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John Amos Reveals Why He Was Killed off Good Times

When television audiences think of the perfect example of the African-American nuclear family, they might first think of The Cosby Show. However, the show Good Times beat them to it by several years. Originally airing on the CBS channel from 1974 to 1979, the show is perhaps most well-known as the earliest example of an African-American nuclear family on television. However, for one of it’s stars, John Amos, this simple fact wasn’t enough. As an incredibly forward-thinking actor for his time, Amos saw a lot of potential that the show was not reaching according to his standards, and that lead him to have quite a bit of trouble with the show’s creative team. Join Facts Verse as John Amos reveals why he was killed off Good Times.

Good Times was about an African-American nuclear family that was lead by husband and wife James and Florida Evans, played respectively by John Amos and the Emmy Award-winning television actress Esther Rolle. Although at it’s core it was certainly an original and novel concept to feature an African-American nuclear family, the show was actually a spinoff of the sitcom Maude, itself a spinoff of the hit sitcom All in the Family. Good Times followed the trials and tribulations of the Evans family as they traversed modern life in Chicago, and was a gigantic success with American audiences. It is often hailed as both a landmark in television and a landmark in the normalization of the African-American nuclear family. However, a few of it’s stars, including John Amos at the forefront, took some umbrage with exactly how it’s African-American family was portrayed.

Though the show had an incredibly successful run of six seasons, there were many times throughout the production where stars John Amos and Esther Rolle butted heads with the writers and producers of the hit sitcom. Infamously, Amos’ quandaries with the creative staff eventually lead to his contract for the show not being renewed after the show’s third season, upon which time his character was killed off. One of the main issues that both Amos and Rolle had with the show’s direction was the decidedly negative and regressive portrayal of one of their on-screen sons, that being J.J. Evans, who was portrayed by actor and comedian Jimmie Walker.

To understand the issue, it’s important to note that although Good Times represented the first instance of an African-American family being represented on television, it’s creative staff, including it’s writers, were still by-and-large white. As such, John Amos felt that their portrayal of the African-American family on screen was much more negative than positive, even given the show’s landmark status. This was largely due to what he felt were overly stereotypical depictions of inaccurate and largely inauthentic black characters.

John Amos recently opened up about the decades-old situation on a radio interview that received quite a bit of attention. He was very candid about his problems with the classic sitcom, and his eventual firing from what was arguably the starring role. Now, at 80-years-old, the aging actor is willing to admit that he could’ve perhaps been a little bit more cordial with the creative staff in voicing his issues with the way the characters on the show were being represented. However, as it was occurring, he claims to have not been able to handle himself as diplomatically as he would’ve liked, which certainly could’ve been a fairly large factor in his eventual firing. Still, it’s hard to ignore that John Amos likely had some good points to make, and, if the creative staff would’ve been more attentive to his wishes, the show could’ve been an even more progressive television landmark than it is.

A good deal of Amos’ issues with the production stemmed from the fact that the show was such a landmark production for it’s time. Given that it was the first time an African-American nuclear family was being represented on the screen, Amos felt that the portrayal was incredibly important and that one small mischaracterization would do much more harm than good for the black community. This, in turn, would totally negate any amount of progress that the otherwise landmark show could possibly make.

Amos had some strong qualms with the fact that the writing staff for the burgeoning sitcom was totally white in the shows early years, and wasn’t willing to take what he felt was rampant black stereotyping on their behalf with any amount of salt. If the show was supposed to be a landmark production for the normalization of African-American nuclear families, how comes the voices of the show were coming from an all-white production staff? It’s not difficult to see Amos’ points on this ground, and the issues only get more messy and complicated from there. Amos was quick to point out his opinions on anything he felt was a mischaracterization of black culture on the writers’ behalf, and the writers didn’t especially take kindly towards the intrusion, however justified it might’ve been. If you’re enjoying this video, hit the like button to support more content! As well, subscribe to Facts Verse to be the first to see more content from us in the future!

