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2013 S&A Highlights: About The 'Good Times' Film Adaptation... The Story Of The Man Who Created The TV Series

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by Tambay A. Obenson
January 2, 2014 4:25 PM
16 Comments
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Eric Monte

Editor's note: As 2013 comes to an end, I'll be reposting some of our highlights published during the year. Those who've already read each one can obviously skip them, or revisit if you'd like. For those who joined us later in the year, missing many of these posts from earlier in the year, they will probably be new items. Here's the 12th of many to come, originally posted in March 2013. Happy New Year to you all! 


I was watching clips from Good Times on YouTube (in light of yesterday's news that the 1970s tv comedy series will be the basis for a feature film), and stumbled upon this 2-part interview with Eric Monte, the man behind the series, who was also responsible for other notable 1970s black TV shows like What's Happening!! which was based on his screenplay for Cooley High. He also created George and Louise Jefferson for All in the Family (of course they would go on to be at the center of their own show), and, as one of the hottest young writers in Hollywood in the 1970s, contributed heavily to socially-conscious sitcoms produced by Norman Lear, like those already mentioned, and others.

Monte had a falling out with Lear, suing him, along with CBS and ABC, in 1977 for stealing his ideas - a move that he says got him blacklisted. Eventually, he says, he received a $1 million settlement and a small percentage of the residuals from Good Times, but that signaled the beginning of the end, as Hollywood, he says, didn't share his vision - in essence, he fought against script changes that he felt degraded blacks, and wanted more control over his work.

Years later, after just about losing it all, filing for bankruptcy in the early 2000s, he became a cocaine addict, and soon found himself homeless in California.

Since cleaning himself up, he's been trying to make a comeback of sorts, but aside from one episode of Moesha and an episode of The Wayans Brothers, he hasn't worked in TV and film since his falling out with Norman Lear in the late 1970s.

In the 2-part interview with Upfront TV below, shot in 2010, Monte talks about much of the above, filling in what I left out - his first meeting with Norman Lear, creating The Jeffersons, coming up with the idea for Sanford and Son, but not getting any credit for it, fighting with Norman Lear for years to get Good Times on the air, because Lear wanted a more dysfunctional black family on screen, also TV and film as powerful propaganda, black film and TV today, the Hollywood struggles he faced for not wanting to play the game, and more...

First, listen to the 8-minute NPR profile below from 2006, when Monte was homeless, and trying to re-establish himself. The Upfront TV 2-parter follows underneath. 

So if you weren't already familiar with Mr Monte and his story, now you are...

By the way, he's listed an an "associate producer" on the film adaptation of Good Times that Scott Rudin is producing. That could mean almost anything; but maybe it's signals a new start for him... maybe not.


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16 Comments

  • sergio | January 2, 2014 6:34 PMReply

    I wrote about Monte and his plight back in 2010

    shadowandact.com/?p=24634

  • CareyCarey | March 14, 2013 10:04 PMReply

    I know I won't get fan approval nor a standing ovation, but after reading both posts on Mr Eric Monte and The Good Times, I've come to an unfortunate decision. Hollywood and Norman Lear ARE NOT the culprits in this sad story. That title belongs to the one and only Eric Monte and his Drug and Alcohol addiction.

    It's convenient to assess blame and point fingers at his employers, but Eric's spiral to hell started in the mid 70's. Granted, he had a beef with his employer which lead to him being rewarded 1 million dollars, but the story didn't start there, nor end there.

    Mr. Monte said he was blacklisted, but where's the proof? On the contrary, it's a fact that alcohol and drug addiction consumes its victim. Drugs becomes their lover, their protector, their heart and soul. Everything else becomes second. Not your momma, not your daddy, nor your wife or husband, nothing comes before your favorite lover. Needless to say, friends, family and co-workers are aware of the victim's problem, long before they admit to having one. So I am left to wonder, how much did Mr Monte's admitted alcohol and crack addiction contribute to him being a "risk"?

