Theme music composer Peter Matz
Final episode date 24 February 1990
Opening theme "Bless My Happy Home"
Theme song Bless My Happy Home
|Created by Dick ClairJenna McMahon|
Directed by Roger BeattyHarvey KormanDick MartinDave Powers
Starring Vicki LawrenceKen BerryDorothy LymanRue McClanahan(Seasons 1–2)Eric Brown(Seasons 1–2)Karin Argoud(Seasons 1–2)Betty White(Seasons 1–3)Beverly Archer(Seasons 3–6)Allan Kayser(Seasons 3–6)
Networks NBC, Broadcast syndication
Cast Vicki Lawrence, Carol Burnett, Ken Berry, Betty White, Dorothy Lyman
Mama's Family is an American television sitcom starring Vicki Lawrence as Thelma Harper (Mama). The series is a spin-off of a recurring series of comedy sketches called "The Family" featured on The Carol Burnett Show (1974–78) and Carol Burnett & Company (1979). That led to the made-for-TV movie, Eunice, and finally the television series.
- Doctor who meets mama s family
- Beginning the series
- Plot details
- Opening theme discrepancies
- Series rebirth
- Absence of Carol Burnett as the Eunice character
- Series end
- Persona evolution
- Vicki Lawrence on evolution of Mama
- Harper family tree
- Recurring characters
- Favorites of Vicki Lawrence
- DVD releases
- Post television show appearances of Thelma HarperMama
The show's theme song is "Bless My Happy Home" by Peter Matz (music) and Vicki Lawrence (lyrics). The show's producers chose to use an instrumental version.
Mama's Family originally aired on NBC, debuting on January 22, 1983. After several timeslot changes and subsequent drop in ratings the network cancelled the series, the final episode airing on April 7, 1984. NBC broadcast reruns until September 1985.
Two years after its cancellation, original series producer Joe Hamilton Productions (JHP) decided to follow a lead that several other programs at the time had set and revive Mama's Family for first-run syndication on local stations across the United States. The revived series, produced by JHP and distributed by Lorimar-Telepictures, premiered on September 27, 1986. The syndicated version garnered substantially higher ratings than did its network version, eventually becoming the highest rated sitcom in first-run syndication. Its four season-run ended on February 24, 1990.
Doctor who meets mama s family
The show, set in the city of Raytown, revolves around the wacky misadventures of the Harper family, extended non-Harper family members, and their neighbor friend in later seasons. Always at the center of the trouble and confusion is head of the clan and matriarch Thelma Harper—a buxom, blue-haired, purse-lipped, 65-year-old widow, who is portrayed as explosively quick-tempered, abrasive, brash, smart alecky, and full of snappy retorts. Thelma's snappy retorts and fretful wisecracks are particularly highlighted with a running gag in which the final scenes of each episode cut to an exterior shot of her house. While the exterior of Thelma's house displays, she's heard riposting the comments of whoever has previously spoken. This is then followed by audience laughter and applause. In spite of the many digs and fretful wisecracks that Mama regularly and casually makes about her family, she is nurturing and obliging at heart. She allows her various family members to live in her home, who would otherwise have no place to live. Beyond providing her resident family members shelter, Thelma routinely cooks for and cleans up after them as well. Despite her nurturance, Thelma's various family members can be ingrates, even banding together and ganging up on Thelma on occasion.
Beginning the series
Lawrence originally turned down the offer of starring as Mama in her own television series, having misgivings about playing the role without Harvey Korman (who played Mama's son-in-law, Ed Higgins) and Carol Burnett (who played Mama's daughter Eunice Higgins) constantly by her side as was previously the case in "The Family" sketches. Burnett and Korman told Lawrence that they'd only appear as guest stars on the series, and that it was Lawrence's time to shine and take what she had learned off The Carol Burnett Show and make it on her own. Shortly after the highly rated Eunice TV movie and continued urgings by Korman and Burnett, Lawrence finally changed her mind and accepted the offer for her character's own sitcom.
Lawrence also had a great deal of creative input and made many important decisions, including bringing in Korman to co-direct the series. Regarding the writing, Lawrence had objections to the original script of the episode "Mama Cries Uncle", in which Thelma's brother-in-law comes to visit and the two are supposed to have wound up sleeping together:
According to her autobiography, Lawrence did have a problem with the decision to film the series on Stage 33 at CBS Television City, where The Carol Burnett Show was produced.
For one and a half seasons from 1983 through 1984, Mama's Family ran on NBC. In the series' first episode, Thelma Harper lives with her uptight spinster sister Fran (Rue McClanahan), a journalist for a local paper. Thelma's son, Vinton (whose wife, Mitzi, had left him to become a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas, Nevada), stops by to inform Thelma that he and his two children, Sonja and Buzz, have been evicted from their home and need a place to stay. Much to Fran's chagrin, Thelma allows Vint, Sonja and Buzz to move in.
