This Paper was Written in Front of a Live Studio Audience: 

An examination of family sitcoms and its impact on American culture

The end of World War II brought home troops ready to start families and to take part in the “white flight,” the post-war migration of mostly white families from urban settings to newly constructed suburbs due to the post-war economic boom.[1] This is the start of the modern middle class. At the same time, thanks to the new technologies created during wartime, television benefited from stronger communication tools and modern networks thrived by providing new content available to more people.[2] Early television programs started off as radio shows, such as Gunsmoke, The Life of Riley, Your Hit Parade, and Father Knows Best.[3] These idealized versions of reality captivated family audiences because, in its post-war boom, stores marketed televisions as a family activity.[4] But through the tumultuous 1960s and into the Vietnam War, television audiences demanded more realism in television shows, resulting in shows like Good Times, All in the Family, The Jeffersons, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.[5] These programs provided a wider sampling of America by showing differences in class, a rise in racial diversity, and gender equality in the workplace. This realism progressed through the late 1980s and 1990s with shows like Ellen, Murphy Brown, Designing Women, The Golden Girls, and Roseanne that directly addressed many social issues.[6] These shows not only discussed issues of sexism, homophobia, poverty, and political divides, but also exposed an entire nation to these issues, forcing many to consider them for the first time. Television sitcoms represents the history of social progress through its depictions of American culture through the decades. For roughly sixty years, television was the most influential machine in American culture.

Every decade witnessed new trends and improvements with the creation of different program genres. Game shows, soap operas, news, cop shows, westerns, and many other genres rose and fell out of popularity, with some standing the test of time. However, there is one genre that is prevalent in every decade and indicates the cultural awareness of each decade: the family sitcom. A sitcom is a shorter way of saying “situation comedy” and it refers mostly to half hour comedies in which each episode’s plot centers on a situation that is typically resolved by the end of the episode. This includes comedies with or without a laugh track, audience laughter in the show, and can either be filmed using single or multi-camera techniques. The multi-camera technique is used for traditional sitcoms that take place on a soundstage, will have some kind of audience laughter, (whether it is faked or a live audience), and is filmed with multiple cameras to catch every angle of the shot. Recent examples of this include The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. The single camera technique provides a more cinematic quality to television and is filmed similarly. There is usually no laugh track. There are two styles of multi-camera sitcoms, the documentary style such as The Office and Modern Family or the cinema-style such as Scrubs and Happy Endings.

Television networks use family sitcoms simultaneously as a model for the ideal family and as a tool for social change against preconceived beliefs held by of the average Americans. Family sitcoms opened a discourse about taboo topics that affect a wide range of Americans. Race, class, gender, and sexual orientation became common storylines for television programs. By the 1960s, idealized escapism was falling out of favor, with more realistic shows and themes taking their place.

What makes family sitcoms the perfect vehicle to carry these messages? It simply comes down to the relatability of the show. Everyone can identify with some aspect of a family. Other genres delve into stories, such as crime, sci-fi, and melodrama, all of which require an exaggerated sense of reality to properly convey the tension week after week, season after season. Sitcom story lines rely on miscommunication, hi-jinks, harmless schemes, and other easily relatable, albeit still exaggerated, commonalities. There is a family sitcom that is representative of every type of family: Father Knows Best as the nuclear family, The Brady Bunch as a blended family, Good Times as a lower class urban family, Roseanne as a working class dysfunctional family, and Modern Family as a representation of interracial, blended, homosexual, and nuclear families, to name a few.[7][8] Three of those shows, Father Knows Best, Good Times, and Roseanne, represent broader cultural shifts happening during their respective generations. While it can seem that culture is guiding television's progress, television sitcoms influence American culture by introducing new cultural ideas such as racial minorities, women's rights, and LGBTQ relationships into the audiences' living room.  

