On This Day in Comedy… In 1976 ‘What’s Happening!!’ Premiered On ABC!

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What’s Happening!! premiered on ABC.

Originally slated as a summer series, the sitcom received good ratings and returned in November of ’76 as a regular series.  It was based on the Eric Monte film, Cooley High.

What’s Happening!! was produced by Saul Turtletaub, Bernie Orenstein and Bud Yorkin following his split from partner, Norman Lear.  The cast consisted of acting veteran, Mabel King (Mama), comedy powerhouse, Shirley Hemphill (Shirley), renowned pop-locker, Fred “Rerun” Berry (Rerun) and thespians, Ernest Thomas (Raj), Haywood Nelson (Dwayne) and Danielle Spencer (Dee).

The sitcom revolved around 3 teenage friends and their light-hearted antics in Watts.  Never getting too heavy on social commentary, most of the problems were universally adolescent: getting girls, after school jobs and how to keep up their grades.     Raj, an aspiring writer still lives with his divorced mother and wise cracking sister.   His two best buddies (one overweight, the other over-shy) meet him regularly at the local café for shakes and fries and the only shots heard are back-firing buckets.  Fat jokes are swapped between Rerun and Shirley, catch phrases and signatures laughs are doled out and there was always the treat that Dee would tell Mama.    So it’s all good in the hood.

What’s Happening!! boasted a cavalcade of talent.    Besides the principle cast, Thalmus Rasulala, Lee Chamberlin, Debbi Morgan and Greg Morris were recurring characters.  The Doobie Brothers,   Chip Fields, Theodore Wilson, Wolfman Jack and Tim Reid made guest starring appearances.

What’s Happening!! aired its last episode on April 28, 1979.   It was only in the top 10 its second season, but still managed to inspire the spin-off, What’s Happening Now!!, which ran from 1985-1988 and featured most of the original cast and a young Martin Lawrence.

By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton

About author / Humor Mill

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