During the first season, Vinton forged a relationship with the Harpers' flirtatious next-door neighbor, Naomi Oates (whom Thelma had a distaste for), and soon married her. After selling her house and losing the money in a bad business deal, Naomi and Vint are forced to move into Thelma's basement, where they remain for most of the show's run. Also seen on a recurring basis were Thelma's two daughters: the snobbish Ellen (Betty White) and the ornery Eunice (Carol Burnett). Harvey Korman, who directed many of the earlier episodes, made featured appearances as Eunice's husband, Ed Higgins. (During the eleventh and final season of The Carol Burnett Show , the Ed Higgins character was written out of "The Family" skits, having left Eunice).
Opening theme discrepancies
Korman also appeared at the beginning of each episode as the stuffed shirt Alistair Quince (an obvious parody of Alistair Cooke), who would soberly introduce the program in the style of Masterpiece Theatre. These monologues were cut out of the later syndicated reruns. Korman also performed the voice of Thelma's unseen late husband, Carl, in flashback episodes.
Moreover, an extended version of the show's opening theme song—which was never used in reruns was also used when the series was in its original run on the NBC network. The extension in the theme song was simple added repetition of melodies already used in the shortened version.
In the opening credits, the house/neighborhood are different as between A.) the original run of seasons 1 and 2 on NBC, and B.) the subsequent reruns. The reruns for season 1 have been designed so that the house/neighborhood match the house/neighborhood used for the show's second life (seasons 3—6). This adjustment has, however, created a noted discrepancy: there are episodes in the first life of the series depicting Mama as living in the house/neighborhood as shown in the original opening theme used for the first life of the program. The episode "Mama for Mayor" is an example as it displays Mama in front of the house used in the original opening theme used for seasons 1 and 2.
The opening theme used for the second life and reruns of the show's first life are only distinguishable by the coloring of the "Mama's Family" title and the main cast photos. The first life uses pink while the second life uses an amber hue.
In 2013, StarVista Entertainment released the original run of seasons 1 and 2 on NBC with the Alistair Quince intro and original opening credits intact, except for 2 episodes in Season 1 ("Cellmates" and "Mama's Boyfriend"), as the master prints of those episodes are lost and were replaced by the syndicated version in the re-release.
While not a huge ratings success, the first season garnered solid enough numbers to justify being renewed for a second season. For instance, the premiere episode finished among the Top 30 programs for the week, ranking at #28 with an 18.6/28 rating/share. However, during the second season, the show dropped out of the Top 50 shows in the seasonal ratings due to it failing to compete with CBS's Top 10 hit Magnum, P.I. NBC canceled the series in May 1984, due to the disappointing ratings for the second season.
After Mama's Family was cancelled by NBC in 1984, it was later relaunched in first-run syndication in 1986. Lorimar merged with Telepictures and were looking for projects for first-run syndication. The 35 episodes of the first two seasons were put into summer reruns and, after seeing their ratings and how extraordinary they were, Lorimar-Telepictures decided that Mama's Family needed a second chance and ordered 100 episodes for syndication.
Since the original set had been destroyed, a new set had to be constructed. This led to some significant changes in details set design. Adjustments in the show's cast occurred as well, with only Vicki Lawrence (Thelma), Ken Berry (Vinton), and Dorothy Lyman (Naomi) returning as regulars from the first life of the sitcom. Vinton's kids from his first marriage, Buzz (played by Eric Brown) and Sonja (played by Karin Argoud), who were regulars in the show's first life, did not reprise their roles for the show's revival; their characters, though mentioned briefly in the first episode of the show's syndicated life, were never to be spoken of again.
During the hiatus of the series, both Rue McClanahan (Aunt Fran) and Betty White (Ellen Jackson) had both gone on to star in the NBC sitcom The Golden Girls, rendering them unavailable to return. White, however, did return as Ellen for one episode in 1986 while Fran was killed off in the first episode of the revival. Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman, meanwhile, did not reprise their roles either, resulting in their characters (Eunice and Ed Higgins) being written out as having moved to Florida.
To fill the void left by Mama's grandchildren, Allan Kayser was cast as Thelma's delinquent teenage grandson Mitchel "Bubba" Higgins. Bubba was the son of Ed and Eunice. Bubba was ordered to live with his grandmother after being released from juvenile hall and placed on probation. Also added to the cast was Beverly Archer, who played the new character of Iola Boylen, the family's prissy neighbor and Mama's best friend. Her catchphrase was calling out "Knock, knock!" in place of ringing the doorbell.