Historiography

Numerous degrees, courses, and journals use an academic lens to study the cultural effects of television. However, most sources dealing with television history are rarely historical in nature, and rather take the form of media studies, cultural studies, video production, or entertainment.[9] This is not to say that academic research is not accomplished, instead, each of the other disciplines have their own unique way of completing scholarly works. However, using a traditional historical approach to television is beneficial because television has permeated every aspect of American culture over the years. The “kitchen debates" between Nikita Khrushchev and Vice-President Richard Nixon, first Presidential debate, the images of the Vietnam War, the rise of the twenty-four-hour news networks, the O.J. Simpson car chase and subsequent trial, and the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, all had a much more drastic impact on the American people because of the visual programming people saw in their protected homes.[10] Only the rise of the internet has challenged television’s reign as the most influential communications medium.[11]

Additionally, a historical approach reveals revolutionary turns taken by television programs, as opposed to a reactionary interpretation taken by many media studies publications.[12] Many shows considered “ahead of its time” are the result of the creator seeing an unrepresented subculture and starting a national discourse. This is seen in Norman Lear, the creator of All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Song,  and Good Times, and how he never shied away from controversial topics. For example, the first homosexual on a television sitcom was a recurring guest character on 1972’s The Corner Bar and the first interracial kiss on television was on Star Trek in 1968.

As a modern audience would recognize it, television is a recent invention and has a shorter historiography compared to other topics, such as the Ancient Rome or Medieval Europe. However, due to the popularity of the topic and the mass accessibility to the technology, people of every discipline and culture write about the topic of television’s influence on history. Blogs, magazines, newspapers, radio, and even local and national news programs dedicate time and space on the topic of covering the most popular television shows. In fact, there are now television programs dedicated to talking about other television shows, such as The Talking Dead and Entertainment Tonight. All of this is more evident than ever thanks to the rise of internet viewing. There is an unprecedented amount of websites that offer both syndicated and original programming on services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Seeso. This does not include established television networks offering their programs through online services like HBO’s HBOGo and HBONow, and Fox’s FoxNow and FXNow, just to name a few. Phrases like “binge-watching,” “Netflix and Chill,” and “spoiler alert” are direct results of both the popularity of television programs and the speed at which people consume the commodity.[13]

Armchair scholars, amateur authors who generally write for entertainment with little to no academic training, are flooding almost every academic subject. For historians, this is a problem because the average reader might not know the difference between thoroughly researched and cited works or opinions written as fact. For example, Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Defined a Generation is an in-depth examination of the popularity of The Simpsons and the impact that it had on American culture. The author, Chris Turner, is not a historian, but rather is a speaker and author who advocates for Canadian ecological sustainability.[14] The more popular an historical topic is, like the American Civil War, World War II, or local histories, the more amateur historians there are. This problem is multiplied in the media and cultural-subfields due to the popularity of television and film. Many regular readers may not have an interest in history, but almost every American, reader or not, consumes some form of television and has opinions on said programs. Additionally, due to the interdisciplinary aspects of television, History is not the dominant field covering the subject. At the University of West Florida, courses like “The History of Motion Pictures” and “The History of Television” are taught by the Communication Arts department, not the History department.[15] These classes did cover history, but because it was through a different discipline the focus was not on the context of why media changes over time, just that it did change.[16] A majority of colleges offer Media Studies, Communications, and Cultural Studies programs or courses and most use different academic writing styles, such as MLA, AP, APA, or AAA. This means that there are discrepancies between the academic knowledge between all of them.

Furthermore, finding a book that objectively tells the history of this topic is hard. Most books found on the subject of television fall into two main categories: biographical and arts/entertainment. Biographical books are sometimes good sources if they are autobiographical or thoroughly researched, but can be limited in scope to one person or show. For example, one of the more popular autobiographies on Amazon at the time of this writing is Tina Fey’s Bossypants.[17] While a great source to learn about Tina’s time at Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, it is limited only to Tina’s experiences, not the overall trends of television history. Arts/entertainment books on television are any books that are coffee table books, episode guides, encyclopedias such as 1001 TV Shows to Watch Before You Die, or any (un)authorized merchandise based on a popular television show.[18] To find histories on the early inventors/innovators, networks, shifting themes, or survey histories on Amazon, one must either know the exact book or sift through the numerous categories and subcategories, hoping for the best. There are also numerous books on television screenwriting and the practical production of television, like Successful Sitcom Writing.[19]

