The shows All in the Family and The Jeffersons are two pillars of Norman Lear’s career. The beloved sitcoms are intertwined, and numerous others are connected to their universe. It started with All in the Family in 1971. While this show was still on, George and Louise Jefferson left the neighborhood of Queens with their son Lionel to live in an expensive Manhattan apartment.
All in the Family ended in 1979, but The Jeffersons ran from 1975 to 1985. The overlap between the original and the spin-off created some inconsistencies. Here are ten of them.
Mike Evans played Lionel on All in the Family and on the first season of The Jeffersons. He had another role in the circle of Lear shows that came out of All in the Family. All in the Family’s first spin-off, Maude, gave way to its own spin-off, Good Times. Mike Evans co-created Good Times and became so busy with this important African American sitcom that he temporarily forfeited his role as Lionel.
The actor chosen to take over the role of Lionel coincidentally shared Mike’s last name: Damon Evans. Damon played Lionel from season 2, episode 3 to season 4, episode 17. Mike came back to the role in 1979 upon the cancellation of Good Times.
The saga of Lionel continues. Mike Evans left the role again in 1982, just a few years before the show’s completion. He did return for the two-part finale in 1985.
The re-casting of characters was not uncommon in this era of television, but Lionel’s long absence in the later years of The Jeffersons is quite a change from the character’s regular appearances while on All in the Family before The Jeffersons.
George Jefferson is a critical piece of The Jeffersons, but some viewers of both shows might forget that he did not appear on All in the Family until 1973. The actor who played George, Sherman Hemsley, wanted to finish his commitment as part of the cast of a Broadway show called Purlie.
Norman Lear saved the role for Hemsley during that time. It’s interesting that the Jeffersons were introduced piecemeal on All in the Family before taking on the starring role of their own sitcom. First, everyone met Lionel (before Archie Bunker), then they saw Louise, and finally, much later, George.
Who’s In The Family?
While Norman Lear was waiting for Sherman Hemsley to come play George Jefferson, he needed another character to fill out the Jefferson family. On the first two seasons of All in the Family, Lionel has an uncle named Henry. When Lionel’s father finally shows up, someone apparently has to leave to make room. The episode with George’s first appearance is called “Henry’s Farewell,” which is a fitting title–we never see Uncle Henry again.
He makes no appearance for the remainder of All in the Family and is never seen on The Jeffersons, either. Despite Henry’s sudden lack of existence, his son Raymond goes to visit Aunt Louise and Uncle George in their show’s fifth season.
In the classic All in the Family episode “Lionel’s Engagement,” Lionel’s fiancée, Jenny Willis, is featured with her family. Jenny and her parents were played by Lynne Moody, Kim Hamilton, and Charles Aidman in this episode. It’s a historical moment featuring an interracial couple on a 1970s television program.
Archie Bunker and George Jefferson both have problems with Mr. Willis being white when Mrs. Willis is black. Louis, Helen, and Jenny Willis were recast for The Jeffersons and were then played by Franklin Cover, Roxie Roker, and Berlinda Tolbert, respectively. Louis’s name was also changed to Tom for the spin-off series.
One way to launch a spin-off is to give it a back-door pilot. This means that the new show’s pilot takes place on an episode of its parent show. The Jeffersons really began on All in the Family’s fifth season. There is an emotional goodbye between Edith and Louise, but Archie doesn’t bother to bid the Jeffersons farewell.
It’s odd for the main character not to appear on his show at all. The episode, called “The Jeffersons Move Up,” serves to introduce the setting for their new show; it also introduces the newly cast Willis family.
Nice To See You…Again
After the All in the Family back-door pilot, on the very first episode of The Jeffersons, Lionel mentions that Jenny’s parents live in a similar deluxe apartment. This was already established in the pilot, so either the audience needs a reminder, or the Jeffersons forgot that the Willises live in their building. George threw a whole tantrum about that on the pilot.
When Tom and Hellen Willis come over in The Jeffersons’ first season 1 episode, Louise is venting to them about how George demands that she get a maid. It doesn’t take long for George to cause some trouble. The couples have a conversation about racial slurs from an older All in the Family episode at Lionel’s engagement party.
George Jefferson And Archie Bunker
Archie and George can’t stand each other. They are both prejudiced in different ways–Archie is intolerant of black people, and George dislikes white people. George has moments where his wealth makes him feel more entitled and superior to others.
Archie, too, has a superiority complex. As much as George dislikes Archie, his character ironically becomes more like Archie in some ways on The Jeffersons.
Where’s Mother Jefferson?
Mother Jefferson missed some episodes of The Jeffersons while sick with pneumonia. She continued to struggle with her illness and passed away in 1978. Her final episode of The Jeffersons was season 4, Episode 9, “The Last Leaf.”
Zara Cully, who played Mother Jefferson, was never replaced on the series and no episode revolved around Mother Jefferson’s death. However, she was mentioned in the second episode of season 5, “Homecoming: Part 1.”
One of the best parts of a spin-off is the potential for characters from the parent show and the new show to guest star and visit each other. This does not happen much for the Jefferson or Bunker families. The Bunkers don’t make it out to Manhattan to see the Jeffersons, and the Jeffersons don’t surface on All in the Family too often.
George and Lionel make an appearance in the last season 5 episode of All in the Family, “Mike Makes His Move.” They don’t actually go out to Queens, though–they are seen in their Manhattan kitchen talking on the phone. Later on, George appears by himself on the season 8 episode “Mike’s New Job.” Lastly, Louise appears alone on the season 9 episode “The Family Next Door.”