227 was a sitcom that originally aired on the NBC network
from September 14, 1985 to May 6, 1990. The program revolves around the
lives of the occupants of a Washington, D.C. apartment building numbered
227, nearly all of whom are African American. While the neighborhood's
location is never mentioned specifically, the opening credits include an
altered photograph of a residential neighborhood close to the Washington
Monument; such a neighborhood location is impossible, especially in light
of the address.
The series was adapted from a play written by Christine Houston about
the lives of women in a predominantly black apartment building in Chicago.
The setting of the series was changed to Washington, D.C. to allow the
producers to feasibly show a completely black neighborhood (Washington,
D.C. is 60% black, while Chicago's black population only comprises about a
third, comparable to many other cities in the United States).
The show was started as a starring vehicle for Marla Gibbs, who had
first shot to fame as the sassy maid Florence Johnston on The
Jeffersons, and had starred in Houston's theater adaptation in Los
Angeles. This role was similar in nature to that of tart-tongued Florence;
Gibbs' character, housewife Mary Jenkins, loved a good gossip and often
spoke what she thought, with sometimes not-so-favorable results.
The Group Dynamic
Mary's best friend was Rose Lee Holloway (Alaina Reed), who inherited
the building early in the show's run when the previous landlord (whom was
never seen) died; Rose had cooked him food on many occasions and he gave
her the building because she made the best apple pie he'd ever tasted.
Mary took a no-nonsense, old-fashioned approach to life, and Mary and
Rose's views sometimes clashed (one time, Rose and Mary got into a fight
after Mary chastised Rose for giving her daughter ice cream money before
she did homework, and Rose accused her of trying to make everyone
"perfect"). Mary especially disliked one of the building's
tenants, self-described "man-wise" Sandra Clark (Jackée Harry),
and criticized her either behind her back or to her face many times. Over
time, Mary and Sandra's relationship cooled to an on-off
acquaintance/adversary relationship, and many of Mary's schemes involved
Sandra working with her in some way, and vice versa.
Also seen was Mary's husband Lester (Hal Williams) and her teenaged
daughter Brenda (Regina King in her first nationwide acting role). Another
character seen was Pearl Shay (Helen Martin), who often popped her head
outside her window to comment on the various goings-on as related by Mary
and Rose. Pearl lived with her grandson Calvin Dobbs (Curtis Baldwin), who
was Brenda's first love. Brenda's best friend was Rose's daughter Tiffany
As the show went on, Jackée Harry's portrayal of man-hungry Sandra
became very popular and, for all intents and purposes, displaced Marla
Gibbs as the show's "star." In 1987, capitalizing on her
popularity, Harry decided to just go by "Jackée" (in a move
reminiscent of Cher, Prince and Madonna), and the publicity stunt (coupled
with Jackée becoming the de facto star of the program) offended
Miss Gibbs to such a degree that they had a falling-out which lasted
several years, although they are on speaking terms today.
Ratings and accolades
The show was high-rated from the beginning (being partnered on NBC's
Saturday night line-up with shows such as Gimme
a Break!, The
Facts of Life, and The
Golden Girls), and ranked in the Nielsen
Top 30 for the first three of its five seasons (#20 in 1985-86, #14 in
1986-87, and #27 in 1987-88).227 also earned many awards, including
the first Emmy award for a black supporting actress (Jackée Harry won for
her portrayal as Sandra in 1987).
Throughout the final two seasons, however, several new characters
appeared, which threw off the tight-knit dynamic that the show had
succeeded in establishing. Actors such as Kevin Peter Hall, Paul Winfield,
Lynn Hamilton, and Stoney Jackson were signed onto the program, as well as
child actor Countess Vaughn, who expressed an interest in appearing on 227
after winning on Star Search. It was at that time that the ratings
declined; the show's producers decided to end the show in 1990, in time
for Brenda's graduation from high school.
One of the show's continuity errors was slowing down Brenda's age; only
four years of schooling took place within the show's five-year run
("barely fourteen" years old at the start of the show in
September 1985, Brenda only turned 16 in January 1988). Another continuity
error occurred when the writers dropped Kia Goodwin from the show's cast
in January 1988, suddenly leaving Rose without a daughter, with no
explanation given. (see Chuck Cunningham syndrome)
The first season of 227 is available on DVD in Region 1 from
Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment. The order of the episodes in the
three-disc set proved mildly confusing to former viewers, as the first
part of the show's pilot was placed on the first disc, while the
conclusion was placed on the second disc. Adding to the confusion was the
fact that the pilot didn't even air as the first episode when the show
began in 1985; the two-parter aired at the beginning of November sweeps,
after five episodes had already been broadcast.
The theme song to 227 was written by television songwriter Ray
Colcord, who went on to write the themes to The Torkelsons, Boy Meets
World, and Promised Land. The message conveyed in the song was the
strength of family bonds; titled "There's No Place Like Home,"
the theme was sung by series star Marla Gibbs.
227 can currently be seen twice a day on the TV One network in
the United States, in a programming block with fellow African-American