Erik Barnouw’s Tube of Plenty: The Evolution of America Television is a great source for a broad, yet in-depth history of television, starting with the history of radio and ending with the dawn of cable and satellite television. This book out of all of the sources used in this paper is the most useful and complete, however, the latest printing of the book was in 1990, thus it does not cover anything after that. When conducting a survey of television history, it is imperative to cover the most recent trends. In the case of Tube of Plenty, the last television topic mentioned is President George H.W. Bush meeting the Japanese Prime Minister in 1989.[20] The amount of innovationg in television that happened from 1990 to 2015 could fill the same amount of pages as Tube of Plenty, which covers roughly sixty to seventy years of television. Furthermore, the information on current internet viewing could fill an entire third volume and it is roughly fifteen to twenty years old.

This is a major problem when it comes to literature about television. Books can become obsolete or outdated within fifteen years. The newest book used for actual research for this paper is 2013 and it is not a history book. How to Watch Television is a collection of cultural essays, each essay deals with a different television show, talking about the ideology or impact of each show, but it does not provide even a broad history of the subject.[21] While the critical essays are beneficial when looking at the abstract concepts of television, they do not help tell the history of television, let alone history of family sitcoms.

The Shows

A modern television audience is overwhelmed with articles, advertisements, blog posts, fan theories, and immediate feedback about their favorite shows. The more popular the show, the more a viewer is inundated with information about said show. HBO’s popular show Game of Thrones started its sixth season on April 24, 2016, and six months before that, HBO released the first teaser advertisement for the show.[22] This was done purposefully because Game of Thrones is one of the most discussed television shows on the internet and HBO played up the teaser. The internet has made everyone a figurative expert and critic. Shows have an unprecedented amount of social interaction and participation, such as American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and The Walking Dead, all of which encourage and thrive on the audience participating with votes for contestants or through hashtags and social media posts. Networks and corporations learned to adapt to the changing technologies and this is evident on almost any website or social media, television or smartphone. 

Audiences learned how to interact with the networks early on, bringing shows back from cancellation because of overwhelming demand. This is evident by shows like Star Trek, Family Guy, Arrested Development, and Community.[23] The audience has a direct voice to the show, and if the show wants to stay relevant, the producers will listen, within reason. Positive or negative, the audience can drive networks to make decisions about their shows. In a positive example of this, Modern Family featured a homosexual couple with an adopted daughter as one of the three families of focus. However, despite this, the couple did not share a kiss until the second season, and it still took time before gay marriage was even a discussion. This was called to attention by viewers on the internet, pointing out that the straight couples on the show have no problem showing every level of affection, but the gay couple does not even kiss. The first kiss was the first step, albeit a subtle action in the background of the scene, and the couple gradually grew more affectionately over the later seasons.[24] The negative side sees television networks listening to their audience, look at any show created only to cash in on a perceived popular trend. Shows like the Geico advertisement-inspired Cavemen, the short-sighted Friends spinoff Joey, and the show $#*! My Dad Says which is based on a Twitter account and subsequent book with the same name, all show the downsides of following trends.[25] To show how commonplace it is for the internet to talk about television, both positively and negatively, just look at footnotes twenty-two through twenty-five in this paper.[26] Each of those sources was found using Google with basic keywords. This proves the scope of non-academic works available to anyone looking for them.

After World War II, the Cold War started. A time of uncertainty and fear. However, this did not stop the burgeoning middle class from rising through economic ranks to become one of the most influential demographics in recent American history.[27] Through television and movies, fears were either elated or stirred. Movie theaters through the 1950s showed westerns (High Noon), aliens (The Day the Earth Stood Still), and bad boys (Rebel Without a Cause), giving their audiences every type of story possible.[28] While movies traveled from the rural to the intergalactic, television during the 1950s was a little more grounded. Television was still trying to separate itself from radio and while the technology was advancing, there were limits. So many of the more popular shows during the fifties were game shows, westerns, and family shows.[29] One of the stronger family shows at the time was Father Knows Best. It aired between October 3, 1954 and April 5, 1963, with a total of two-hundred and three episodes. This show follows the lives of the Anderson family, the loving and doting parents, Jim and Margaret, and their three kids, Betty, Bud, and Kathy. They live in Springfield, America, a town where you can fix even the worse problems by the end of the day. There are no threats, no surprises, and no diversity. Everyone looks like everyone else and the residents would not have it any other way.[30]

