A Work Com on CBS that straddled The '70s and The '80s, set in a diner and starring Linda Lavin as Alice Hyatt. Loosely adapted from Martin Scorsese's 1973 dramedy film Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore — no, really! — the series ran from 1976 to 1985, a total of 202 episodes in nine seasons.
Alice Hyatt was a widowed mother and aspiring singer whose car broke down in Phoenix, Arizona while she and her son Tommy (Philip McKeon) were en route from New Jersey to California. Her waitressing job at Mel's Diner was meant to be temporary while she got her singing career moving, but it stretched out to nine seasons. During that time, we met penny-pinching hothead Mel Sharples (Vic Tayback), the diner's owner; ditzy Cloudcuckoolander waitress Vera Gorman (Beth Howland); and wise-cracking, slightly over-the-hill, good-time-girl waitress Flo Castleberry (Polly Holliday). In the midst of all the schemes and hilarity that ensued at the diner, it was always Alice who remained level-headed and somehow always came up with a solution.
The series became quite popular, particularly because of Flo, who left for her own spinoff a few years in. In her place came a Suspiciously Similar Substitute, Belle Dupree, who was basically a blond version of the character. Although they (re)cast the actress who played Flo in the original movie (Diane Ladd), Belle didn't last long, and was replaced by Jolene Hunnicutt (Celia Weston). Jolene had a similar outspoken temperament to her predecessors, but was younger and less obviously promiscuous.
Alice is remembered for making the Catchphrase "Kiss my grits!" (as uttered by Flo) enormously popular for a short while. The show also gave Linda Lavin many occasions to show off her singing skills, and occasionally let her masquerade as other characters to give her a break from playing the ultra-normal, non-threatening Alice.
Tropes served up at Mel's Diner:
- Advertised Extra: Tommy eventually becomes this as the show's focus drifts from different areas of Alice's life to solely of adventures of the diner.
- Angry Chef: Mel Sharples. He's the owner/operator of Mel's Diner, a greasy-spoon truck stop grill in Phoenix, Arizona and is the sole kitchen staff, with Bad Boss, Jerkass, and The Scrooge tendencies. Some of the show's humor focuses on his cost-cutting measures.
- As Himself:
- One memorable episode featured George Burns visiting the restaurant. Vera thought he was God (having starred in the ''Oh, God!'' movies.) Vera realizes he's just George Burns when she finds out he's going on a date with Vera, saying he couldn't be that holy if he did.
- Art Carney appeared in another episode in which Mel had a scheme to can and market his infamous chili under the name "Chili Con Carney".
- And another instance with Robert Goulet, whom Alice was impersonating as part of a Zany Scheme.
- Actor/dancer Donald O'Connor appears to cheer on Vera as she attempted to break the world record for marathon tap dancing.
- Breakout Character: Flo received her own sitcom and was known for her catchphrase "Kiss my grits."
- Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality: Vera, at least in the episode with George Burns.
- The Cast Show Off: Linda Lavin was cast specifically because of her singing talent.
- The infamous "Kiss my grits!", usually preceded by her drawling, "Mel?" The writers attempted to give the other characters catch phrases, none of which caught on to anywhere near the same extent. Mel's "Stow it!" was the only other one with any staying power.
- Mel later added "Bag it, Blondie!", directed at Jolene.
- Alice: Mel and his waitresses seemed to know several famous people. Guests included George Burns, Telly Savalas, Jerry Reed, Dinah Shore, and Art Carney.
- Christmas Episode: "A Semi-Merry Christmas" (season 2), "Mel, the Magi" (season 4), "Mel's Christmas Carol" (season 6), "'Tis the Season to be Jealous" (season 8).
- Cloudcuckoolander: The "third waitress", Vera, generally caught all the "dumb" lines, but was also weird enough to qualify as this trope.
- Compressed Vice: In "Block Those Kicks", Alice, Vera, and Flo suddenly gain addictions to chocolate, smoking, and coffee respectively, and, along with any mention of them, vanish as soon as the episode is over.
- Crossover: Boss Hogg and Enos Strate, of The Dukes of Hazzard, somehow make their way from Georgia to Phoenix in one episode. Boss Hogg is said to be Jolene's cousin.
- Digging Yourself Deeper: Alice is once arrested for being a prostitute when she was doing her singing lounge act. When asked what song she was singing, she sheepishly admits "Love For Sale".
