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Series: The Waltons

A popular Family Drama that aired on CBS from 1972 to 1981, The Waltons is about the life and trials of the eponymous family in the 1930s and '40s.

The Waltons are a large country family who run a saw mill on Walton's Mountain in rural Virginia, and the series depicts their grinding struggle to make ends meet during the The Great Depression, and later World War II. As initial lead character (and adult narrator) John-Boy Walton noted, they didn't have much money, but they had a lot of love and fortitude to keep the whole brood going through thick and thin.

The remarkable thing is that this series began on CBS around the same time as its notorious "rural purge" in which shows like The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres were cancelled en masse as not appealing to the desirable audience demographics from 1968 through 1973. It was expected to die a quick death like the few remaining survivors of the "rural purge" would eventually do. Instead of dying a quick death against The Mod Squad and The Flip Wilson Show as expected, the show soon killed them and went on for a successful nine-year run. Some have called it the lone survivor of the "rural purge" although the show began during it, not right before it. The show and its cast also picked up several Emmy Awards and a Peabody.

Series creator Earl Hamner, Jr. based the show on his own childhood experiences, which he had previously mined for the 1961 novel Spencer's Mountain (itself adapted as a 1963 film starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara). Prior to the actual series, CBS aired a Made-for-TV Movie in 1971 called The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, which featured Patricia Neal as Olivia Walton, Andrew Duggan as John Walton Sr., and Edgar Bergen as Grandpa; these roles would be re-cast for the series (and the movie hadn't been intended as a pilot; a series was only proposed after the favorable critical and audience reaction to the movie).

This was the first series to come from Lorimar Productions, which went on to produce such popular shows as Eight Is Enough, Dallas, Knots Landing, Falcon Crest, and half of ABC's TGIF lineup.

The Waltons includes examples of the following tropes:

