Sanford and Son’ at 50, ‘double-edged’ Black sitcom pioneer

This combination photo shows Comedian Redd Foxx, left, speaking to journalists about the reasons he left the top-rated sitcom "Sanford & Son," March 14, 1974 in New York and actor Demond Wilson participating in a CBS "Face the Nation" discussion on school prayer on May 5, 1984, in Washington. It was 50 years ago this month that the sitcom “Sanford and Son” debuted on NBC. (AP Photo)

When Demond Wilson heard that Redd Foxx was going to star in a TV sitcom, the actor brushed it off as a joke.

Foxx was a killer stand-up comic, with a trademark raunchiness that Wilson figured to be a nonstarter for the timid broadcast networks that were television in 1972. It was the eve of cable, and the rise of streaming was decades away.

“It would be like bringing a dog to a cat party,” is how Wilson described the notion of Foxx invading TV in a recent Associated Press interview.

But the comedian cleaned up his act for the small screen, and “Sanford and Son,” with Wilson co-starring as Foxx’s beleaguered adult son, debuted 50 years this month on NBC. An instant ratings smash, it opened the door for other Black family shows to move into the virtually all-white TV neighborhood.

Norman Lear, who had roiled network waters the year before with the topically driven CBS sitcom “All in the Family,” said serendipity led to “Sanford and Son.” Lear and Bud Yorkin, his producing partner, were in Las Vegas when they caught a lounge act featuring Foxx.

read more