And here is the piece de resistance: a poster of Isaac Hayes. They say that John Denver is very big now too, but unfortunately he's white.
Created by Norman Lear
Maude was a topical sitcom that was broadcast in the United States on the CBS network from September 12, 1972 until April 29, 1978. The show focused on the titular character, a liberal woman living in upstate New York portrayed by Bea Arthur. The series was created by Norman Lear, the man behind many of the topical sitcoms in the United States during the 1970s.
o r i g i n s
Maude was the first spin-off of the classic television series All in the Family (which itself was an Americanized version of the classic British sitcom Till Death Us Do Part ... can you see a big family tree of sitcoms forming here?).
During All in the Family's first and second season, the classic political confrontation between the conservative Archie Bunker and his liberal son-in-law Mike "Meathead" Stivic was already well-formed, as it would be the backbone of the series for its run. However, the producers of All in the Family intended Mike's perspective to be not so much as a die-hard liberal but as something of a voice of reason; Mike was intended to expose Archie's prejudices, not to be a strict liberal voice.
Thus, midway through the second season, the creators of the show wrote an episode entitled "Cousin Maude's Visit," which aired for the first time on November 11, 1971. In this episode, all of the members of the Bunker family fell sick, and thus Edith's (Edith Bunker being the matriarch of the Bunker family on the show) cousin Maude visited from New York to help take care of things until they recovered.
Much as Archie Bunker was written to be an arch-conservative, Maude was written to be just the opposite, an arch-liberal. Portrayed by Bea Arthur, Maude's character was intended to shine a light on the absurdity of a wholly liberal perspective as a parallel to the absurdity of Archie's conservative absolutism. However, the episode became comedic gold.
Carroll O'Connor, who played Archie Bunker, and Bea Arthur, who played Maude, were both experienced actors with superb comedic timing and given the roles they were playing, the scenes in which the two were on-screen together (about half the episode) were pure comedic genius while also getting across the point that absolute liberalism was as absurd as absolute conservativism. CBS received a huge amount of positive feedback from the show and decided that Maude had the potential to be the center of a sitcom all her own, almost an inverted All in the Family.
For the concluding episode of the second season of All in the Family, which aired on CBS on March 11, 1972, Archie and Edith Bunker
travel to New York to visit Maude on the occasion of the wedding of Maude's daughter Carol, who is marrying a Jewish man. Much like the earlier episode with Maude, much of the conflict here is in the strong liberalism of Maude's family confronting Archie's conservativism; Archie strongly disapproves of the marriage and refuses to attend the bachelor party, setting into motion a chain of events that causes the wedding to be called off.
This episode was effectively the pilot for Maude, as it introduced most of the major characters of the show: Maude, her husband Walter, Maude's daughter Carol, and her housekeeper, Florida.
c h a r a c t e r s
Maude debuted on CBS on September 12, 1972, with an episode entitled "Maude's Problem." The episode, like so many, essentially served to introduce many of the characters in the series.
Maude Findlay (played by Bea Arthur) was clearly the central character of the series. In many ways, she is a mirror image of Archie Bunker from All in the Family: she is adamantly liberal to the point of ridiculousness, but underneath it she is fundamentally a good person, caring deeply for others and quite often putting their needs and views above their own. This made her sympathetic, even if her political perspectives were often absurd.
Walter Findlay (played by Bill Macy ... not THAT Bill Macy) was Maude's troubled husband. He was one of the darkest characters in sitcom history, in my opinion, and the conflicts he had with Maude quite often moved from being sitcom-esque husband and wife spats to frightening domestic disputes. He clearly loved Maude and his dark side only appeared on occasion, but watching reruns of this episode when I was a kid made me very uncomfortable about his character.
Carol Traynor (played by Adrienne Barbeau) was Maude's daughter, who was actually much like her mother in that she espoused a pretty strong liberal perspective. However, the series often gave the sense that Carol was more independent than her mother was. Her husband, Phillip, was in many episodes, but was rather nondescript.
Arthur Harmon (played by Conrad Bain) was Maude's psychiatrist and also a close friend of her and Walter. He often served as the "voice of reason" on the show, much as Mike did on All in the Family. His wife, Vivian, was played by Rue McLanahan, who would later be paired with Bea Arthur again in the classic series The Golden Girls.
Florida Evans (played by Esther Rolle) was Maude's maid for the first two seasons (Florida was later replaced, but never to be equalled). Florida added an interesting perspective to the mix, that of a family-oriented outspoken African-American blue collar worker, and as a result she became perhaps the best antagonist for Maude during the first two seasons of the series. To find out what happened to Florida, see the "good times" section below.
You know your red tie makes you look like Dan Rather... Of course, your paisley tie makes you look like Morley Safer. I think it's safer to look like Rather - unless you'd rather look like Safer.
p l o t l i n e s & i s s u e s
If it's not clear yet, Maude was a sitcom that dealt with some serious issues and had some very dark moments mixed in with the humor.