    For argument sake, lets say he was "blacklisted"... he would not be the first. Many a writer and actors have felt the mighty power of Hollywood's power base, yet, the overwhelming majority do not dive into the world of alcohol and drug abuse. Mr. Monte, on the other hand, made a few unfortunate decisions, which had absolutely nothing to do with Norman Lear. I mean, what has he been doing for the last 35 years? I KNOW he smoked a boat load of crack and drank alcohol to soothe his pain. Raise your hand if you know what alcohol and crack does to the brain? I'll tell you. It eats it up... in a hurry. And it's important to note that alcohol is the worst drug of them all. Yet, in combination with crack cocaine, it's a beast... another love
    TKO!

    However, before I go too far left, I know what Eric was not doing. Well, it's said that a drug and alcohol abuser may not have chosen the life of addiction, but seeking recovery is a choice that only they can make. In short, Mr. Eric Monte has no one to blame but his-self.

  • Laura | March 14, 2013 11:18 AMReply

    Wow, I'm surprised most of you are just now finding out about Monte's story. I thought it was pretty well known by now.

  • Andre Seewood | March 14, 2013 10:19 AMReply

    If you could get Eric Monte and Sam Greenlee in one room together, then the revolution would definitely be televised. "Entertainment is the greatest form of propoganda there is..." this is but one of the quotes that will live on from this interview. The notion that Norman Lear (and by extension many White male television executives and film producers of the 1970's/80's) did not want a strong African-American male figure in family shows that centered on African-Americans fits neatly into the White racial imaginary and its backlash against the "Black power movement" and the gains of the Civil Rights Movement. Monte's struggle with Lear over the James Evans Sr. and Jr. characters in GOOD TIMES is indicative of those White men who harbored prejudices and resentments against the African-American male even in the face of the advancements of the Civil Rights movement. It is interesting that these resentments against the strong, confident African-American male culminated in Monte's lawsuit against Lear and his subsequent "blacklisting" from the industry. Again, I return to Monte's statement that the note he constantly received after submitting each script was against a strong Black father in a sitcom. The pressure to get rid of "James Evans Sr." can be understood both as a backlash to the Black male leadership shown during the Civil Rights movement (Black Panthers, Black Politicians, etc) as well as a need to "propogandize" a certain inferior view of the African-American family that needed to be believed for reasons of White racial/moral superiority. We don't need a film of the television show "GOOD TIMES" what is needed is a film that incorporates scenes from the various television shows that Monte wrote or created with dramatized scenes centered on his struggle against White producers like Lear (and others) to undermine his view of African-American life. The style of the cinematography could match the television images so that the cuts between the television shows and the scripted story of Monte's struggle would seamlessly flow from one to the other (think of the faux-historical material Oliver Stone added to JFK), even if it would require shooting the scripted material on standard VHS, then transferring it to film to accomplish the look. The struggle behind the show GOOD TIMES is more compelling than a movie version of the show GOOD TIMES.

  • Solex | July 21, 2014 12:01 PM

    ' We don't need a film of the television show "GOOD TIMES" what is needed is a film that incorporates scenes from the various television shows that Monte wrote or created with dramatized scenes centered on his struggle against White producers like Lear (and others) to undermine his view of African-American life.'

    Damn right, and damn straight.

  • Andre Seewood | March 14, 2013 2:34 PM

    @CC, Of course from my point of view the notion of making a scripted film that seamless integrates with previously recorded 70's television programming is daring, original and interesting from a formal (cinematic) stand point- but the story has to be placed in the context of the larger historical events that were happening at that time. It wouldn't be a bio-pic or a documentary, but perhaps a hybrid of both genres as a historical film. I'm thinking particularly of the first 15 mins of Oliver Stone's JFK and the powerful dramatized documentary by Peter Watkins on painter Edvard Munch. Regardless of how it is all done, a major theme of the film has to be centered upon what Monte was saying about how he was raised in the Ghetto and the perception that Whites (and affluent Blacks) had of the Ghetto. Another theme would be this concerted effort to remove the strong Black man from the show GOOD TIMES, noting also the changes in attitude in George Jefferson after Monte was no longer involved. Perhaps how our perceptions are influenced by the propaganda called "entertainment". Yes, I was being rhetorical, but oh the possibilites...

  • CC | March 14, 2013 12:24 PM

    Andre, that was an excellent assessment and a great idea.

    Now, from a business aspect, how do we turn "compelling" into an intriguing epic that's must see entertainment for the whole family? I hear the message but how do we make it fit the ears of the entire movie-paying public? Unless you're referring to a documentary? Then again, its possible you were just being rhetorical?