- Disappeared Dad: Part of Alice's backstory is that her truck-driving husband was killed in an accident, leaving her to raise Tommy alone.
- The Ditz: Vera
- Enormous Engagement Ring: Flo was once romanced by an oil sheik who gave her an engagement ring. The stone was so large the other waitresses thought it had to be fake. But then they did the "cut glass" test where Mel took the ring and scratched on the glass door to the diner. He tapped where he had just scratched with his knuckle in triumph. Then the circle he had just scratched fell out of the door.
- Failure Is the Only Option: Alice's showbiz career. One episode explored the trope by giving Alice several opportunities to join a traveling show, only for her to develop a severe case of hiccups every time she attempted it. Turned out it was a psychosomatic reaction, because she didn't want to leave her new life behind.
- Genki Girl: Vera usually has the most upbeat, cheery personality of the waitresses working at Mel's.
- George Jetson Job Security: Mel's toughness as a boss drove many of the plots, as did his waitresses especially Vera and Flo always seeming to be on the firing line for whatever offense was the main plot of the week. On several occasions, he did follow through with threats to fire them, but he always hired them back as he realized Vera and Flo (and later waitresses Belle and Jolene) were members of his extended family. Interestingly, Alice never seemed to be on the firing line, although she and Mel at times had heated moments.
- Grand Finale: In the final episode, Mel sold the diner to the government as part of a freeway project. Just in time to free up the girls to go their separate ways; Alice decided to go on tour with her country music singing boyfriend, Jolene came into some cash and decided to open a beauty parlor, and Vera was quitting anyway because she and her new husband, police officer Elliot Novak, were expecting their first child.
- Greasy Spoon: Mel's Diner is one of the crowning examples of the type.
- Halloween Episode: "Alice's Halloween Surprise" (season 6), "Space Sharples" (season 9)
- Hear Me the Money: Vera could do this to any stack of currency, no matter how big or how many different denominations mixed into the stack, and determine its exact total instantly.
- I Am Spartacus: In Season 1's "Mel's Cup", when Alice accidentally gives away Mel's navy souvenir loving cup for a church rummage sale when Mel suspects it was stolen, Alice, Flo and Vera take turns admitting they stole the cup, and even Mel jokes about having stolen it before he goes on a quest to find the alleged thief.
- Intimidating Revenue Service: "The Pain of No Return" has an IRS agent informing Alice that she owes back taxes her late husband failed to pay... which he's willing to waive in exchange for sexual favors.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mel. Despite his already mentioned Bad Boss, Jerkass, and The Scrooge tendencies, he still takes great pride in serving as a Parental Substitute for Tommy, who, as mentioned above in Disappeared Dad, lost his father in a trucking accident.
- Lighter and Softer: This has more comedy and less drama than the movie.
- New Year Has Come: "What're You Doing New Year's Eve?"
- One-Note Cook: Mel made a mean chili. Everything else was mocked mercilessly.
- The One Guy: Mel is often this when Tommy is absent, which happened more and more in later seasons.
- Really Gets Around: Flo
- Recurring Character: Several regular customers, including Earl Hicks, telephone lineman Henry Beesmeyer, and police officer Eliot Novak; Mel's mother, Carrie, and his girlfriend, Marie; Alice's mother, Mona.
- Snowed-In: "A Semi-Merry Christmas" has the gang stranded in a semi-trailer by a Rocky Mountain snowstorm.
- Spin-Off: Flo. It didn't last long, and Flo never came back to Alice despite the character's popularity.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: The two waitresses who replaced Flo: Belle, and then Jolene, Both of them were sassy Southerners, like Flo, but Jolene was clearly not supposed to be as sexually available as the other two.
- Thanksgiving Episode: "Who Ordered the Hot Turkey?" (season 2), "Alice's Turkey of a Thanksgiving" (season 7)
- Thematic Theme Tune / "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: "There's a New Girl in Town", sung by Linda Lavin.
- Vandalism Backfire: Mel attempts to rig his own contest to fail, by ripping up the only "E" in the "Spell out 'M-E-L-S' for the grand prize" drawing (after raising the grand prize offering to counter a competitor's contest, to a level he couldn't pay if he wanted to). He does this in front of Alice and the other waitresses as a message of "I'm running a scam and there's nothing you can do about it." When Vera later reassembles the pieces, she finds out Mel destroyed an "M", not the "E". Cue Henry announcing he'd found the "E" for the grand prize. (Henry ends up settling for the original grand prize of $101.)