Monday, April 2, 2012

One Day At a Time

In 1975, I was sixteen years old and worried about what every other sixteen year old worried about--acceptance, rejection, growing up and sex.

In the early year of the seventies, television sitcoms had become divided into two basic types: Filmed sitcoms with or without an audience (THE BOB NEWHART SHOW) or taped sitcoms with an audience (ALL IN THE FAMILY). Both types tended to deal with more adult themes than the sitcoms of a decade earlier but none really touched on the things that concerned me personally...until ONE DAY AT A TIME.

ONE DAY AT A TIME was a taped sitcom which gave it a stage-y feel as people often had to hold their lines for laughter or applause. The basic premise was that you had newly divorced Ann Romano who moved to a new city with her two teenage daughters and was attempting to raise them alone. Well...alone with the help of "Uncle David," Mom's divorce lawyer who openly worshiped her and Schneider, the buffoonish but somewhat creepy building superintendent.

The oldest daughter was Julie, played by Mackenzie Phillips, daughter of John Phillips of The Mamas and Papas. The younger daughter, Barbara, was played by newcomer Valerie Bertinelli. Mom was Bonnie Franklin, one of those character actresses one spots in a dozen old movies and shows from the sixties. Richard Masur was David and old pro Pat Harrington, Jr was Schneider.

ALL IN THE FAMILY's Norman Lear produced the series. Created by actress Whitney Blake (HAZEL) and ostensibly based on her own life raising daughter Meredith Baxter (FAMILY TIES), ONE DAY AT A TIME would eventually be forced by circumstances to veer far afield from its original premise.

In the beginning, week after week, the episode plotlines alternated between those of the mother and the daughters but more often than not touched on the girls worrying about acceptance, rejection, growing up and sex--just like me!

Needless to say, I could relate. It was for a while my favorite series! My favorite character was the David character, the most realistic in my opinion. So, of course, he's the one written out early on. The rest of the cast become more and more dysfunctional as time goes on, partly due to behind-the-scenes issues, the biggest of which was Mackenzie's drug use. At one point she was actually fired from the show. She managed to get herself cleaned up and then came back only to leave again for the same problem.

Over the course of the series 9 seasons, we dealt with drugs on camera as well. Also, losing one's virginity, pregnancy, spousal abuse, child abuse, drinking, death, stealing and any other "issues" one might think of. In fact, ONE DAY AT A TIME became an "Issue of the Week" show, often veering into pathos, bathos and overwrought dramady.

Franklin's portrayal of Ann Romano took risks, making her a strict and stern feminist mother who was often shrill and unsympathetic to viewers. Julie, too, with her on-the-air and off-the-air antics, became not only physically wasted over the seasons but a fairly terrible character at times, too. In the course of the series, she marries Max, played by Michael Lembeck (son of Harvey Lembeck who played on THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW) and has a baby. Barbra also marries and the girls and their spouses at one point move in together. Meanwhile, Ann starts a business but her business partner dies and she raises his son (played by Glenn Scarpelli whose real-life dad worked for Archie Comics), then she herself marries Barbara's husband's father (played by WKRP's Howard Hesseman). As you can see, it became a soap opera with the occasional laughs.

A number of interesting actors who appeared multiple times over the nine year run were Jim Hutton, Nanette Fabray, Shelly Fabares, Elinor Donahue, Boyd Gaines (who went on to be a Broadway actor and an audio book reader of some renown), John Hillerman and two folks I myself would meet online many years later, Derrel Maury and the late Kip King.

The only character who stayed constant throughout the entire run was Harrington's lecherous handyman, Schneider, and even then he was softened tremendously by the end. The final episode only features Schneider, in fact, and served as a pilot to a spin-off that never came to be.

Looking back, the videotaped "adult" comedy-dramas of the seventies really have NOT aged well at all. The writing that once seemed so edgy now seems heavy-handed and the stagey performances can be grating rather than involving.

I had kind of a crush on Mackenzie Phillips when ONE DAY AT A TIME started, having seen her before in a TV film entitled MILES TO GO BEFORE I SLEEP and in the theatrical release, RAFFERTY AND THE GOLD DUST TWINS starring Alan Arkin. Mackenzie has had more ups and downs ever since being fired from the show the last time. She's still here, though, and recently published a startling and controversial autobiography.

Valerie Bertinelli famously married lookalike rock star Eddie Van Halen but they divorced after many years together that produced Wolfie Van Halen! In recent years, she has been touting Jenny Craig programs.

Bonnie Franklin's appearances since the show ended its long run have been mostly onstage.

In 2005, all four of the show's main stars reunited for a reunion special clipfest.

ONE DAY AT A TIME hasn't aged well but maybe it wasn't meant to. At the time when I needed to know that some of the issues I had were universal, Barbara and Julie were there for me...and I'll always have fond memories of the way things were then.


  1. Valerie Bertinelli is still pretty adorable on Hot In Cleveland.
    One night in the late 70s when I was living in Hollywood, we watched terrible wildfires ripping up thru the Hollywood Hills. The most spectacular casualty of the fire was Mackenzie Phillips' not-quite-finished new mansion. One of the many lumps that poor woman has endured.

  2. Great article! The series did not age well but your article will never get old.