  • Donella | March 14, 2013 11:45 AM

    Let's throw Paul Mooney in the room with Eric Monte and Sam Greenlee. Oh, the stories they could tell.

  • ALM | March 14, 2013 9:48 AMReply

    Dang, man....another tragic story from Hollywood. The awful thing is, I have never heard of this gentleman before now. Now I know why (the blacklisting).

    He should be included in the discussions of African Americans who have made major contributions to media, but I never hear anyone speaking of him. It seems as if the blacklisting extended into the African American parts of media too.

  • CareyCarey | March 14, 2013 9:34 AMReply

    As I listened to Eric Monte's story, I was immediately reminded of a movie suggested by our all-knowing, Sergio, who once said "I read a lot of stuff and I know a lot of stuff". And to that I say, "he sure does".

    The movie was Dancing in September (2000) starring Isiah Washington and Nicole Ari Parker.

    Check out the taglines:

    He fell in love with the writer. She fell in love with the producer. But the network ONLY loves ratings...and the network rules their world.

    The revolution WILL be televised.

    She wrote the show. He made the deal. Who paid the price?

    Romance, ambition and politics in the TV industry.

    Hmmmm... sounds familiar, doesn't it? As I was saying, it's eerily reminiscent of Monte's struggles, minus the female protagonist. In this movie we see the rise of a struggling black writer (Nicole Ari Parker) who befriends and falls in love with a studio exec (Isaiah Washington). She lands a job as the head writer of a hit black sitcom, which she created.

    Everything is fine and dandy, they're rolling, they're balling and living the good life... they're in love. But then, just like Mr. Monte's journey, studio politics rears it's ugly head. And, just like the series Good Times, some of the actors and writers become disenchanted with the direction of the show.

    Now I'm thinking, this IS the Good Times and the Eric Monte story... with a few slight twists. But I'm not going to tell the end of this story. However, since I did say the stories are eerily similar, one might be able to guess who falls from grace, who leaves the hit show and whether or not love lasts forever.

    Having said all of that, I hope the best for Mr. Eric Monte. He has a mighty hill to climb, a struggle, in many ways, I know a little something about.

  • Run@2006 | March 13, 2013 8:41 PMReply

    He has had some strokes so not sure how his health is. Mike Evans (The Jeffersons) and Eric came w/ the idea and since Evans has passed his daughter has been part of this negotiation process for the update. The producer tag doesn't really mean much though. He has to sign off for his concepts to be used. Usually in exchange their is a producer tag involved. He doesn't OWN the show though. Lear does.....If you noticed Monte wasn't listed as creative consultant.

  • JMac | March 13, 2013 8:10 PMReply

    I thought the previous post said Eric Monte would be executive producing the film. Is that not right? It's the only spot of light in this saga.

  • Tambay | March 13, 2013 8:30 PM

    You're absolutely right! He'll get an associate producer credit. Change made.

  • sosgemini | March 13, 2013 8:03 PMReply

    Wasn't Sanford and Son a British remake? How much of a change in concept was there?

  • Donella | March 14, 2013 11:43 AM

    That's definitely a kick in the head. The systemic racism of Hollywood in terms of writing is a high hill to climb.

  • Garveyism | March 14, 2013 11:29 AM

    Yeah @Sosgemini it was Steptoe and Son before it was adapted and changed to Sanford and Son. Well that is racist Hollywood for you. Or I must say Jewish/Zionist Hollywood. This is just a travesty that this man doesn't get the credit that a black creator deserves. Mr. Monte has contributed more than the average Afro-American creator of film and television. He name was taken away from credit for such black iconic 70's sitcoms like Sanford & Son, Good Times, The Jeffersons, and What's Happening. It is a shame that finally the truth came out after all these years ain't that a kick in the head for you. I was made that they took James Amos's character James Evans Sr. from the second season by killing his strong male figure black father from the show. That move just messed up the whole entire series in the show's run after that. It is good to see that Mr. Monte's story is now finally revealed. @CareyCarey you brought up a good film that needs to be looked called ''Dancing in September'' about how Hollywood likes to exploit the black images along with Spike Lee's ''Bamboozled''. Thank God the truth is out. It takes courageousness after all of these years to come out after being blacklisted by racist White/Jewish superiority Hollywood.

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