One of the ways that Father Knows Best differentiated itself from the other family-based shows like I Love Lucy and Leave it to Beaver, is that the father was the calm and seemingly all-knowing parent, as opposed to the bumbling father figure.[31] It is a common television trope, or reoccurring cliché, to have a bumbling father and a put-together wife, e.g. The Flintstones, The Honeymooners, Everybody Loves Raymond, Home Improvement, and The Simpsons. Father Knows Best survived the ratings war by being both the ideal American family and immune to  the trials of the House of Un-American Committee, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy.[32] Father Knows Best was the shining light in a increasingly tumultuous time with the escalating Cold War and the rise of the Beat generation with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. It was a friendly reminder of what American values were and that even if you forget sometimes, it is always easy to correct one’s course. The town of Springfield (which happens to be the inspiration for the family dynamic and town for The Simpsons[33]) is idyllic and provides a proper growing space for the kids Bud, Kathy, and Betty. By today’s standards, this show almost seems ironically entertaining. Each episode follows the same plot points: one of the three children (representing Americans in training) comes across a moral dilemma, they attempt to handle it on their own, and then the father comes in with his sage-like advice to clear up all loose ends.[34]

Father Knows Best acts as the progenitor of family sitcoms. While not the first sitcom, it did set the standard for what a family sitcom would become and the format that future sitcoms would follow. In fact, shows will used this format to mock the show and the unrealistic family values, most notably Married with Children and The Simpsons.[35] Father Knows Best goes against everything modern audiences want in a show because there is no authenticity. The lack of flaws in the characters means that there is no growth as individuals. Yet, despite all of this, Father Knows Best lasted for nine years teaching Americans how to be ideal citizens.

There is one episode of Father Knows Best in particular that promotes every aspect of the American dream like no other episode. Originally aired on January 30, 1955, “Jim, the Farmer” sees the Anderson family start off like normal. The exception of this episode shows the father, Jim, getting fed up with modern life and selling insurance. Without any discussion with his family, Jim quits his job, puts the family home up for rent, and plans to take the whole family to California to live a simpler life on a farm. Of course, this does not last more than a couple of days and the whole family is back to their normal house and routines by the end of the episode.[36] Jim’s actions at the beginning of the episode go against the get-up-and-go of modern life in the 1950s. The idea of going back to a rural life contradicts the belief that America is the fastest growing superpower and that every American must do their part to help America grow. If Jim is capable of providing services for twentieth-century America, then it would be too selfish of him to deny the nice people of Springfield insurance.[37] This is one of the few examples of the show where the father does not dispense the advice, but rather is the recipient. The wise person in this episode is a seventy-four-year-old cleaning woman who tells Jim that after thirty years of cleaning, she is as happy as ever cleaning up after people. She received advice from her dad after failing to become an actress, “Don’t try to be what you ain’t. Find out what you are, and be the best one of it.” She then begins to praise Jim for what he does and everyone ends the episode happy as ever.

If Father Knows Best is the epitome of the family sitcom format, then over the next twenty years the real America begins to show its face on television. Through the 1960s, television saw many major events; the John F. Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, and the Moon landing. By the beginning of the 1970s, television, and by extension sitcoms, had hit their stride. Shows like The Jeffersons, Welcome Back, Kotter, and All in the Family showed more realism than ever before with a dash of idealism mixed in. Cities were facing dire straits with mass poverty and crime. The nation was heading into a recession, oil shortage, and a hostage situation with Iran. Things were looking down, but there was one family that took these hard times and tried to make the best of it, the Evans family. Airing between February 1, 1974 and August 1, 1979, with one-hundred and thirty-three episodes, the Norman Lear created Good Times purposefully referenced the state of America. While the references and jokes were critical, they were never played off as an attack on America, but rather as a flashlight shining on the problems affecting a large percentage of Americans.[38] Lear also strove to include black writers on the show but did not do anything to fix the broken system that kept black writers from jobs due to short lists of credits.