  • Aborted Arc: When Jenny Pendleton appears in "The Thanksgiving Story" she mentions that she'll be going to the same college as John-Boy next year, which suggests she was probably planned to appear in Season 3 (when John-Boy starts college) but she's never seen again.
  • Absentee Actor: Grandma, after coming home from her stroke anyway. She was not seen or mentioned in some episodes after she returned home.
  • Abuse Is Okay When It Is Female on Male: Played for laughs whenever Esther hits Zebulon with her broom.
  • Adaptation Expansion: There is a lot more that happens in The Waltons than in the novel Spencer's Mountain.
  • Animated Adaptation: Not offically, but in 1974 Hanna-Barbera created an Expy called These Are the Days, about the early-20th-century Day family (who might as well have been called Walton).
  • Anyone Can Die: After the war starts this sort of happens... One main and two recurring are killed.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Elizabeth says in one episode that she does not believe in ghosts, even though she attracted a poltergeist in the previous season.
  • Author Appeal: This is based on Earl Hamner's real life childhood.
  • Bar Brawl: John-Boy and John get into one in one episode.
  • Barefoot Poverty
  • Beach Episode: In 'The Seashore' the Waltons have to look after the Baldwins' beach house for a while.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: John Walton may the iconic loving father, but do not think you can take advantage of him. One drifter thought he could when he was bunking with the family and tried to steal some money before making his escape; the next thing that happened is that he was staring down a shotgun wielded by John who is quite adament that the thief put back the money and explain himself. John-Boy is no pushover either when facing bad guys, once forcing a young girl con artist to confess her crimes in front of the family and later on beating up both boys singlehandedly that jumped him earlier in the episode.
  • Big Brother Instinct: In 'The Big Brother' John-Boy talks about how he feels this for everybody.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Several episodes end this way.
    • In 'The Achievement' John-Boy leaves to become a writer, fulfilling his dream, but leaving his family.
    • 'Grandma Comes Home' is this in hindsight, since it was the final appearance of Will Geer as Zebulon, who, in real life and within the show, died shortly afterward.
  • Brilliant but Lazy: Jim-Bob. Seriously, he'd be a renowned genius if he tried. His achievements include being able to repair virtually ANY mechanical item, building his own car from pieces he finds, building his own shortwave radio which he uses to talk to people in the UK and building his own aeroplane!
  • Call Back: In the very first episode Mary Ellen has a bird's nest for the Christmas tree, and that same nest is seen again in 'Day of Infamy'.
  • Captain's Log: John-Boy's memoirs.
  • Cartwright Curse: Many of the guys Erin has shown interest in end up dead not long after (of the ones that survive, they turn to be of poor character).
  • The Cast Show Off: Will Geer. He had a Master's Degree in Botany from the University of Chicago, and worked as a professional botanist after being blacklisted in 1950. Grandpa's knowledge of plants makes a lot more sense now...
    • Jon Walmsley's musical talents were often showcased on the series, as well.
  • Catch Phrase: A few characters have some.
    • Esther often says "Good Lord!" and, in later series, "Oh boy...".
    • Zebulon usually says "awomen" after grace has been said, rather than "amen".
    • All episodes end with everyone saying "Good night [insert name]!"
  • Celebrity Paradox: The family were occasionally seen listening to their favorite radio shows, including Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy...after Bergen appeared in the pilot movie as Grandpa!
  • Character Development: Both Olivia and Esther became much less strict and more easygoing as the series went on.
  • Characterization Marches On: The slightly snobbish, judgemental side of Corabeth is not present in her early appearances.
  • Christmas Episode: Several, not counting the Pilot Movie.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: The Godseys' adopted daughter Aimee during season 7. She was last seen dealing with Corabeth's alcoholism, and then suddenly the show acted as if she never existed for the rest of the season. Most notably in the episode when her father Ike had a heart attack, she was never shown or mentioned once during the episode - even when Ike told John who would get what in his will in case he died.
    • She did, however, come back for the Thanksgiving reunion movie in 1969, where it was revealed she had eloped with a Marine and that Corabeth disapproved of the match, which may have somewhat accounted for her lack of mention.
  • Clip Show: A Decade of the Waltons, a movie-length 1980 special introduced by an onscreen Earl Hamner, Jr.
  • Cousin Oliver: Olivia's cousin Rose and her young grandchildren Serena and Jeffrey were brought on briefly during season eight and nine. Rose filled in for Esther after Ellen Corby left the show and Jeffrey and Serena took on the cute kid roles now that Elizabeth and Jim-Bob were both teenagers.