The second life of the show saw far less bickering than its first life and particularly "The Family" sketches. The Naomi and Vinton characters became far less assertive and more dimwitted, and Mama was represented as more overpowering throughout the show's second life. A recurring theme throughout the fifth season was Naomi's desire to become a mother. Following through with this, the penultimate season concluded with Naomi's announcement that she was pregnant. Preparation for the baby became a central theme of the sixth and final season.
Absence of Carol Burnett as the "Eunice" character
According to Lawrence's autobiography, Vicki!: The True-Life Adventures of Miss Fireball, Burnett resented Lawrence for accepting the role of Mama for first-run syndication. It was during this time that Burnett was involved in an acrimonious divorce with The Carol Burnett Show and Mama's Family producer Joe Hamilton. Burnett felt Lawrence had been disloyal to her and held a grudge against her up until Hamilton's death in 1991. By the time of Hamilton's death, she spoke to Lawrence again and agreed to let bygones be bygones. Lawrence's autobiography reads:
After Mama's Family was picked up in first-run syndication, ratings for the series improved. It became the highest rated first-run program in syndication. Despite the show's success, Lawrence did not sign on for further seasons after completing her four-season contract in first-run syndication. According to Ken Berry (who played Mama's son, Vinton Harper), Lawrence had seemingly tired of playing the "Mama" role by 1990 and wanted to end the show. According to Lawrence, who would reprise the Mama role on stage for many years thereafter, the series ended because the series had reached the standard threshold of 100 episodes and no longer needed to produce any more. The series finale featured Naomi giving birth to a baby girl, who was named Tiffany Thelma.
Thelma Harper, also known as Mama, is the title character/main character of Mama's Family. Despite the title of "Mama," few characters in the sitcom actually refer to Thelma as Mama. In actuality, Thelma plays miscellaneous roles in the series, including grandmother, mother-in-law, sister, neighbor friend, and mother dependent on the supporting character in question.
Thelma is the widowed matriarch of a rural, Southern family. She is a country elderly woman in her mid-to-late 60s, who speaks in a southern drawl. Always active in the housework and nurturance of her family, Mama is usually seen cooking, cleaning, and providing loving support to her family.
Mama's appearance is based on that of a stereotypical elderly woman. She is a buxom, purse-lipped widow with silvery blue curls. All of her daytime outfits were short-sleeved, floral-print dresses that carried lace collars. As much of Mama's time was spent cooking and cleaning, her dresses were often worn with an overlapping apron. Mama's lower legs were always clasped by visible support hose (a feature that was nonexistent during "The Family" sketches and the Eunice movie). For footwear, Mama invariably wore white, orthopedic shoes of a high heeled brogue style.
Mama invariably wore a few fashion accessories: a white pearl necklace and white pearl earrings.
Mama's outerwear always consisted of the same purple sweater, worn casually, draped over her shoulders without arms in the sleeves; inconstant floral headpieces; and a white purse, which she didn't hesitate to use as a weapon when given the opportunity.
In contrast to her more stereotypically elderly, dependent, invariably spiteful and cantankerous character on "The Family" skits, Mama's hostilities are significantly toned down by the sitcom's first life. Though still cantankerous in the sitcom's first life, Mama's character expanded with wisecracks and humor; pesky antics; unseemliness and naivete. Mama's unseemliness and naivete were exemplified by her inability to drive (episode "Mama Learns to Drive"); inability to act in socially acceptable ways out in public and in the presence of guests (episodes "The Mama Who Came to Dinner" and "Ellen's Boyfriend"); inability to work jobs outside of the home (episodes "Mama Gets a Job" and "Mama for Mayor"); etc. These characteristics often resulted in the humiliation or frustration of her loved ones.
By the show's second life, Mama was no longer naive (rather, Vinton overwhelmingly assumed this role) and far more capable of high spirits than ever before. This version of Mama had the least amount of stereotypically elderly traits. Rather conversely, Mama was dutiful in caring for her home, garden and family; independent; and active in the community along with best friend Iola Boylen. For example, Mama returned to high school and graduated (episodes "Educating Mama" and "Pomp and Circumstance"); Mama was heavily involved in the Church Ladies League and at one point, its president (episode "Where There's Smoke"); Mama participated in dirty dancing (episode "Very Dirty Dancing"); Mama went on a trip (episode "Mama Goes Hawaiian"), etc. Highlighting her much more relaxed nature during the syndicated seasons, Mama's main character trait during this time was her many fretful wisecracks typically made in high-pitched, whiny vocal qualities. Still and all, Mama could also be very rough, abrasive and brash in manner; volatile and explosive in temper; and smart-mouthed with a proneness for making snappy retorts.