Every bit of this family sitcom represented what a majority of Americans felt and faced. Even the theme song, while upbeat and catchy, had real world issues in them. “Temporary layoffs. Good times. Easy credit rip offs. Good times. Scratching and surviving. Good times. Hanging and a-jiving. Good times. Ain’t we lucky we got ‘em. Good times.” These lines make up the second half of the theme song for this modern, family sitcom. They immediately put the audience in the mindset that, yes, they are about to watch a situation comedy, but there were going to be real world problems including poverty, unemployment, and racism.

The leader of the Evans clan is James Sr. and he, along with his wife Florida, runs the house. His kids, J.J., Thelma, and Michael, get into the typical childish antics. As a family, they just try to survive and be happy, teaching as many lessons in their kids as they can. This show is best known for the character of the eldest son, J.J., and his (in)famous catchphrase, “Dynomite!” The quick popularity of this character caused tension amongst the elder actors, John Amos and Esther Rolle because initially the whole family was the focus. After the breakout popularity of Jimmy Walker, most episodes of Good Times revolved around J.J. The same thing happened roughly twenty years later on the show Family Matters and the unforeseen popularity of Steve Urkel.[39]

One of the more memorable episodes of Good Times revolves around younger son Michael, who refused to finish a test, claiming the IQ test is a white, racist test. Michael is a very smart kid. He claims that the questions are for white students. Questions like, “Complete the following phrase: Cup and ___? And you have to choose from four words: wall, saucer, table, and window.” Michael continues to explain that his friend Eddie answered “table” because he does not know, or even use, saucers under cups. The parents go to see the proctor of the IQ test and try to sort everything out. The proctor obsesses over statistics and he prides himself on his high IQ, but cannot answer questions that are centered on black culture, proving the point that understanding other cultures cannot be tested and is not an indicator of intelligence.[40]

As important as the race issue was in “The IQ Test,” it is hard to ignore the throwaway jokes about being a working poor family. Within the first ten minutes of the episode, there are jokes about barely having any meat in the stew, winos sleeping in the street, and barely being able to afford a nice pen as a gift. As depressing as it might seem, this was a reality for many Americans barely making a living wage. James was regularly unemployed or working odd jobs to get by. Good Times went against sponsors and producers to discuss issues that no other sitcom was discussing. Of the three children, Michael stood out the most over time. He was already smarter than the rest of his family, but through the seasons, he became more militant, fighting for black rights.[41]

To show this new side, Michael convinces J.J. to enter his painting entitled “Black Jesus” into an art show. Naturally, this upset some people, including Florida. Michael made the intelligent argument that as a black family it is more appropriate than having a painting of a white man. He goes further to use bible verses from the Book of Revelations, in the show, to justify why a black Jesus is historically accurate.[42] This storyline was put into a prime time sitcom specifically because it would upset some people and in the realm of television, if the audience gets upset, then a conversation happens. These types of ideas and meanings go a long way in a popular television show. The psychological reaffirming of everyday prejudices is designed to keep people aware of the problems within America. When America ignores the unfairness that millions of people go through, nothing gets fixed. But if the discourse remains open, and occasionally stirred, society can see the problems and work to alleviate them from our culture.[43]

While it started off as a dispute between John Amos and the writers using the J.J. character to overshadow the rest of the family, Amos left the show. The producers decided to try something different, rather trying to recast the role of James. In the two-part season four premiere James dies within the show. This leaves Florida as a widow and the kids fatherless. This was a rare storytelling device at the time. Many other shows had single mothers, but not widows and definitely not women who become widows on the show. In the show, the characters learn to handle the new family dynamic. Esther Rolle was also having problems dealing with the fact that the character of J.J. became a negative stereotype of black men and a terrible role model. During her absence, the show focused on the kids and J.J. slowly became a more mature adult. After this, Rolle returned for the last season of the show making it a family show once again.[44]

