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Family (ABC 1976-1980, James Broderick, Sada Thompson)

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Prime time soap operas are a dime a dozen, but Family stood out from the pack thanks to a combination of quality writing and excellent acting. Created by Jay Presson Allen, a writer who credits include such films as Cabaret and Prince of the City, the show got its start as a six-part miniseries that was telecast on ABC in March of 1976. But when it became clear that no mini-series could possibly tell the wide-ranging story of this family (especially a story with these high ratings), ABC commissioned a series.

The weekly version of Family followed the lives of the Lawrence family: Doug, the father, worked as a lawyer while his quiet-but-strong wife Kate tended to their home. They had three children: Nancy, Willie, and Letitia, who went by the nickname of Buddy. The children were later joined by Andrea, an orphan adopted by the Lawrences.

The story’s plotlines revolved around the family’s various crises. Nancy, the grown-up daughter, moved home to live in the guest house after discovering her husband Jeff was cheating on her. She had a baby, Timmy, and decided to attend law school. Willie, a headstrong teen, decided to quit school and dreamed of becoming a writer while looking for true love. Buddy, dealing with the pain of her oncoming adolescence, often felt lost in the shuffle and even ran away from home at one point. The parents had their own problems to cope with during the show’s run: Kate was diagnosed with breast cancer at one point, and Doug was temporarily blinded in an automobile accident.

Though there was plenty of melodrama to be found in the stories, this element was never allowed to overwhelm the strong sense of moral values that show conveyed to its viewers. Sensationalism was kept to a minimum, and the various plots and subplots were used to explore how social problems like alcoholism, divorce, and teenage pregnancy could be coped with by the average family.

The mixture of relevant social issues and well-crafted drama made the show a success with both viewers and critics during its run. Kristy McNichol won two Emmys for her performance as Buddy, and the show also managed to win various awards from the Directors Guild of America, the Young Artist Awards, and the Human Family Educational and Cultural Institute. You make fun of prime time soaps as much as you want, but how many awards has your family won?

production details
USA | ABC – Spelling – Goldberg | 86×50 minutes | Broadcast 9 March 1976 – 25 June 1980

Creator: Jay Presson Allen
Music: John Rubinstein
Producer: Mike Nichols

cast
Jennifer Jason Leigh as Jenny Blair
James Broderick as Doug Lawrence
Sada Thompson as Kate Lawrence
Meredith Baxter as Nancy Lawrence
Kristy McNichol as Letitia ‘Buddy’ Lawrence
Gary Frank as Willie Lawrence
Quinn Cummings as Annie Cooper
Elayne Heilveil as Nancy Lawrence
Jimmy Weldon as
Mary Grace Canfield as Mrs. Hanley
Season Hubley as Salina Magee