Theme music composer George Tipton
Country of origin United States
Final episode date 19 April 1986
Created by Susan Harris
Composer(s) George Aliceson Tipton
No. of seasons 7
Theme song Benson Theme Song
|Starring Robert GuillaumeJames NobleInga SwensonMissy GoldRené Auberjonois (1980–1986)Ethan Phillips (1980–1985)Caroline McWilliams (1979–1981)Didi Conn (1981–1985)Lewis J. Stadlen (1979–1980)Billie Bird (1984–1986)|
Cast Robert Guillaume, James Noble, Missy Gold, Inga Swenson, René Auberjonois
Benson is an American sitcom that aired on ABC from September 13, 1979 to April 19, 1986. The series is a spin-off of the soap opera parody Soap in which the character Benson, portrayed by Robert Guillaume, had first appeared as the wise-cracking yet level-headed African-American butler for the highly dysfunctional Tate family. However, Benson eschewed the soap opera format of its parent show for a more conventional sitcom structure. The series was created by Susan Harris, and produced by Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions. In 1985, Guillaume won an Emmy award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his role in the show.
Cast and characters
The main character was Benson DuBois (Robert Guillaume), who was hired to be the head of household affairs for scatterbrained and widowed Governor Eugene X. Gatling (James Noble) and his daughter Katie (Missy Gold). Governor Gatling was a cousin of sisters Jessica Tate (Katherine Helmond) and Mary Campbell (Cathryn Damon) from Soap. Although Soap was situated in Connecticut, the state of which Gatling was governor remained unidentified throughout the series.
The show revolved around Benson's housekeeping dilemmas, his squabbles with German cook Gretchen Wilhemina Kraus (Inga Swenson, one of Guillaume's fellow alumni from Soap) and his interactions with John Taylor (David Hedison in the pilot episode, then Lewis J. Stadlen), who assisted Governor Gatling as chief of staff. After the first season, Taylor's job was filled by the pompous Clayton Endicott III (René Auberjonois). In spite of their adversarial relationship (during the early years, Kraus' trademark line was a loud "I hear you!" from off-stage), Benson and Kraus eventually became good friends. Benson also had good friendships with the Governor's secretary, Marcy Hill (Caroline McWilliams) and her successor, Denise (Didi Conn). Marcy left after her second-season wedding. Jerry Seinfeld played a small role as Frankie, a delivery boy and unsuccessful comedian, for three episodes in 1980; he was asked to leave because of creative differences.
Denise and Pete Downey (Ethan Phillips), the governor's press secretary (introduced in Season 2), met and later married, having a child in the show's fifth season. However, both were written out, with the reason given that Denise secured a job with NASA.
Benson worked his way up the ladder during the series, going from head of household affairs to state budget director (at which time his surname, DuBois, was revealed), and eventually was elevated to the position of lieutenant governor. During the final episodes of the 1985–86 season, Benson ran for governor against Gatling. Kraus (who had herself moved up to head of household affairs) proved to be Benson's strongest supporter, and he made her his personal assistant and campaign manager.
At the end of the series' final episode, Benson and Gatling, who had strained relations due to the race, made peace with each other and watched the tight election returns together on television. As the broadcaster began to announce that a winner was at last being projected, the episode ended on a freeze frame of Benson and Gatling, leaving the series with an unresolved cliffhanger. Coincidentally, Guillaume's previous series, and the one from which Benson spun off, Soap, was also canceled with unresolved cliffhangers, though Guillaume had moved on to Benson by that point.
In 2007, Benson showrunner Bob Fraser said that the season ended on a cliffhanger at the request of the network. The show was canceled after the cliffhanger had aired. Fraser indicated that, had the show continued, Gatling would have won the election and Benson would have become a senator.
According to Gary Brown, who directed the finale and 20 other episodes of Benson, three outcomes were filmed, with Benson winning, Gatling winning and a tie. The intent was to decide over summer break which outcome to use. Brown also stated that, regardless of the outcome, the long-term intent for the next season was for Benson to become the governor.
On July 24, 2007, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released Season 1 of Benson on DVD in Region 1 for the first time. The DVD's contain the episodes as they originally aired, including the longer opening sequence, which was significantly edited for syndication.
On April 3, 2012, Sony released season 2 on DVD under the Choice Collection label. This is a Manufacture-on-Demand (MOD) release. The Complete Second Season DVD also includes two episodes from season three: "Benson's Appointment" and "The Grass Ain't Greener." Like the DVD of the previous season, this season DVD also contains the originally-aired uncut openings for each episode.
On August 27, 2013, it was announced that Mill Creek Entertainment had acquired the rights to various television series from the Sony Pictures library including Benson. They re-released the first and second seasons on DVD on September 2, 2014.
The exterior shots of the "governor's mansion" are actually of a private home located at 1365 South Oakland Avenue in Pasadena, California. The same house was seen in the 1993 movie The Beverly Hillbillies, in a 2006 U.S. television commercial for the RE/MAX real estate company, and the Columbo episode "Etude in Black".
The home has some Palladian and Neoclassical features.