The 1980s saw the rise of Ronald Reagan, Jerry Falwell, Rush Limbaugh, and the rest of the Moral Majority.[45] While they were pushing staunch conservative and religious viewpoints, another shift was happening on television. The gender gap between male and female sitcom stars was slowly starting to shrink. However, while men still dominated television, both on television programs and at home by controlling the remote control, there were more shows with strong female leads than ever before.[46] Shows like Murphy Brown, Designing Women, and The Golden Girls, to name a few, let women lead the show and talk about real issues. Murphy Brown was a single, former alcoholic, and outspoken liberal who, at one point, got pregnant and decided to keep the child.[47] Designing Women featured strong, independent women, creating careers for themselves in Atlanta, Georgia.[48] The Golden Girls were the boldest of the bunch. Four women in or past middle-age, who talked about sex regularly. They worked, were self-sufficient, and were open to talk about topics like homosexuality, artificial insemination, impotence, interracial marriage, addiction to pills and gambling.[49]

As groundbreaking as those shows were, one show took the dynamics of family sitcoms to new heights. Roseanne premiered October 18, 1988 and ran until May 20, 1997, with a total of two-hundred and twenty-one episodes.[50] There are a few things that set Roseanne apart from other family sitcoms airing at the same time. The Conner family was dysfunctional. The house was generally untidy, with dishes in the sink. The parents were overweight and gave snarky comments back to their snarky kids. Both parents had to work blue-collar jobs and they both lost jobs over the nine seasons.[51] Yet, despite the initial starkness of this show, there is something endearing to the average person. There was something approachable and relatable about a family that does not seem perfect.

Roseanne is the matriarch of the Conner family, but unlike Father Knows Best, gets none of the respect from her children that would normally come with being a matriarch. Dan works various construction jobs and at one point gets to open his own bike shop that ultimately fails. There are three kids, Becky, Darlene, and DJ, Roseanne’s sister Jackie, and a regularly revolving cast of recurring characters. There is anger, resentment, and stress in almost every episode.[52] The Conners were almost the complete opposites of the Andersons from Father Knows Best.

Through its nine season run many taboo issues came up. Abusive parents, unmarried pregnancies, abortion, alcoholism, homosexuality, adultery, one parent being kicked out of the house for adultery, and the first gay kiss on a primetime sitcom.[53] Yet, the family, mostly, survives it all. In spite, or because, of this, the show did great in the ratings, making it to the top five for at least the first four seasons. Part of the success is due to nontraditional take on the family sitcom. While an ideal family leaves the audience with something to aspire to, it is ultimately unrealistic. What Roseanne did is take realistic settings and problems, forcing the characters and the audience to actually think about them.[54]

Season six has the episode “Lies My Father Told Me.”[55] It starts with the news that Dan’s mother is put in a mental hospital and Dan is not handling it well. He is already drinking heavily. He believes that his father is a horrible person and it was his actions that made his mother go crazy. Dan drunkenly goes to his father’s house to confront him, but he is not there. So instead, Dan breaks a couple lamps and cups while stumbling around, scaring his dad’s new wife. The next morning Roseanne confronts Dan with more pieces to the story, mainly that Dan’s father was not abusive, but rather his mom dealt with mental problems all her life. When Dan was a kid, his father told him that his mother was visiting family to protect Dan from the truth and to keep a positive perspective of his mom. His dad took all of Dan’s accusations and hatred in order to protect Dan’s mom’s image. After a long conversation with his dad, they decide to bury the hatchet, proving that even though a show explores some unmentionable topics like mental health, it can still end happily for everyone.

Every sitcom of the last twenty years has a “very special episode,” an episode that takes a more serious approach to the story in order to portray a message. Topics can include drugs/alcohol, missing children, child abuse, or rape. Some notable “very special episodes” are Diff’rent Strokes “The Bicycle Man” (NBC, February 5 & 12, 1983) dealing with pedophilia, All in the Family “Edith’s 50th Birthday” (CBS, October 16, 1977) dealing with rape, and most infamously Saved by the Bell “Jessie’s Song” (NBC, November 3, 1990) dealing with drugs.[56] Mental health was not as taboo as drugs or rape, but it was not something sitcoms discussed on television. These episodes are a nice reminder that while television is entertainment and an escape, problems do not just disappear.

