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Trivia / Mama's Family

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  • Acting for Two:
    • Vicki Lawrence has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance, out of wig and costume, at the beginning of "Rashomama" as a nurse who walks past Naomi, Ellen and Eunice in the hospital (Mama herself is largely only seen through flashbacks in this episode).
    • Lawrence has a significantly larger dual role in "Mama's Cousin", where she plays Mama's rich cousin.
    • Lawrence also made two appearances as Thelma Harper's mother - once in a flashback sequence and once as a ghost.
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  • Actor Allusion: "Mama Sees Red" has Mama and the family playing a home game of The $25,000 Pyramid. At one point, Mama tells Bubba to be Dick Clark, "but don't be a wiseacre." Vicki Lawrence was a frequent guest player on the show during this time, and was known for her on-air "feuds" with Clark (which on more than one occasion ended with her leaving the set).
  • Anachronic Order: "Alien Wedding" and "Mama's Silver" are set before Vinton is romantically involved with or married to Naomi, who is absent from "Mama's Silver", which was the first episode produced, with "Alien Wedding" produced second, with Naomi appearing as the Harpers' next-door neighbor. "Alien Wedding" and "Mama's Silver" aired near the end of Season 1, on April 2 and May 7, 1983.
  • California Doubling: For (presumably) Missouri. The house used as the front of the Harper housenote  is located in South Pasadena.
  • Creator Backlash:
    • Creators Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon absolutely hated how Mama became more sympathetic during the series, as they had based the original sketches on The Carol Burnett Show on their frosty relationships with their own mothers.
    • Harvey Korman reportedly hated doing the "Family" sketches on The Carol Burnett Show, and only did the first two seasons of Mama's Family as a favor to Vicki Lawrence. This could possibly be the reason Alistair Quince and Ed Higgins are both absent from the syndicated run.
  • Edited for Syndication: The Alistair Quince introductions for the NBC episodes. In a more minor example, said episodes also used exterior shots of a different house for the opening (seen on the TimeLife DVD releases); for syndication, these shots were replaced with shots of the house used during the 1986-1990 run.
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  • Irony as She Is Cast: While Mama is seen to be tone-deaf in "Flounder's Day", Vicki Lawrence herself is an accomplished singer, even having a hit with the 1972 song "The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia".
  • McLeaned: Happens to Aunt Fran between the NBC and syndicated runs. This was because Rue McClanahan was involved with The Golden Girls, but it's unlikely she'd have wanted to return either way due to how she felt about her character (see What Could Have Been below for more information).
  • The Other Darrin:
    • Roddy McDowall played Phillip Harper in the Carol Burnett sketches; when he declined to reprise the role for Eunice, Ken Berry played Phillip instead.
    • Carol Burnett refused involvement with the syndicated episodes due to her divorce from producer Joe Hamilton. Therefore, when Eunice called Mama one last time in season 4, Phyllis Franklin voiced the role in Burnett's absence.
    • Thelma's late husband Carl was voicednote  by co-creator Dick Clair in the "1955" segment of Eunice and a flashback sequence in the season two episode "Mama's Birthday". After Clair's 1988 death, Ken Berry played him in a flashback sequence in the series finale.
  • Outlived Its Creator: The show itself managed to outlive just one of its creators — Dick Clair, who died in December 1988. The other half, Jenna McMahon, would pass in 2015, 25 years after the series finale.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • Plans for a spin-off of the "Family" sketches had been discussed as early as Seasons 9-10 of The Carol Burnett Show. Executive producer (and Burnett's then-husband) Joe Hamilton came to Vicki Lawrence with the news that he had made a deal to produce a weekly half-hour sitcom based on the sketches, but Lawrence — who'd just given birth to her second child — declined to participate, and the deal was off. It wasn't until the success of the "Eunice" special in 1982 that Burnett and Hamilton were able to convince Lawrence to do the series.
    • Burnett decided to try for another spin-off idea when she and Hamilton divorced in 1984 (around the time Mama's Family ended its run on NBC). This resulted in Hamilton getting the rights to "The Family" sketches in the divorce terms, due to the fact that he was the executive producer of The Carol Burnett Show and helped write several of "The Family" sketches. Burnett phoned up Lawrence one day proposing a syndicated series featuring Eunice and Mama, but Lawrence told her she and Hamilton had already signed with Lorimar-Telepictures (then the series' syndicated distributor) to relaunch Mama's Family, causing Burnett to promptly hang up on her. The two actresses eventually reconciled following Hamilton's death in 1991.
    • According to Rue McClanahan, the original concept for Aunt Fran was radically different. Fran was initially conceived to be far more assertive and bossy, and would've served as the primary foil to Thelma. McClanahan had never before played a character of this type and eagerly signed on. She was bitterly disappointed upon learning that Fran had been re-written into a fussy, uptight spinster. Consequently, Rue did not enjoy her experience on the series that much and wasn't at all sorry when it was cancelled.
    • The change to Fran's character apparently came about because of Naomi Oates. According to Dorothy Lyman, Naomi was first slated to be a gossipy, drop-in neighbor (similar to what Iola Boylan became, making the season four episode where the two characters switch personalities something of a Development Gag). The role was redesigned into Thelma's trampy, tempestuous rival in order to provide a better showcase for Lyman. Vicki Lawrence and Carol Burnett were big fans of her performance as Opal Sue Gardner on All My Children, and they chose her to play Naomi for this reason. As Rue McClanahan already had a signed contract, Fran had to be re-written.


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