While The Waltons went off the air nearly 40 years ago, the show remains a family favorite. At the time of its release, shows that depicted family life with core values were slim and considered to be going out of style.
In fact, network executives were leery on the concept of the television series. They were proven wrong and The Flip Wilson Show on a competitive network was bumped out of the top spot.
Studio heads did not believe ‘The Waltons’ would be a hit
A television film, The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, premiered in December of 1971. Based on the movie becoming a ratings success, CBS ordered one season of episodes based on the same characters. Thus, The Waltons was born. With the exception of the Walton children and Grandma Esther Walton, the characters were all recast for the television series.
Around the time The Waltons debuted, the television industry began experiencing what’s known as “the rural splurge” – a series of cancellations in the 1970 and 1972 of popular rural-themed shows.
Related: A Major Piece of ‘The Waltons’ Set Was Originally on a Spin-Off of ‘The Andy Griffith Show’
As a result, CBS was not sold on the show. So much so that the rumor at the time was that they put the show against The Flip Wilson Show on NBC – as well as The Mood Squad on ABC, thinking the series would not survive. The timeslot of 8 PM on a competitor network was undesirable for many.
Viewers however took a liking to The Waltons. It was considered relatable and fans enjoyed the family values depicted in the series.
‘The Waltons’ knocked ‘The Flip Wilson Show’ out of one of the top spots
Per little known facts about The Waltons on Little Things, Wilson’s variety show secured the number two spot in television ratings for four years. When The Waltons premiered in 1971 and became an instant hit, The Fip Wilson Show not only lost their number two spot to the family-oriented series, but Wilson was knocked out of the top 30 completely.
It turned out to be an interesting thing to witness for even network executives. Fred Silverman, VP Of Programming for CBS at the time told The New York Times in a 1973 interview:
“We thought ‘The Waltons’ would be a good counter‐program to ‘Flip Wilson’ and ‘Mod Squad.’ The basic appeal of those two shows is urban. We hoped ‘The Waltons’ would have a big appeal in rural areas and small towns. We knew ‘Flip Wilson’ would be No. 1, but we thought ‘The Waltons’ might make a good race against ‘Mod Squad’ for second place, that it might even be neck and neck.”
Preferring to now allow his show to suffer in ratings any longer, Wilson announced season four would be his last. It was his way of bowing out gracefully.
‘The Waltons’ ran successfully for nine seasons
The success of The Waltons helped to revitalize the format and inspired similar shows centering around family and rural life, including Little House on the Prairie which premiered in 1974.
The show and its cast won a number of awards, including: a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series in 1973. Richard Thomas won the Emmy for Lead Actor in a Drama Series the same year. Michael Learned won the Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama Series three times, as well as Ellen Corby who won three awards in the Supporting Actress category.
The show is now available to watch in syndication and on a number of streaming platforms.
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