Abortion While the first few episodes of the first season were rather lighthearted comedy, the ninth and tenth episodes dealt head-on with one of the biggest political issues of the modern era, abortion. In the pre-Roe v. Wade days, abortion was legal in only a few states, and New York happened to be one of these. In a two-part episode entitled "Maude's Dilemma," which aired on CBS on November 14 and 21, 1972, Maude became pregnant at age 47 and, after much deliberation with her family, decided to have an abortion. At the time, this caused an enormous uproar; the central character of a television series having an abortion was completely unheard of. Several organized groups protested the show, and at least 30 CBS affiliates refused to show the episodes.
Alcoholism & Spousal Abuse The second season started off with another two-parter, entitled "Walter's Problem," which aired on September 11 and 18, 1973 on CBS. The show revolved around Walter's increasing abuse of alcohol in the wake of a rather raucous party in which Arthur and Maude wound up in bed together drunk. At the climax of the two parter, a drunken and enraged Walter punched Maude, giving her a black eye. Walter went into counseling at this point, but the issue would be on the periphery of their relationship for the rest of the series.
Additional episodes dealt with Walter's complete mental breakdown ("Walter's Crisis," aired October 11, 18, and 25, 1976), several separations and reconciliations between the two, Maude's decision to get plastic surgery, and a number of other serious issues.
The run of the series ended with a three-part episode entitled "Maude's Big Move" (aired April 8, 15, and 22, 1978), in which she was elected as the congresswoman for her district after the congresswoman who was representing her district passed away suddenly. The series literally ended with Maude moving to Washington, intending to be presumably a rather liberal Democrat representative. The series was intended to continue from this point, but it ran into some unforeseen troubles (see the "hanging in" section below).
g o o d t i m e s
Maude: Ladies and gentlemen, Mrs. Dubonay is a visitor from a far-off land. She is a proud native of a newly emerging black nation.
Florida: Yeah, Harlem.
After the first season, it became clear that Florida Evans, Maude's housekeeper, was something of a breakout character. Esther Rolle's impeccable comedic timing, interacting well with Bea Arthur's own wit, had made Florida stand out greatly from the ensemble, and it also provided Norman Lear the opportunity to look at a poorer African-American family, compared to the upper class The Jeffersons, which was spinning off from All in the Family at about the same time. And thus Good Times was born.
On the episode of Maude entitled "Florida's Goodbye," (aired on February 5, 1974, midway through Maude's second season), Florida's husband, James (played by John Amos), is introduced. He receives a promotion at work, enabling Florida to quit her job as Maude's maid. Just three days later, on February 8, 1974, the debut episode of Good Times aired on CBS. The series focused at first on Florida and James as the heads of a burgeoning but rather blue collar family, but over the six season lifespan of the series, it underwent several major changes in cast, at points barely resembling the start of the series (even writing out both Florida and James in later seasons). Good Times was a quality series, but was perhaps overshadowed by the comedy of Jimmie Walker, who played their son J.J. and became famous for his oft-repeated catchphrase "DYN-O-MITE!" In fact, J.J.'s popularity as a character was part of the problem with the show's continuity, but Good Times really deserves its own writeup, don't you think?
h a n g i n g i n
Hanging In was originally intended to be a continuation of Maude. After Maude's sixth season, the writers hoped to move the character of Maude to Washington and have her be a congresswoman, completely refreshing the cast and premise but keeping the central character. However, Bea Arthur quit the show after two episodes, objecting greatly to the directions that the show was taking (mostly showing politicians as buffoons or as deeply corrupt).
At about the same time, James Evans was being written out of Good Times for similar reasons; he was unhappy with the show's direction. However, Norman Lear still felt that Amos was a strong actor, so the writers attempted to re-tool this Maude continuation, naming it Onward and Upward and focusing on a liberal African-American politician. However, much of the same hackneyed ideas from the original scripts remained, so Amos quit and was replaced by Cleavon Little, when the show was renamed "Mr. Dugan." Several episodes were made and the show was set to debut on CBS in March 1979, but the preview audience for the show complained loudly about the negative portrayals of African-Americans in politics: the same hackneyed politicians from the original Bea Arthur episodes were still in place.
At this point, the premise was changed again and the show was refocused on Bill Macy, who had originally played Maude's husband and was somehow still involved with the project. The show became "Hanging In" and was now set at a university where Bill's character, Louis Harper, was the president. The show's goal now was to show the dirty politics inherent in the university system, but any show in development purgatory for that long is destined to be poor and it was cancelled after thirteen episodes in the fall of 1979.
f i n a l n o t e s
Maude regularly appears on the classic television network TV Land, otherwise known as "the place to see the television programs of your youth once again." When I watch it today, the first thing I notice is the almost over-the-top 1970s style dress of the cast and decor of Maude's home. If you thought the '70s feel of shows like The Brady Bunch was strong, Maude amps this up to an almost ridiculous degree.
Yet the show worked. Most of the ensemble here were skilled actors and it showed in scene after scene, and it was aided by some very strong, intelligent, and sensitive writing (Bob Weiskopf and Bob Schiller were the writers, both immensely gifted men). Watch the show today. Bear with the dated topical jokes and just watch. It's an honest portrayal of a liberal woman in the 1970s, and such honesty is a rare thing in television.
Well, before you think about college, you should learn to read. That sign says 'No Solicitors'.
Quotes taken from the television series "Maude;" all spoken by the titular character unless noted otherwise.