While it certainly makes a lot of sense that John Amos took offense to the direction the show’s creative staff was choosing to go, it was the general heated nature of the exchanges that turned out to be the major problem. According to Amos, he would go up to the writers and producers exclaiming “we can’t do this” and “we can’t do that”, to which they would retort “what do you mean we can’t do this?” When Amos took offense to the creative direction of the show, they would be quick to point out their television credentials, completely side-stepping John’s real issue with the production- no matter how much experience these writers and producers had with television, they had absolutely no experience with being part of the black community. Because of this, John felt that he was the most qualified person to dictate how the black community truly acted in real life and should be represented on television. Understandably, the writers and producers soon began to take some umbrage themselves with being constantly undermined and told by the star of the show how they should do their jobs, however right he was.

While John Amos may have been the most vocal about his issues with the creative direction of the show, he certainly wasn’t alone. As we already briefly mentioned, his on-screen wife, Esther Rolle, was also less than impressed with the depictions of black America that were coming from the all-white production staff. Rolle even played a large part in the show during pre-production, as she is credited with ensuring that the show would feature a complete nuclear family with a strong father figure as a role model. According to her, she refused to sign onto the show unless her character was given a devoted husband, which is what allowed the show to become the first depiction of an African-American nuclear family on television.

However numerous Amos’ and Rolle’s qualms with the production staff were, the main problem was always the depiction of the Evans family’s eldest son, J.J.. The oldest of their three sons, the character had a lot of potential to be a role model for the others, and to showcase a strong and responsible young African-American for the audience. Given that the show had so much potential to be a much more progressive landmark than it ended up being for the black community, this issue only becomes all the more egregious. However, the writers and producers were adamant that J.J. was to be the main comic relief character for the show, and didn’t want him to be portrayed in any way that didn’t fit with that original idea.

The writers and producers were possibly onto something, as J.J. is arguably the biggest reason that the show managed to become as popular as it did. He added some winning slapstick humor to the otherwise fairly laid-back sitcom, and his catchphrase of “Dy-no-mite!” is perhaps the most fondly remembered bit from the show’s entire run. However, despite how popular and successful the depiction was, and the show because of it, both Amos and Rolle still felt that the show had some responsibility to challenge audiences. They certainly weren’t very fond of what they both found to be a somewhat pandering caricature taking the main spotlight. The show might not have been quite as successful if J.J. wasn’t the way he was, but it would’ve had a more positive impact on the black community. This is a balancing act that television productions are still trying to figure out.

John Amos and Esther Rolle truly felt that the depiction of J.J. was largely irresponsible, lacking nuance and promoting a decidedly negative racial stereotype, doing much more harm than good. Not only was this negative depiction turning the black community that the show was trying to promote into a laughing stock, but it was also taking away screen time during episodes that could’ve been spent dealing with more important social issues. John Amos became more vocal about J.J.’s negative characterization as the show went on, which ironically only lead to J.J.’s character becoming more broad and comical. The production staff likely wasn’t doing this simply out of spite, though, as J.J. and his comic antics were arguably the thing that was most attracting audiences. When it comes to television, nothing is more important than ratings, be it the black community or social responsibility.

Eventually, the schism between Amos and the show’s staff grew to be too much for the production to bear. Amos had only signed on for a three season run, and, when those three seasons were up, the production staff did not feel the need to renew it. Instead, they worked Amos’ character’s death into the storyline of the show, killing off the beloved and groundbreaking patriarch for good. Although John Amos was likely upset about his firing back when it happened, the story has a happy ending. Because of his firing from the sitcom, Amos was able to take on the role of Kunta Kinte in the television miniseries Roots. This role garnered him more attention than even Good Times, and finally allowed him to be the hero for the black community that he knew he always wanted to be. He even went on to receive an Emmy nomination for it!

Television has certainly made a lot of progress in it’s depictions of black culture, and that includes allowing more black writers and producers to take the creative lead in shows aimed at the black community. Comment down below to share your favorite black Hollywood hero, or tell us what your favorite African-American television nuclear family is that the Evans helped pave the way for. As always, hit the like button to support more content from Facts Verse in the future, and subscribe and hit the notification bell to be notified when more videos are here!

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