In a more light-hearted episode, “The Fifties Episode,” Roseanne makes an attempt to parody the old-style sitcoms, like Father Knows Best.[57] It starts with a narrator introducing each actor. The episode is shot in black-and-white and the whole house decor, acting style, and clothes look like they belong in the 1950s. The characters have catchphrases and each of them plays into the gender roles of postwar America. As the episode continues, the jokes become more and more tongue-in-cheek. The episode continues to play up the idea of the doting wife and in-charge father, until the moment Roseanne goes against Dan’s wishes and admits that she “is not happy.” They even make an old-styled advertisement where a Mr. Clean type character shows up to improve the mopey Roseanne’s mood while doing chores. According to her, she is “does not have a lot of energy lately. I have trouble concentrating and a general feeling of hopelessness. I just feel … out of sorts.” The magical cleaning man offers the solution, “Baritol. Many housewives find that it soothes and restores.” A voice-over announces, “Baritol contains alcohol and other distilled products.” Roseanne proceeds to drink the whole bottle.

This episode is fun for many reasons. It allows the cast and writers to do something completely different and to experiment. The jokes are cheesy, but they are gradually more absurd. But the episode is mostly fun because it shows how ridiculously sexist sitcoms from the 1950s were. Father Knows Best was one of the first, but that does not excuse it from being demeaning to women. The father provides everything for his family and the mother is supposed to stay at the house cleaning and taking care of the kids. This episode of Roseanne exposes every time Dan takes credit for Roseanne helping him or when she reveals to her neighbor Jackie that she is not happy, only to have Jackie reveal that none of the wives are happy. It was an homage, parody, and commentary on 1950s sitcoms all in one episode, showing how far the family sitcom genre had come in forty years.

Family sitcoms provide a look into the history of television, social issues, diversity, and American culture. While some television shows may be reactionary in nature, there are always shows that push the boundary of entertainment and advocacy. Without innovative creators and writers challenging the status quo of American culture, uncomfortable topics would remain undiscussed and potentially not change. Television is the key to understanding certain aspects of culture. It is up to future researchers and historians to use that key to unlock media studies for all academic disciplines.

 

                1. Lynn Spigel, Welcome to the Dreamhouse: Popular Media and Postwar Suburbs (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001), 3.

                2. Erik Barnouw, Tube of Plenty: The Evolution of American Television, 2nd Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1990), 99-105.

                3.Barbara Moore, Marvin R. Bensman, and Jim Van Dyke, Prime-Time Television: A Concise History (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006), 24-25.

                4. Spigel, Welcome to the Dreamhouse, 66.

                5. Barnouw, Tube of Plenty, 430-440.

                6. Moore, Bensman, and Van Dyke, Prime-Time Television, 226-231.

                7. Moore, Bensman, and Van Dyke, Prime-Time Television, 83, 176-177, 174, 226-228.

                8. Ethan Thompson and Jason Mittell, editors, How to Watch Television (New York: New York University Press, 2013), 253-261.

                9. This is evident through all of the sources used for this research paper, as not a single one of them categorizes itself as a historical text.

                10. Barnouw, Tube of Plenty, 242-243, 272, 375-403, 494.

                11. Amanda D. Lotz, The Television Will Be Revolutionized (New York: New York University Press, 2007), 17-18.

                12. Gary W. Selnow and Richard R. Gilbert, Society’s Impact on Television: How the Viewing Public Shapes Television Programming (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1993), 1-13.

                13. Oscar Rickett, “How ‘Netflix and chill” became code for casual sex,” The Guardian, September 29, 2015, accessed April 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/media/shortcuts/2015/sep/29/how-netflix-and-chill-became-code-for-casual-sex.

                14. Chris Turner, Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Defined a Generation (Cambridge, MA: De Capo Press, 2004).

                15. “2015-2016 Undergraduate Catalog: Communication Arts,” University of West Florida, last modified 2015, accessed April 2016, http://catalog.uwf.edu/undergraduate/communicationarts/.

                16. Personally took these classes through an undergraduate minor.

                17. Tina Fey, Bossypants (New York: Black Bay Books, 2012).

                18. Paul Condon, 1001 Televsion Shows You Must Watch Before You Die (New York: Universe, 2015).

                19. Jurgen Wolff, Successful Sitcom Writing, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988.

                20. Barnouw, Tube of Plenty, 538.

                21. Thompson and Mittell, How to Watch Television, Table of Contents.

                22. Joshua Rivera, “HBO Is Advertising Game of Thrones Season 6 in the Cruelest Way Possible,” GQ, November 23, 2015, accessed April 2016, http://www.gq.com/story/game-of-thrones-cruelest-promo.