  • Creator Cameo: Series creator Earl Hamner Jr. appears as a minor character in 'The Journey'.
  • Cringe Comedy: Some of the pranks played on John-Boy in 'The First Day' could be called this. For example, somebody tells him he needs to deliver a goat to a specific room, he goes there very eagerly, unaware that he's taking it to the room of Proffessor Gote, a man who does not appreciate jokes about his name...
  • Deadpan Snarker: Curt Willard is one of these.
  • Doorstop Kid: The first episode had a young deaf girl that was unable to communicate left on the Waltons' doorstep by her mother to prevent the father (who mistook her for mentally disabled) from sending her to an orphanage. One of the earliest examples of a clip show.
  • Downer Ending: A few episodes have an unhappy ending.
    • 'The Hiding Place' suggests that Hilary and her husband may have be destined to be killed by Nazis.
    • 'The Empty Nest' ends with the family sitting around and talking to Zebulon's grave.
    • 'The Parting' ends with Olivia having to move to a sanitarium due to illness.
  • Every Episode Ending: The family members all telling one another good night.
    • Memetic Mutation: This ending became so iconic that as late as 2010, it was still bring parodied in commercials.
  • Expy: The addition of pretentious and gossipy cousin Corabeth as Ike's new wife seemed to serve no other purpose than to make her and Ike the Walton's Mountain versions of Harriet and Nels Oleson of Little House on the Prairie (which had premiered a year before Corabeth's introduction).
  • Family Drama
  • Fiery Redhead: Ben and Elizabeth both have their moments.
  • Flashback with the Other Darrin: In the Season 5 episode 'The Achievement' there are clips of the pilot movie, and all the clips of the adult characters were refilmed with the new actors.
  • The Forties
  • Four Philosophy Ensemble: John (The Realist), Olivia (The Apathetic), Zeb (The Optimist), and Esther (The Cynic).
    • Among John's sons and son-in-law: John-Boy (the Realist), Jason (the Conflicted), Ben (the Optimist), Jim-Bob (the Apathetic), and Curt (the Cynic).
    • John's daughters and daughter-in-law as well: Mary Ellen (the Realist), Erin (the Cynic), Elizabeth (the Optimist), and Cindy (the Conflicted).
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: The adults: John (phlegmatic), Olivia (melancholic), Zebulon (sanguine), and Esther (choleric).
    • John's sons + son-in-law: John-Boy (choleric), Jason (phlegmatic), Ben (sanguine), and Jim-Bob (melancholic), and Curt (leukine).
    • John's daughters + daughter-in-law: Mary Ellen (choleric), Erin (melancholic), Elizabeth (sanguine), and Cindy (phlegmatic).
    • The Godseys: Corabeth (melancholic/choleric) and Ike (phlegmatic/sanguine).
    • The Baldwin sisters: Emily (melancholic/phlegmatic) and Mamey (sanguine).
  • Frozen in Time: Very much averted. The series advanced from 1933 to 1945, while the last reunion movie was set in 1969.
  • Gentle Giant: Jason. One of the tallest characters and probably the most gentle and tender-hearted of all.
  • Gilligan Cut: "I wouldn't marry you, Curtis Willard, if you were the last man on Earth!" Cue the wedding.
  • The Great Depression
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Several examples of this. Often Esther, John-Boy, Mary Ellen, Ben, and Erin. Occasionally John, Curt, and Elizabeth.
  • Halloween Episode: Season 7's "The Changeling" has Elizabeth harassed by a poltergeist on the cusp of her 13th birthday.
  • Happily Married: The show is a big fan of this one: Grandma Esther and Grandpa Zeb, John Sr. and Olivia, most of the kids eventually, Rev. Fordwick and Rosemary, Ike and Corabeth, Sheriff Bridges and Sara. Even when they have arguments, they rarely erupt into anything big except for a few times in the later seasons.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Almost every episode is titled like this 'The [X]'. The first set of specials all have 'Walton's Mountain' in the titles, and the second set of specials are all titled like this 'A Walton [X]'.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: Composed by Jerry Goldsmith.
  • Large Ham: The episode which introduces John Ritter as Rev. Fordwick paints him this way, especially when practicing his sermons in the Waltons' backyard. "REPAAAAAYNT, YE SINNERS!" He does get better as the show goes on, though he still retains much of his intensity.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In 'The Threshold' Elizabeth talks to John-Boy about what he'd call a TV show he'd make about the family, and he says it'd be called 'The Waltons'.
  • Long Runners: Nine seasons, and this for a series not expected to last one.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: John-Boy. You start to realize how small and under-educated the population of Walton's Mountain is when they rely on a teenage boy to take on every prestigious task you can think of.
  • Multigenerational Household: There's Zeb and Esther, their son John, his children, and eventually the children's children.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: No pun intended, but in season 5 "The Firestorm," the anti-German Rev Fordwick, in response to Hitler burning the Holy Bible, plans on burning Mein Kampf and any other German literature they could get his hands on in protest. John-boy stands up to them, trying to get them to see how wrong it was and spots one black book in the pile and picks it up. Mrs. Brimmer comes forward to read the German words and then the English. Rev Forwick and those assembled were nearly in tears as they realized she was reading the Holy Bible.
