ABC wanted That's My Mama to emulate the success of Good Times
Good Times is one of television's most successful and influential African American shows. It opened the door for many sitcoms starring black actors to follow, and various networks wanted to emulate its success. The series showcased life in poverty and the importance of leaning on family through tough times.
ABC saw Good Times's impact on ratings and wanted to find a way to compete with rival CBS. So they pushed out That's My Mama, a series centered around middle-class African Americans in Washington, D.C., to not entirely copy the structure of Norman Lear's hit.
That's My Mama starred Clifton Davis as Clifton Curtis and Theresa Merritt as Eloise "Mama" Curtis, a mother-son duo who lived together. Like Florida Evans, Mama Curtis wanted the best for her children (she also had a daughter, Tracy Curtis, who was married). She consistently urged Clifton to settle down, often opinionated, but her loving ways always shined through.
However, her son enjoyed the bachelor life—as he was only in his twenties and worked at Oscar's Barbershop, a family shop inherited from his late father.
The then-new series was supposed to debut during a week of new shows, including some released by rival networks, but ABC wanted it to be a hit so bad that they released the pilot earlier. And, of course, critics had a lot to say.
A Democrat and Chronicle staff writer wrote an opinion article about That's My Mama, saying, "ABC wants [the show] to be a big fat hit. And wants it badly...ABC is hoping that getting to know "Mama" a week early will make her seem like an old friend once the ratings battle begins next week."
He continued by saying that the show wasn't as bad as the promotion but lacked a "feeling of reality" that "Esther Rolle's show has on the rival network." Both shows debuted in 1974, but Good Times aired in February, seven months before That's My Mama, and already saw massive success.
In the Seventies, there were alarmingly more poor African Africans than middle class, so a vast amount of viewers couldn't relate to the Curtis' and their business like they could with the Evans scrapping for change to pay the bills.
The series failed to reach the top 30 in Nielsen ratings during its two seasons and was eventually canceled.