Unlike the precedent sketch comedy and television movie, Thelma had many locutions on the program, "Good Lord!" being her most frequently used. She occasionally stated this in alternate ways, such as "Good Lord in heaven!" "Good heavens!" or "Good night Louise!" Among some of Thelma's additional locutions on the series include: "Hell's bells!" "The hell you say," "Now hear this," "God-awful," "In a pig's eye!" "Shoot!" "For crying out loud!" "For heaven's sake!" "Real good!" (sarcastically) etc. Disparaging and impudent, Thelma had a series of name-calling catchphrases she often used to refer to certain members of her family or her family as a whole, such as "Nitwit," "Dimwit," "Goon," "Goober goon," "Lamebrain," "Dunce," "Tramp," "Floozy," etc.
Vicki Lawrence on evolution of Mama
Vicki Lawrence has stated that at the beginning of Mama's Family, she detected that the writers had made adjustments to her character from "The Family" skits, significantly toning down Mama's hostilities and nastiness. Lawrence originally disfavored Mama's change in character from "The Family" sketches to the series version, believing that toning down the character's then familiar aggressions and spite in exchange for a less difficult, more agreeable nature, capable of humor and high spirits wasn't funny.
Lawrence has revealed, however, that after counsel that the character needed to be reshaped for sitcom television from Harvey Korman, she came to accept the adjustments made to "Mama." Korman informed Lawrence that Mama had to be less one-dimensionally hostile since the entire show would revolve around her—that more characteristics would need to be added into the mix. Korman also informed her that you can't expect people to come home from work, pop a beer, and put up their feet to a character that's so one-dimensional. He informed her that the character would have to be more than just disagreeable for a whole half hour otherwise viewers would get bored. According to Korman, silly elements would need to be added to the character.
Lawrence has stated that it took her awhile to warm up to this, but that she later came to greatly appreciate how Mama "blossomed" and "matured" from her early years on "The Family". She added that she still favors the adjustments in Mama's character and has credited who Thelma Harper is today partly to Korman. "The Family" sketch writers, however, who based "The Family" characters on their real-life family members, disfavored the less aggressive Mama. In February 2013, Lawrence remarked that "The Family" sketch version of Mama was created by writers who hated their mothers.
Harper family tree
*Note: Thelma's mother was shown on two occasions on the show (once in a flashback and once as a ghost, played both times by Vicki Lawrence), but her name was never revealed. There were at least two Crowley brothers (mentioned in passing in "Double Standard" and "Mama with the Golden Arm"); one was named Clyde ("Pomp and Circumstance"). A cousin named Cora is seen in "There's No Place Like...No Place", and an Uncle Oscar is mentioned in "Mama Gets the Bird", but it is not known if he was from Thelma's side of the family or her husband Carl's.
Altogether, Mama's Family had six seasons consisting of 130 episodes. The show's first life consisted of thirty-five episodes, making for two seasons. The show's second life consisted of ninety-five episodes, making for four seasons.
Favorites of Vicki Lawrence
On September 30, 2013, Vicki Lawrence was asked what her favorite episodes of the series are:
On September 26, 2006, Warner Bros. Television released season 1 of Mama's Family on DVD. The DVD release features the syndicated versions of the episodes, which edits roughly three minutes from what originally aired. Warner Bros. claimed to only own the rights to the syndicated form.
Due to issues relating to ownership rights between the show's production companies, Mama's Family for a long time had difficulties coming out on DVD, with only its first season available for many years.
However, in May 2013, it was announced that StarVista Entertainment would release all 6 seasons of the sitcom to DVD, as well as a complete series box set, which was available only through the StarVista website. Most of the original unedited versions, dubbed "The Joe Hamilton Cuts," were presented on DVD. Included with the package were extras of over 10 hours of bonus material, as well as a new cast reunion with Vicki Lawrence and the show's syndicated cast members. In addition, StarVista offered a "Signature" collection of the entire series, autographed by Vicki Lawrence, which was limited to 500 copies.
In the fall of 2013, Star Vista began releasing individual season sets, Seasons 1 & 2 were released on September 10, 2013, followed by season 3 on February 25, 2014. Season 4 was released on June 24, 2014, Season 5 on September 23, 2014 and the sixth and final season was released on February 10, 2015.
After the series finale in 1990, Mama's Family ran on TBS from 1997 until August 2006.
That same month, ION Television (formerly the PAX network) began airing reruns of the series. The show aired Monday through Wednesday at 8:00 to 9:00 pm from 2006 to 2008. ET.
In December 2006, CMT began re-airing the series.
On September 19, 2015, during a live appearance on the EVINE Live shopping channel, Vicki Lawrence announced that the show would begin airing on the Me-TV Network in early 2016.
As of early 2017, re-runs appear on the Logo Network.