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Trouble with Comics

Guest Reviewer Month - Andrew Farago on The Sanford & Son Saga

This isn’t the Big One, Elizabeth, but it’s a fun piece nonetheless from Andrew Farago, presenting a world where we might have seen a Winter Sister-in-Law or Junkman: Year One, all spinning out of the male empowerment fantasy that is Sanford & Son. Thanks, Andrew. You big dummy. —Christopher Allen 

Notes from a world where comics dominated popular culture

Fall 1972:  Sanford and Son premieres on CBS, and soon becomes the most popular show on television.

Fall 1974:  Series star Redd Foxx, dissatisfied with his contract, does not appear in the first three episodes of the new season of Sanford and Son.  Grady, played by popular supporting actor Whitman Mayo, is given a larger role during Foxx’s absence.  The final episode of the 1974-75 season is a preview of Grady’s spinoff series, Grady.

Late fall 1976:  The phenomenal success of Grady convinces CBS to put all of its resources into the bourgeoning junkyard comedy genre, and begins production on eight new midseason replacement series in this format.

Fall 1982:  With the cancellation of 60 Minutes, CBS completes its transition to an all junkyard comedy network.

Spring 1985:  Concerned that the plots of Sanford and Son and its spinoffs have become too complicated, producer Norman Lear announces that every CBS program will re-start in the winter of 1986.  All CBS shows airing from September through December 1985 compose a single, massive storyline, called “The Big One,” that is intended to streamline the network’s programming.

Summer 1985:  NBC hires Demond Wilson, who plays Foxx’s son, Lamont, as their Chief Creative Officer, as they ramp up their own plans to become an all-junkyard network.

Fall 1986:  Redd Foxx is fired from CBS, and Richard Pryor is given the role of Fred Sanford.  Eddie Murphy declines to play Lamont, and the part is given to up-and-coming comedian Damon Wayans. 

Winter 1987:  On-set arguments over the direction of the show leads to the creation of a spin-off series for Wayans, entitled And Son.  Pryor’s daughter, Rain, replaces Wayans, and the original series is retitled Sanford and Kid.

Fall 1989:  Due to the success of CBS’s Sunday night series Classic Sanford, which airs reruns of the original series, the network brings Redd Foxx back in a recurring role as Pryor’s father.

Fall 1991:  A massive shakeup leads to the firings of Foxx, Wayans and the entire Pryor family.  Demond Wilson returns to CBS and takes on the role of Fred Sanford.

Winter 1993:  Ratings skyrocket during the controversial “Death of Fred Sanford” story arc that spans the entire CBS Thursday night lineup for seven weeks. 

Spring 1993:  Fred Sanford returns during the controversial “Death of Bubba” story arc.  Ratings continue to rise.

Winter 1994:  “The Death of Aunt Esther” story arc is met with a lukewarm reaction, and diminishing returns from the death-and-replacement trend lead CBS to become more experimental in their programming.  Demond Wilson is given a new haircut, and a holographic foil version of Grady is added to the regular cast.

Spring 1994:  The season finale of Sanford and Son is filmed through a polybag.  Television watchers are warned that the quality of the episode will deteriorate upon viewing, and are encouraged to store copies of the finale away for investment purposes.

Fall 1996:  Ratings for CBS plummet.  The network’s decision to offer its programming only at junkyard specialty shops through the Diamond Satellite System is cited as a likely cause.

Fall 2001:  Cedric the Entertainer stars as Fred Sanford as the 30th season of Sanford! launches.  Classic Sanford, Young Sanford and And Son round out the Thursday night lineup on CBS, whose top programs reach up to 100,000 viewers each month.

Summer 2004:  Sanford: The Movie premieres in July.  Despite worldwide ticket sales totaling nearly one billion dollars, ratings for the television series are largely unaffected.

July 2006:  The annual San-Ford-ego Comic-Con International sells out for the fifth straight year, as 125,000 fans descend on the San Diego Convention Center.  Purists complain that the show is no longer the driving force of the convention, as the presence of junkyard comic publishers has increased steadily over the past decade, relegating Sanford and Son to a small area of the convention center known as “Actors’ Alley.”

December 2009:  Disney purchases CBS for four million dollars.  Production on all junkyard programming comes to a halt.  Classic Sanford and Son will be distributed through iTunes, and the more lucrative Sanford characters will appear at Disney theme parks beginning in 2010.     

April 2010:  New iPad app “iGrady” premieres, and is downloaded over nine times in its first eighteen months.  “iSmitty” launches the following month, but companion program “iHoppy” is held up in court due to possible copyright infringement.

Fall 2012:  Mayan apocalypse leads to renaissance of actual junk shops.  Executives ponder relaunch of Sanford and Son, but lack of electricity and accompanying technology presents a large stumbling block.

Andrew Farago is the Curator of San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum and has written for Marvel Comics, The Comics Journal, The Comics Reporter and Animation World Network, among other publications.  His upcoming book The Looney Tunes Treasury will be published by Insight Editions in fall 2010.