John Amos Returns To “Good Times” For A Live TV Special (Video)

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Amid a jam-packed night of television—which included scheduled finales for Survivor and The Masked Singer, as well as the historic impeachment of Donald Trump—tuned in viewers received a special treat on Wednesday night during a star-studded live restating of a classic episode of Good Times.

Hosted and produced by Jimmy Kimmel, the second installment of Live in Front of a Studio Audience presented a re-adaptation of the Good Times episode “The Politicians” — which originally aired 44 years ago, in November 1975, as part of the show’s third season. Venerable actors like Andre Braugher, Viola Davis, and comedian Tiffany Haddish inhabited the legendary TV roles of “James” and “Florida Evans,” and friendly neighbor, “Willona Woods, respectively. However, it was the show’s surprise nod to the original series that received the loudest pop from the audience.

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John Amos, who starred as “James Evans” in the early seasons of the series’ original run, made a guest appearance as Chicago politician “Alderman Fred Davis,” a role originated by Albert Reed. The 79-year-old actor, along with the late Esther Rolle, were the first Black nuclear family on the small screen, well received by audiences nearly a decade before The Cosby Show dominated TV guide covers.

Infamously, at the height of the show’s popularity, “James Evans” was killed and left the show open with no closure for the loss of such a beloved character. Over the years, rumors surfaced that the show’s producers and Amos could not reach an agreement in their contractual negotiations. However, over two years ago, Amos told Sway In The Morning what was happening behind the scenes.

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“I left because I was told that my services were no longer needed because I had become a ‘disruptive element,'” Amos shared, citing creative differences with the show’s writer. “In other words, I didn’t have the diplomacy that I think I’ve cultivated over the last 10 or 15 years. Being born in Newark, [New Jersey, and] raised in East Orange, I had a way of voicing my differences against the script that weren’t acceptable to the creative staff. I mean, the writers got tired of having their lives threatened over jokes.”

In an excerpt from Good Times‘ creator and head writer Norman Lear’s book, Even This I Get to Experience, he gives the other side to the story, confessing, “By the end of the third season, John Amos was so glum and dispirited that it seemed impossible to go on, and we decided to write him out of the show. Talk to John, and you might as well be dealing with the Sphinx — 2,500 years of silent certainty. I was sure he felt that the work he was doing was beneath him, and that another character, not his, was why the show was on the air. Without that family, especially the sturdy, steadfast parents that John Amos and Esther Rolle represented to a fare-thee-well, Jimmie would have been just another loose cannon stand-up comic. It was the family that gave ‘J.J.’ weight, ‘Dy-no-mite!’ or not.”

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When Good Times would return for its fourth season in the fall of 1975, “the Evans family” were preparing to move to Mississippi, where James has gotten a good job, but before any success could take place, “Florida” and the kids receive the tragic news that he’s been killed in a car crash.

The updated episode of “The Politician,” which seemed relevant nearly 45 years later, chronicles a rift within “the Evans family” as a young upstart candidate challenges a longtime alderman who’s painted as a do-nothing, potentially corrupt crook. Braugher and Oscar Award-winner Viola Davis were impressive as the loving parents, while former Saturday Night Live star Jay Pharoah played the wisecracking eldest son “J.J.,” originally portrayed by actor Jimmie Walker.

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A week shy of his 80th birthday, Amos was joined by his former castmates, as Bernadette Stanis (“Thelma”), Ja’net Dubois (“Wilona”), and the aforementioned Walker, made an appearance alongside host Jimmy Kimmel during a special segment.

Good Times ran from 1974 to 1979 on CBS and focused on a Black family living in a public housing project in Chicago. All In The Family, the other sitcom that was re-staged Wednesday evening, starred Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei, equally had a socially relevant episode with “The Draft Dodger” addressing complex hot-button social issues of the time like racism and sexism.

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John Amos, who famously played the father of Akeem’s love interest in Eddie Murphy’s Coming To America, is set to reprise his role as “Cleo McDowell” for Coming 2 America in 2020.

#BonusBeat: John Amos’ recent conversation with DJ Premier on Live From HeadQCourterz. This is the first of five clips, where Amos describes meeting Esther Rolle before Good Times: