It's a Living was an American Work Com that ran for six total seasons from 1980 to 1989. If you watched American TV in The '80s and have vague memories of a show about waitresses who work in a restaurant atop an L.A. skyscraper, along with a wacky Lounge Lizard pianist, this is the one.
In contrast to that simple premise, the show went through an insane number of changes over the years. It started on ABC with a group of five waitresses at the fancy Above the Top restaurant: Jan (Barrie Youngfellow), Dot (Gail Edwards), Cassie (Ann Jillian), Lois (Susan Sullivan) and Vicki (Wendy Schaal). They were joined by house pianist Sonny (Paul Kreppel), maître d' Nancy (Marian Mercer) and chef Mario (Bert Remsen). By its final season, it was airing in first-run syndication, and Jan, Dot, Nancy and Sonny were the only members of the original cast remaining. It even briefly changed its title to Making a Living at one point.
It had a unique niche as one of the few American shows of its era with a mostly-female cast.
It's a Living provides examples of the following tropes:
- '80s Hair:
- Dot went through the whole spectrum of this, starting out with a highly-coiffed perm in the first season and ending up with full frizz by the final season.
- Amy's frizz was quite formidable as well.
- Always on Duty: From the second season on, despite being a very posh and usually very busy restaurant, Above The Top only employed four waitresses and those waitresses apparently worked every night of the week.
- And Starring: Especially in the first two seasons, the way the actresses were billed was unusual. Top billing went to Susan Sullivan in Season 1 and Louise Lasser in Season 2, since they were the best-known cast members, but neither Lois nor Maggie were really the main characters. Then in the middle of the opening credits came "and Ann Jillian as Cassie", then more credits, and finally "and Barrie Youngfellow as Jan." Jillian getting special billing made sense, since she'd had a long career starting as a child actress, but Youngfellow wasn't really any more famous than the rest of the cast.
- Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The original waitress quintet featured two blondes (Cassie, Lois), two brunettes (Dot, Vicki) and a redhead (Jan). Later groupings generally kept a similar hair color balance, along with Token Black Ginger.
- Bottle Episode: Sort of a Bottle Series. While the show wasn't too married to the idea, the series itself rarely sees the girls outside of the restaurant, much like Cheers or Alice. We rarely even got to see the other places of the hotel, either. It gets to a point where three of the girlsnote literally get married at the damn place note .
- Break the Haughty: Nancy, when she is temporarily fired at the end of season one.
- Casanova Wannabe: Sonny constantly flirts with the waitresses, who think he's pathetic.
- Characterization Marches On: In Season 1, Cassie was an arrogant, promiscuous Deadpan Snarker who tended to be dismissive of the other waitresses. Ann Jillian had become the show's breakout star, so for Season 2 Cassie was softened up a bit. She was still snarky and sexy, but acted more like a big sister to the others.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Between the first and second seasons, waitresses Lois Adams (Susan Sullivan) and Vicki Allen (Wendy Schaal) were dropped from the cast, along with head chef Mario (Bert Remsen). Despite the fact that much of the first season had centered around Lois and Vicki, no explanation was ever given for their leaving and their characters were never again mentioned. They were replaced by waitress Maggie (Louise Lasser) and chef Dennis (Earl Boen), both of whom would fall victim to the same fate when their characters were dropped, without explanation, when the show's third season started in syndication.
- Cool Old Guy: Chef Mario from season 1, Chef Dennis from season 2, and chef Howard from season 3 onward were all, to varying degrees, examples of this trope.
- Country Mouse: Amy, from season 3 on.
- Daddy's Girl: Vicki worships her father, which leads to a Broken Pedestal in "Fallen Idol" when she learns that he had a one-night stand with Nancy.
- Deadpan Snarker: Nancy, Cassie, and occasionally Jan.
- Cassie was basically Flo Castleberry meets Jennifer Marlowe.
- Sonny was Bill Murray's Nick the lounge singer meets Larry Dallas. Which led to a bit of a Creator In-Joke when Richard Kline (who played Larry) ended up playing Jan's beau Richie in the later seasons.
- Failure Is the Only Option: Zigzagged. We never can see the girls succeed in their career goals (like Dot becoming an actress or Jan becoming a lawyer) since that would mean they leave the show. Regarding their social lives, the show did see most of the girls get married All of the remaining girls, with the exception of Dot, end up getting married at the restaurant, even including Nancy. but still not financially secure enough to quit their jobs. Even Ginger, who marries a doctor, explicitly has to keep waiting tables until he opens his practice.
- Genki Girl: Dot, who's a perky aspiring actress with a sunny personality.
- Hell Hotel: Sonny and the waitresses end up staying at one in the season 4 episode, "Night at the Iguana."
- The Ingenue:
- Vicki in Season 1, who just barely moved to L.A. from Pocatello, Idaho and is extremely naïve. The pilot episode revolves around the revelation that she's a virgin.
- Amy took over this characterization after she was added in Season 3.
- Let's Put on a Show!: "Sweet Charity" has Dot direct a local school play based on Little Red Riding Hood. In the end, she and the other restaurant workers, including Nancy and Sonny, have to step in to play the parts.
- Locked in a Room: Episode 1 of season 4. "The Roof Show", Sonny gets stuck on the roof, and as each waitress comes up to tell him to get back to work they one by one also get stuck there, leaving Nancy, Howard and Amy to handle the restaurant by themselves.
- Lounge Lizard: Sonny fits all the stereotypes of this, with cheesy piano playing and bombastic crooning.
- Magical Realism: The penultimate episode features Jan dying and being visited by the Angel of Death (played by Danny Thomas).
- Mean Boss: Nancy constantly nags and makes demands of the waitresses, though she's eventually shown to have a softer side too.
- Nemesis as Customer: As you might expect given its focus on waitresses, this trope occurred frequently throughout the show's run.
- Really Gets Around: Cassie is gorgeous and has an active sex life.
- Retool: After ABC renewed it for a second season, the show made major changes in the ensemble. Apparently deciding that two working moms (Jan and Lois) and two young, naïve women (Dot and Vicki) were redundant, Lois and Vicki were dropped, replaced with scatterbrained Maggie. Cool Old Guy chef Mario was replaced with grumpy Dennis. And Cassie's role was expanded.
- Slumber Party: The 1st season's 2nd episode, "The Intruder", features an slumber party at Lois's house. Of course, the fun is interrupted by a burglar.
- Struggling Single Mother: Jan, who juggles her job along with going back to school.
- Throw the Dog a Bone: Long-suffering Nancy's marriage to Howard.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: The dynamic of Sonny coming on to Cassie, who'd then shut him down with a sarcastic burn. In the first season he was an Abhorrent Admirer to her, but after that the banter seemed more playful and they fit more into this trope.