'Good Times' Jimmie Walker Weighs In on the Upcoming 'Live in Front of a Studio Audience'

Michael Maloney
Preview David Livingston/Getty Images; CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Casting for the next installment of the Emmy-award winning special Live in Front of a Studio Audience, in which modern actors recreate episodes of legendary Norman Lear sitcoms, All in the Family and Good Times, hasn’t been announced yet. But Jimmie Walker, who played breakout character J.J. on the original Good Times series on CBS in the 1970s, says he won’t be appearing when the sitcom about the Evans family is performed live this December on ABC.

“I didn’t know about the [live performance] until I got on the red carpet tonight,” Walker told TV Insider at the recent The Paley Honors: A Tribute to Television’s Comedy Legends at the Beverly Wilshire hotel in Beverly Hills. The event was held to honor TV icons Norman Lear (All in the Family, Good Times, One Day at a Time), Carol Burnett (The Carol Burnett Show), Bob Newhart (The Bob Newhart Show; Newhart), Carl Reiner (The Dick Van Dyke Show), and Lily Tomlin (Laugh-In; Gracie and Frankie) for their groundbreaking achievements in television.

Like all of Lear’s series, Good Times, which featured the Chicago-based Evans clan headed by John Amos (James) and the late Esther Rolle (Florida), addressed social issues, but, as the series progressed, plots took on a tone of more traditional sitcoms as Walker’s J.J. and his trademark catchphrase – "Dyno-mite!" – became the program’s focus. “My humor didn’t really work for Norman, but it kind of overtook [the show].”

Walker recalls the show’s executives agreeing that J.J.’s appeal was something that shouldn’t be ignored. “A lot of the other producers said, ‘Norman, [what] this guy [is doing] is working for us.” Walker adds that he ad-libbed the first ‘Dyno-mite!’ and that director John Rich (The Honeymooners) said, “Norman, this is going to work!”

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What did Walker think of the Good Times series finale in which practically every character was given a positive, upbeat ending as they headed out of the housing projects and into the future? “I don’t ever doubt Norman, so I’m with him. When I have my own show, I can do my own thing, [but Norman’s] history has proven that, I think, he knows a little something.”

So will Walker participate in the Good Times episode of Live in Front of a Studio Audience next month if asked? “I can’t really go on a hypothetical,” he says, hastening to add, “I’m proud of and [glad] I got to know Norman. He’s one of my favorites.”

Norman Lear (David Livingston/Getty Images)

Lear told TV Insider on the red carpet that he was thrilled that his series One Day at a Time, formerly on Netflix, has been picked up by Pop TV. “We just had the Christmas party and I fell in love with all of them [there],” he says.

How does he feel knowing that his thought-provoking sitcoms, which have tackled numerous social issues, have helped change hearts and minds over the years? “That shouldn’t be answered in a few words,” he says, “but…it feels good.”

The sitcom innovator received a standing ovation when he spoke at the podium as did all of the evening’s recipients. “This is a love affair tonight,” Lear said in his speech. “Life is a collaboration. Certainly, this business, which I’ve been in that you honor me for tonight is a giant collaboration.”

One Day at a Time (Netflix)

Lear thanked his collaborators by name, including longtime producing partner Bud Yorkin, talent agent Jerry Perenchio, business partner Hal Gaba, and others. “I’ll forget someone and then someone’s family is going to kill me,” he quipped. “I bless all of you in this room who’ve been in this business and have given the world laughter. There’s nothing I believe in more than this – that laughter adds time to one’s life. I believe that as much as my mother loved me.

“She said she did,” Lear deadpanned. “But I wasn’t sure.”

The legend recounted an anecdote in which he flew his mother from her home in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to see him be one of the first inductees into the Television Academy of Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame along with William S. Paley (the founder of CBS), David Sarnoff (radio/TV pioneer), Milton Berle, Lucille Ball, newsman Edward R. Murrow, and writer Paddy Chayefsky in 1984. “I called my mother to tell her and she said, ‘Listen, if that’s what they want to do, who am I to  speak out?’

“Laughter,” Lear emphasized, “has to add time to our lives – whether it’s six months or six years. There’s a mischievous irony in that I’m accepting this award with Carl and Carol, Lily and Bob…I don’t know how much laughter that I’ve enjoyed over the years that I owe them. Had I not known these people and laughed with them, then I may have been too diseased to pick up this award tonight.”

Lear concluded the evening with a simple: “Thank you, all. To be continued…”

Live in Front of a Studio Audience, Wednesday, December 18, ABC