Friends, in my youth one of the nightly routines during dinner was watching reruns of the popular TV series Sanford and Son with my father on the Superstation TBS. As soon as that memorable theme song – The Streetbeater – by Quincy Jones began I’d start nodding my head to the groove as Lamont Sanford (Demond Wilson) drove that old beat up 1951 Ford F1 through the city streets to the ramshackle place that he and Fred (Redd Foxx) called home. For six seasons and a grand total of 136 episodes – Sanford and Son was a ratings hit for NBC – which is probably the reason when after a couple of troubled seasons with Foxx and when he left for ABC to headline his own variety show, the studio decided a spin-off entitled Sanford Arms was the way to go!
Now to quite fair, the original plan for the 1977 Sanford Arms spin-off TV series was for the lead to be Demond Wilson’s Lamont Sanford. You see, in the original series – the Sanford’s purchased a rooming house located beside their junkyard, doing their best to find boarders for the place. With the spin-off show it was intended that Lamont would be the lead character but I’ve read online that Wilson felt the amount being offered by NBC was far too low – and backed out of the series. Which left showrunners Norman Lear, Bernie Orenstein, Bud Yorkin, and Saul Turteltaub in something of a pickle to say the least.
After Wilson walked away from the upcoming series, it was deemed that a new main character would be introduced, and that was Phil Wheeler – played by Teddy Wilson of Good Times fame. In the Sanford Arms series he was revealed to be an aquaintance of Fred Sanford from back in his Army days. Phil had lost his Wife and with his two teenaged children Nat (John Earl) and Angie (Tina Andrews) bought and moved into the Sanford’s old house along with Phil’s girlfriend Jeannie (Bebe Drake) – trying to make a successful hotel out of the Sanford Arms. As for both Fred and Lamont it was said they had sold both properties to Phil before moving away to live in Arizona – due to the older Sanford’s health.
While both Redd Fox and Demond Wilson were absent from the series, Sanford and Son regulars were readily available to appear in the new show. These included LaWanda Page as Aunt Esther, Whitman Mayo as Grady Wilson with Norma Miller who played Dolly Wilson – in fact the first episode has them checking into the Sanford Arms on their honeymoon. Don Bexley who played Bubba – one of Fred’s best friends has found employment with Phil, acting as maintenance man and even bellman. While this TV show might not have had the benefit of The Streetbeater as a theme song it did have none other than Henry Mancini compose it’s opening tune.
The sad truth of the matter is these recognizable characters weren’t enough to pull in the viewers and Sanford Arms was cancelled after a mere four episodes aired – although eight were filmed, the last four wouldn’t be aired until BET showed them back in 1991!
That wasn’t the last Sanford and Son spin-off attempt as in 1980 after his variety show had been cancelled, Foxx returned with a new show entitled Sanford. As with Sanford Arms it too failed to find an audience – in fact the show completely disregarded the other spin-off series as having taken place at all. The 1977 spin-off series is not available on DVD as of yet – although the 1975 spin-off show Grady was offered as a manufacture on demand title by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment – so who knows if it will find it’s way to all of us Sanford and Son fans? However I need to say that if you know where to look online you easily can find all eight episodes.