Changes In Family Portrayals Over The Years In American Sitcoms Essay

Length: 4 pages Sources: 4 Subject: Communication - Language Type: Essay Paper: #83067647 Related Topics: Year Round School, Nuclear Family, Reality Television, Humorous
Excerpt from Essay :

Television's depiction of families is crucial, as it is a means to understanding family; it displays families' appearance, the ideal family, the way spouses must behave, the manner of resolution of problems within, and by, a family, and the manner in which parents must behave towards their children. A majority of studies on the matter have concentrated on depicting vivid family structure descriptions, the existence of diverse representations of family, and kinds of interpersonal interactions in television facilities. As global programs have been dominated and influenced by products in American media, a majority of family depiction studies have revolved around American televised soaps/dramas. Program type determines how family is depicted. Family dramas, soap operas and sitcoms usually deal with family as the central theme, and most assessments of family portrayals use these as their subject. Action, adventure and other such genres of programs do not usually employ family as their central theme. There are some television programs that bring to light the interaction, conflicts and dysfunctional structure of real families (Television and Family, n.d.).

1950: Leave it to Beaver

Popular 1950s sitcom, Leave it to Beaver is an embodiment of the perfect family structure of that era -- the nuclear family -- with the man and his wife raising and caring for their children, often two in number. This particular show portrays the Cleavers: Ward (father), June (mother) and their two boys (Theodore (nicknamed Beaver) and Wally). The older (and teenaged) son, Wally bridges the age gap between Beaver and their parents, revealing Beaver's feelings, experiences and what he wishes to communicate, to his parents. Wally is an example of the well-rounded child, who plays sports, fares well at school, and is in his teachers' good books. The traditional Cleaver family is shown to be successfully raising their boys, on the one hand, while on the other, their friends, the Mondellos, are shown to be struggling with the task of raising their only son, Larry. The Mondellos are a representation of a single-parent family, as Mr. Mondello is away at all times, and his wife has to raise Larry alone; she is shown to have perpetual issues with Larry, and her inability to single-handedly manage the boy, leads the Cleavers constantly offering her relevant advice. The show, via the character of Mrs. Mondello, put across the message that traditional families are vital to raising respectful and well-mannered children, unlike the ill-behaved son of Mrs. Mondello (Nancy, 2011).

1960: The Andy Griffith Show

The single-parent family was also a theme in 60s television, although they were still male-controlled; the cause of a child being raised by one parent was because of the demise of the other, rather than divorce, in this particular show. This sitcom (as well as another 60s show "My Three Sons") depicted a widower raising children alone; The Andy Griffith show had the sheriff of a small town, Andy Taylor, as the widower who successfully and single-handedly raised his son. While this television show is, in the present day, regarded as the epitome of old-school values, it was considered somewhat progressive during the 60s; it was the springboard for some Americans to change their outlook of family (Merritt, 2013). This era started displaying greater structural variability; there was a rise in the number of families with widowed parents singly raising children. However, all through the history of television, families have been typically nuclear in structure and headed by married couples (Alexander & Kim, 2003).

1970: The Jeffersons

The Jeffersons is famous for being the longest running television series having mostly- African-American characters. It is counted among the initial shows that depicted a successful African-American family, heralding other similar sitcoms such as "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and "The Cosby Show." Further, this series was the first to prominently figure a multiracial couple (Tom and Helen Willis); the colorful personalities in the show generate humorous commentary regarding race in America in the 60s. This show dealt with topics seldom brought up on television; repeated usage of "honky," "nigger" and other such racially charged language accorded this...


Though the Jeffersons' unexpected success flung them into the midst of a chiefly White society, the family is an embodiment of African-American culture. Even the theme song of the show sounds like the gospels heard often in the churches of black communities (Cadet, 2012).

1980: The Cosby Show

Among the key conflicts in this show was how the wealthy Clair and Cliff Huxtable strived to give plenty to their kids, but ended up turning down all their desires. The parents refuse to spoil their children as a matter of principle, not wanting them to develop a feeling of entitlement; rather, the Huxtables desire to prove, through their example, the benefits embodied in sacrifice, an academic degree, and hard work. In one of the episodes, Theo Huxtable (their only son) buys a pricy 'Gordon Gartrelle' button-up to wear on a date. The father only cares about its cost and demands for it to be returned, stating that even though he is the one who makes money for the household, he does not own a shirt so expensive. His son retorts, asking him whether he does not want his son to have something better; Sister Denise tries to come to the rescue, vowing that she is skilled enough to make him an equally good shirt. Obviously she fails to do so. The fact that there now is a clothing line named after a producer of the show, Gartrelle epitomizes the episode (Alston, 2012).

