20. Sanford and Son
Air Dates: January 14, 1972–March 25, 1977
Stars: Redd Foxx, Demond Wilson
The South Central L.A. neighborhood of Watts received a surprising amount of love from TV during the 1970s, with the most coming from Sanford and Son. The U.S. version of the British show Steptoe and Son, Sanford and Son gave black America a slightly less abrasive answer to Archie Bunker. Played by the legendary Red Foxx, Fred Sanford was a wily old coot who constantly insulted others with his quick wit. The most frequent target of his jabs? His son, Lamont, who helped him sell antiques and, well, junk.
Lamont longed to step out on his own and live a life free of his father's critiques, but his genuine love for his old man—and Sanford's constant threats—kept him around. It was just the two of them, as Fred's beloved wife and Lamont's mother, Elizabeth, had long since passed away. In the show (and Foxx's) most famous gag, Sanford would threaten to join her in Heaven via a heart attack in a desperate attempt to get his way.
In addition to providing a model for the successful African-American sitcom, Sanford and Son was a smash hit across audiences. Even when Foxx temporarily left the show because of a contract dispute, its popularity never flagged. The show lives on through the character of Fred Sanford, and through every rap song that's ever sampled the theme. —JK