                23. Aaron Couch, “Life After the Finale: 22 TV Shows Brought Back From the Dead,” The Hollywood Reporter, February 6, 2013, accessed April 2016, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/gallery/life-finale-22-tv-shows-41733/1-the-mindy-project.

                24. The Daily Mail, “Modern Family’s gay couple Cam and Mitchell to kiss on television after all,” August 23, 2010, accessed April 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1305604/Modern-Familys-gay-couple-kiss-television-all.html.

                25. Frazier Tharpe, “The 25 Least Funny Sitcoms of all Time,” Complex, November 14, 2012, accessed April 2016, http://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2012/11/25-least-funny-sitcoms-of-all-time/.

                26.The four footnotes above this footnote.

                27. Eric Avila, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), http://ezproxy.lib.uwf.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/

login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=119318&site=ehost-live&ebv=EK&ppid=Page-__-14.

                28. Peter Biskind, Seeing is Believing: How Hollywood Taught us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983).

                29. Barnouw, Tube of Plenty, 187.

                30. David Marc, Comic Visions, 2nd Edition (Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, Inc., 1997), 46.

                31. Moore, Bensman, and Van Dyke, Prime-Time Television, 83.

                32. Marc, Comic Visions, 54-56

                33. Turner, Planet Simpson, 28.

                34. Marc, Comic Visions, 46-50.

                        35. Virginia Nightengale, Studying Audiences: The Shock of the Real (New York: Routledge, 1996), 127.

                36. Father Knows Best, season 1, episode 18, “Jim, the Father,” written by Roswell Rogers, aired January 30, 1955, Youtube, accessed April 2016, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0578439/.

                37. Marc, Comic Visions, 64.

                38. Darrell Y. Hamamoto, Nervous Laughter: Television Situation Comedy and Liberal Democratic Ideology (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1989), 104-105.

                39. Moore, Bensman, and Van Dyke, Prime-Time Television, 225.

                40. Good Times, season 2, episode 7, “The IQ Test,” written by Jay Moriarty and Mike Milligan, aired October 22, 1974, Youtube, https://youtu.be/luXoWFFnkUM.

                41. Hamamoto, Nervous Laughter, 105-108.

                42. Hamamoto, Nervous Laughter, 105-106.

                43. Herman Gray, “Television, Black Americans, and the American Dream,” in Television: The Critical View, 5th edition, ed. by Horace Newcomb (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1994), 176-187.

                44. Moore, Bensman, and Van Dyke, Prime-Time Television, 174.

                45. Barnouw, Tube of Plenty, 482-483.

                46. David Morley, “Television and Gender,” in Television: The Critical View, 5th edition, ed. Horace Newcomb (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1994), 474-497.

                47. Marc, Comic Visions, 203.

                48. Hamamoto, Nervous Laughter, 131.

                49. Moore, Bensman, and Van Dyke, Prime-Time Television, 229-230.

                50. “Roseanne (1988-1997), IMDb, accessed April 2016, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094540/?re_=tt_rec_tt.

                51. Barnouw, Tube of Plenty, 516.

                52. Moore, Bensman, and Van Dyke, Prime-Time Television, 226-227.

                53. Marc, Comic Visions, 195-199.

                54. Judine Mayerle, “Roseanne – How Did You Get Inside My House? A Case Study of a Hit Blue-Collar Situation Comedy,” in Television: The Critical View, ed. Horace Newcomb, 5th edition (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1994), 113-114.

                55. Roseanne, season 6, episode 21, “Lies My Father Told Me,” written by Eric Gilliland, aired March 29, 1994, on ABC, Amazon.

                56. Kara Kovalchik, “12 Very Special ‘Very Special Episodes’,” Mental Floss, March 18, 2013, accessed April 2016, http://www.mentalfloss.com/article/49456/12-very-special-episodes.

                 57. Roseanne, season 8, episode 6, “The Fifties Episode,” written by Allan Stephan, aired November 7, 1995, on ABC, Amazon.