When Three’s Company found long-term success with a mixture of wacky comedy and sultry sex appeal, other shows picked up on the trend. Many tried to get this blend right, but few were successful. A notable exception to this rule was It’s A Living, a good-natured sitcom that skillfully blended hilarity and ‘jiggle’ elements to rack up a lengthy run both on a network and in syndication.
It’s A Living focused on five lovely waitresses who worked at a posh restaurant housed in a high-rise hotel (Los Angeles’ Bonaventure Hotel was used as a location). They were a mixed bag of personalities and ambitions: Cassie was the gutsy and outspoken member of the group, Vicki was the innocent young waif, Susan was the veteran waitress, Jan was the hard-working student and mother, and Dot dreamed of being an actress. Presiding over the gaggle of lovely lasses was Nancy, the staff supervisor who had a flair for discipline. Rounding out the cast and providing comic relief were Mario, the restaurant’s chef, and Sonny Mann, the smarmy cocktail pianist who delivered all the sleazy one-liners.
The show divided its time evenly between the waitresses’ battles of wits with the restaurant’s often-snooty clientele and the ladies’ catty chatter, which included some lascivious banter about their romantic lives. The multi-talented Ann Jillian, a Tony award winning singer and dancer, provided many a highlight as Cassie. There was also plenty of eye candy on display, since the waitress staff spent most of their time scampering around in deliciously revealing outfits. The end result was a show that balanced laughs and sex appeal in equal measure.
The show successfully finished its first season and returned the next year with two new characters: Dennis, a replacement for Mario, and Maggie McBurney, a sharp-witted waitress. The revised show also had a new title: Making A Living. This new version lasted another season before ending its ABC run in the fall of 1982.
After that, the show remained dormant for three years before returning in syndicated form in 1985. It returned to the It’s A Living title and mixed cast members from the previous version with some new additions. Most notable were the two new waitresses: the sweet but naïve Amy and the tough but likable Ginger. Supervisor Marion also received an able comic foil in Howard, a sarcastic customer whom her character would marry later in the show’s run.
In a novel twist, the syndicated version of It’s A Living outlasted the network version, spending four years in first-run syndication before winding down in the fall of 1989. Since then, many of its cast members have gone to impressive later work: Crystal Bernard racked up an impressive run on the hit sitcom Wings, and Ann Jillian survived a bout with breast cancer to become a popular motivational speaker.
USA / ABC – Syndicated / x25 minute episodes / Broadcast 30 October 1980 – 10 September 1980 (ABC) and September 1985 – September 1989 (Syndicated)
Theme Vocal: It’s a Living by Leslie Briscusse
Susan Sullivan as Lois Adams
Barrie Youngfellow as Jan Hoffmeyer
Ann Jillian as Cassie Cranston
Wendy Schaal as Vickie Allen
Crystal Bernard as Amy Tompkins
Sheryl Lee Ralph as Ginger St. James
Louise Lasser as Maggie McBirney
Gail Edwards as Dot Higgins
Marian Mercer as Nancy Beebee
Paul Kreppel as Sonny Mann
Richard Stahl as Howard Miller
Richard Kline as Richard Grey
Bert Remsen as Mario; the chef