“There’s a new girl in town, and she’s lookin’ good,
There’s a fresh freckled face in the neighborhood…”
Let’s get this out of the way right now: Yes, this is the sitcom where the waitress said, “Kiss my grits.” Unfortunately, that’s all some people remember about Alice, but there was much more. Alice was the story of a New Jersey single mother transplanted to a Phoenix diner, but it was also the story of how a Martin Scorsese filmed melodrama turned into one of the most successful sitcoms of the 70’s and 80’s. The Scorsese film was 1974’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, featuring an Oscar-winning performance from Ellen Burstyn as Alice. Linda Lavin took over the lead role for the sitcom, which kept the Arizona setting but upped the comedy quotient.
Alice’s real dream was to become a singer, but to make ends meet for herself and her 12-year-old son Tommy, she took a waitressing job at Mel’s Diner, owned by none other than Mel himself (played by Vic Tayback, the only actor to reprise his film role). The crusty Mel made a mean pot of chili, but he was a bit of a tightwad and quick with the sarcasm. But just as quick with the snips was Alice’s fellow waitress Flo, a Southern-fried redhead with oodles of sass and clever put-downs (such as the aforementioned “Kiss my grits”). The third member of the waitressing trio was mousy Vera, who earned the Mel nickname “dingy” for her klutzy and naïve ways.
Most of the show’s action took place at Mel’s, where the cast of characters was filled out by regulars with names like Andy, Henry, Chuck and Ralph. But no matter who passed through the doors of Mel’s, the real comic interplay was always between the hard-nosed owner and his trio of employees. That kind of workplace banter made Alice a ratings hit, enough so that CBS decided to spin Flo off into her own 1980 series, appropriately titled Flo. Diane Ladd (who had played Flo in the movie version) signed on as Mel’s new waitress, Belle Dupree, that same year.
The new mix worked just as well as the old, and Alice continued to score Top-10 ratings. Ladd left after one season, opening the way for the show’s final waitress co-star, Jolene. At the start of the 1982 season, Mel’s bossy mother Carrie moved in with her son, and life at the diner got even more hectic. Vera eased the pressure by meeting and marrying cop Elliot Novak, but Alice just didn’t have that kind of relationship with off-and-on boyfriend Earl Hicks (Tommy’s basketball coach).
After nine seasons, Alice finally hung up its aprons in 1985, bowing out with a memorable farewell. Mel sold his diner, Vera retired to make time for her impending baby, Jolene decided to open a beauty shop, and Alice finally chased that dream of becoming a singer. Watch out, Nashville—there’s a new girl headed to your town now.
“There’s a new girl in town with a fresh attitude,
She was just passing through,
But if things work out she’s gonna stay awhile…”
USA / CBS – Warner / 202×30 minute episodes / Broadcast 29 September 1976 – 2 July 1985
Creator: Robert Getchell / Producers: Bruce Johnson, Madelyn Davis, Bob Carroll Jnr, Noam Pitlik,
LINDA LAVIN as Alice Hyatt
VIC TAYBACK as Mel Sharples
PHILIP McKEOWN as Tommy Hyatt
BETH HOWLAND as Vera Louise Gorman
POLLY HOLLIDAY as Flo Castleberry (1976-80)
CELIA WESTON as Jolene Hunnicutt (1981-85)
DIANE LADD as Belle Du Pree (1980-81)
MARTHA RAYE as Carrie Sharples (1982-84)
PAT CRANSHAW as Andy (1976-78)
CHARLES LEVIN as Eliot Novak (1983-85)
MICHAEL DURRELL as Nicholas Stone (1984-85)
MARVIN KAPLAN as Henry (1977-85)