, composed by cast member John Rubinstein (son of classical musician Arthur Rubinstein). When Family was picked up as a regular series for the fall 1976 schedule, the theme music was changed to a more cheery, upbeat instrumental dominated by trumpets and horns, also written by Rubinstein. This version lasted the rest of the run.

The opening title credits of Family prominently feature the Lawrence family home and lushly landscaped front yard. From 1976-78, the credits show Kate in front of the home saying goodbye to Doug in his car as he presumably leaves for work at his law firm. Kate then walks back inside the home and past the piano covered with framed photos of the entire family. The camera then focuses on the framed photos of each cast member. The early opening and closing credits feature a distinctive san serif typeface.

For the 1978-79 fourth season and the remainder of the series, a slightly revamped version of the opening credits once again focuses on the Lawrence home and features vignette scenes of each cast member (in lieu of the previously shown framed photos). At the end of the credits, the family is shown standing in front of the home to pose for a group photo. Notably, the opening and closing credits in the later years of the series switch from a san serif to a serif typeface.

Family became the subject of a 24-year legal dispute [23] due to a lawsuit filed by writer Jeri Emmet in 1977. The claim was against Spelling Television and alleged that Spelling had stolen the idea for the show from a script that Emmet had submitted, titled "The Best Years". Spelling responded to the lawsuit with a statement explaining that he had conceived the idea in his kitchen with Leonard Goldberg, his professional partner. Next they pitched the idea to scriptwriter Jay Presson Allen to create the pilot. She had just completed writing the screenplay for the film Funny Lady , starring Barbra Streisand and directed by Herbert Ross.

In October 1981, the suit was dismissed for lack of prosecution. Jeri Emmet filed an appeal the same month. Approximately a year later, she withdrew her appeal as part of a settlement with Spelling and Goldberg for $1,000. Emmet later filed a legal malpractice action against her own lawyers in which it was argued that she would have won her original lawsuit but for the malpractice. The case went to trial and a jury awarded her $1.7 million in damages. The verdict was then successfully appealed based on the resumption of the suit having occurred beyond a one-year limitation period allowed in the law: the trial result and judgment were overturned. [24]

Emmet sued Spelling a second time, in 1996, after Spelling published his memoirs. She claimed that Spelling had defamed her in his book, as she had not been credited with conceiving the original idea for Family. She lost on appeal in 2001, with the court saying she had not met the standard for showing damages due to the alleged defamation and that she had not explained how the defamation legally constituted a second theft of the same intellectual property. The litigation finally concluded with Allen retaining her "Created by" credit for the series. [23]

Home media and syndication

On September 5, 2006, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the first two seasons of Family on DVD in Region 1. On January, 2016, two box sets containing a total of 28 episodes were released in Germany by ALIVE VERTRIEBS- UND MARKETING. These box sets contain select episodes from seasons 1 to 3. [25]

Beginning in July 2021, all five seasons of Family — uncut, were available for viewing on Tubi in their original broadcast running times, except for the season 4 episode 'Magic,' which appears in its syndicated edited form at 44 minutes in length (as opposed to the usual 49 minutes). The show was briefly unavailable from the Tubi library. However, as of July 2022, Family is on Tubi again. [26]

The show currently airs on MeTV+, a companion network to MeTV that is available in select TV markets.

Beginning in 2020, the Decades network broadcast limited sets of Family episodes as part of their Decades Weekend Binge, where a different TV series is highlighted each weekend. Family was featured one weekend in 2020 and again the weekend of January 14-15, 2023.

See also

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