  • No Ending: Season 9's final episode 'The Revel' was not written as a final episode for the show, nor was the final special 'A Walton Easter'; and so, sadly, The Waltons does not have a proper ending.
  • Nostalgic Narrator: Series creator Earl Hamner Jr., as the voice of the older John-Boy Walton.
  • Once an Episode: The "good night" sequence. Played with as it wasn't always the Waltons who bid each other goodnight. Occasionally it was other people who were central to the episode who did this.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. There are two Johns, two Bens, two Esthers and two Sarahs.
  • Opposites Attract: Several examples of this. Easygoing joker Zeb married rigid, strict Esther. Hot-headed, workaholic Ben married sweet, quiet Cindy. While not as obvious as Zeb and Esther or Ben and Cindy, John and Olivia are different.
  • Paranormal Episode: Of all shows, this one had an episode about one of the kids being haunted by a poltergeist. It was the seventies, after all.
  • Pilot Movie: As noted above, The Homecoming: A Christmas Story actually wasn't one of these, but its critical and ratings success did pave the way for the series that followed.
  • Pretty Boy: John-Boy.
  • Present Day Past: In the episode "The Silver Wings", Jim-Bob meets an attractive older woman who looks and dresses like a woman from the 1970s. From her nearly Farrah-like hair to her too-skimpy-for-the-1940s wardrobe (which seems to consist mainly of bathing suit tops), she looks like something straight out of Three's Company rather than Walton's Mountain.
  • Put on a Bus: In the second to last episode of Season 6, John-Boy literally leaves on a bus (though he had already been 'put on a bus' a season before when he moved to New York), but the season still followed his exploits in The Big Apple.
    • Olivia contracts tuberculosis and has to leave for a sanatorium midway through Season 8. She comes back for the first half of Season 9.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: This is the reason behind Esther's stroke and Zebulon's death.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: John Walton may be the undisputed head of the household, but it's hard to find a father more understanding under such difficult circumstances. He is even shown to change his mind on unpopular decisions, and will admit when he's made an error, especially to Olivia and John-Boy.
  • Replaced the Theme Tune: Jerry Goldsmith scored The Homecoming: A Christmas Story and he returned when it became a series (he did six episodes in the first season), so you'd think the producers would have retained his quiet, rustic theme music. You'd be wrong:
    They thought [the original] was too gentle. Today, I would have argued with them. I like the theme for The Homecoming better. It was certainly more authentic.
  • Retcon: In The Homecoming, Olivia finds out about John-Boy's writing when he is fifteen years old, but in a Season 8 episode she mentions knowing about him and his writing when he was a little boy.
  • Reunion Show: Several reunion movies aired in the '90s.
  • Same Character, but Different: Curtis was originally a loving, loyal husband and father who died an honorable death at Pearl Harbor; they brought him back as a broken drunk who faked his death and left Mary Ellen out of pure selfishness.
  • '70s Hair: The adult males and the girls had hair that was too long for the period. One troper's grandmother spat, "We girls didn't have our hair hanging down in our faces back then!" Her reaction to the Walton girls' feathered hair towards the end of the run is unprintable.
  • Shirtless Scene: John, John-Boy, Ben, Ike and even Zebulon have had them.
  • Shopkeeper: Ike Godsey, who runs his store also as the local post office, auto garage and pool hall, so everyone has a reason to visit.
  • Thanksgiving Episode: Season 2's "The Thanksgiving Story", as well as two reunion movies centered around the holiday.
  • The Thirties
  • Title Drop: In one episode John-Boy mentions that, if he made a TV show, it'd be called The Waltons.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Mary Ellen is a complete tomboy to Erin's totally girly girl. This causes many, many arguments for the girls when they are young.
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: Corabeth and her less sophisticated sister Orma Lee.
  • Uncertain Doom: Hilary and her husband may or may not have been killed by Nazis.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Not an intentional trope, in this case, but he does contradict himself; for example, one time saying that Zebulon outlived Esther, when the opposite was true, and another saying that AJ Covington never returned to the mountain (he was back a few years later).
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to Bullet the calf? Elizabeth and Jim-Bob try so hard to save him, but then he's never seen again.
  • World War II

Good night, John-Boy; wherever you are.
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alternative title(s): The Waltons
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