1990: Full House

This serial has a wild plot-- a drunk driver kills the wife of sportscaster Danny Tanner; Tanner enlists the help of his brother-in-law (an ex-exterminator, now a rock musician) and best friend (a comedian) in raising his three girls. The series, although it appeared completely harmless, paved the way for discussions regarding same-sex parents (Merritt, 2013). The sitcom doesn't portray a traditional family; this family, by discarding traditional dad-mom roles, strays from societal norms linked to nonmaterial culture. Instead, it depicts division of parental responsibilities between three men. Such a combination is a rarity in society -- it cannot be the most socially agreeable way to raise children. Typically, the dad and mom team-up and share responsibilities, in nuclear families. However, these three men as parents do not lose credibility because of not meeting the general norms of parenting. The theme of socialization helps the show embody family values. The girls' 'fathers' advise them on certain topics and teach them lessons; consequently, the girls reflect on this guidance, thereby influencing their internalization of the world (Kotecki, 2012).

Television has, as a rule, portrayed traditional families having wise parents, conforming children and hardly any serious conflict. TV families of most 50's and 60's soap operas interacted well, with parents always guiding their children in their adolescence. While there were many emotional depictions in 70's shows (e.g. Brady Bunch and Little House on the Prairie), there were also shows depicting deeper conflicts in relationships (The Jeffersons and All in the Family). The latter show portrayed members of the family ignoring, opposing and withdrawing from the family, while also caring and supporting each other. The Cosby Show ruled 80's public views of family depictions through an enviable Black family, while Dynasty, Dallas and other prime-time soaps portrayed extended families' rougher side. Hit comedy shows of the late-80s (The Simpsons and Roseanne) portrayed families in a more cynical light; this changed to positivity with the advent of the 90s (Home Improvement and Family Matters) (Bryant and Bryant 2001). While familial conflicts in TV shows have rapidly risen since the latter part of the 70s, successful conflict resolution has nearly always occurred through positive, pro-social and affiliative interactions (Television and Family, n.d.).


While each of the five aforementioned shows depicts good familial traditions and values, they do not portray the regular family. Full House shows three men in complete charge of a household with no mother figure, whereas Leave it to Beaver and The Jeffersons portray single-parent characters. All the above shows prove the importance of family, as well as family members' responsibilities towards one another. The Cosby Show proved the value of setting virtuous examples for kids and ensuring that wealth does not spoil them. The Jeffersons portrayed the first on-screen African-American household, in addition to a multiracial family, laying foundations for similar soaps. All of the above TV shows conveyed a message of hard work, tolerance, and significance of familial values and traditions. Though there has been modernization and introduction of novel concepts, the key message propagated by them remained unchanged.

Alongside the trend of keeping a family intact despite transformation in the country's demographics, storylines of sitcoms of different eras do not vary substantially. Parents continue to be concerned with cultivating values such as kindness, honesty, and compassion, and abstinence from substances like alcohol and tobacco, in their children. One of the episodes of Leave it to Beaver shows June fretting about the fact that her…

Sources Used in Documents:


Alexander, A., & Kim, Y. (2003). Television and Family. Retrieved from

Alston, J. (2012, October 24). How The Cosby Show spoke to race and class in '80s America. Retrieved from A.V. Club: -- 87848

Bryant, J., And Bryant, J. A., Eds. (2001). Television and the American family, 2nd edition. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Cadet, D. (2012, August 25). 'The Jeffersons': How Sherman Hemsley And The Sitcom Changed The Landscape Of American Television. Retrieved from The Huffington Post:
Kotecki, D. (2012, April). Family Values in Media. Retrieved from
Merritt, J. (2013, September 13). From 'Full House' to 'Modern Family': Ten shows that forced us to reimagine the American family. Retrieved from
Nancy, M. (2011, November). Leave it to Beaver and Modern Family. Retrieved from
Television and Family . (n.d.). Retrieved from

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