Good Times writers chose not to replace Esther Rolle when she departed
Good Times was the earliest example of a two-parent African American household on television. When it debuted in 1975, people of all races tuned in to watch the Evans family lean on each other to get through tough times. So when John Amos departed, there were a lot of questions and changes in the series. He played James Evans Sr., the strict dad that did all he could to provide for his family.
After killing the character off, due to contract and creative direction disagreements behind the scenes, writers scrambled to find a replacement or someone who could act as a "fatherly figure." First, they increased Jimmie Walker's character, J.J., and made him lead alongside Esther Rolle. He stepped into the role of providing for the family as characters Thelma and Michael were still underage. Then, once that didn't really work out, they introduced Moses Gunn's character Carl Dixon — Florida's new love interest.
The changes didn't sit well with viewers and Esther Rolle. In 1977, the actress departed from the series for similar reasons John Amos left. According to the Chicago Tribune, "Despite attempts by CBS and the producers to cover up the truth, the departure of the star can best be described as half quitting, half firing."
Apparently, Rolle and Amos argued several times with producers about the "sickening overemphasis" of Jimmie Walker's character. "Rather than presenting a black family in a somewhat realistic urban framework, Good Times too often has fallen back on cheap laughs generated by immature J.J. and his relentless wailing of 'Dy-no-mite,'" the Tribune article said.
The article also stated that she asked to be released for health reasons and that the actress was very disturbed by what happened.
Now, the three siblings, J.J., Thelma and Michael, were parentless. Instead of killing off Florida Evans, the writers made her get married to Carl and acted as if she was on her honeymoon for a few episodes. Then, since Carl had cancer, she was with him while he got treatment.
Florida's friend, Willona (Ja'Net Dubois), played the "motherly" role to the siblings, and there was even a new addition: Janet Jackson's character Penny. A lot happened in the last two seasons of the series, and none of it helped increase ratings.
In the final season, Rolle's character returned without her husband to help Thelma navigate married life and more.
Weeknights at 6p ET | 3p PT