TV Guide Spotlight: Groundbreaking Sitcoms of the '70s [DVD]
The urban sitcom What's Happening!! was introduced in August of 1976, with a four-episode trial run. In the opener "The Runaway," Raj Thomas (Ernest Thomas) hires a babysitter for his kid sister Dee (Danielle Spencer) so he can attend a party with his pals Rerun (Fred Berry) and Dwayne (Haywood Nelson) -- only to risk the wrath of his Mama (Mabel King) when Dee disappears. Next up is "The Birthday Present," wherein Raj is falsely accused of shoplifting; this is followed by "When Daddy Comes Marching Home," marking the first series appearance of Raj's deadbeat dad Bill (Thalmus Rasulala); and "My Three Tons," in which Rerun is hired to join a dance group consisting of fat kids. The series' first season officially begins with the next episode, "Saturday's Hero," and ends 17 episodes later with "Puppy Love." In between, Shirley Hemphill is provided a showcase in her supporting role as waitress Shirley Wilson in the episode "Shirley's Date"; Mel Stewart appears as an embittered veteran of the Negro Baseball League in "The Hospital Story"; veteran character actress Alice Ghostley shows up as the employer of Raj's mother in "The Maid Did It"; and another familiar TV face, Dick Van Patten, plays a TV producer who hires Dee and Shirley for a TV commercial in "The Burger Queen." Footnote: most of the first-season episodes of What's Happening!! were directed by Mark Warren, formerly the chief helmsman of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In and the only African-American director ever to win an Emmy award. ~ Hal Erickson
Cast & Crew
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