The Evolution of the Family on Television

The Evolution of the Family on Television
Television is not just a form of entertainment, it is also an excellent way to study societys ever-changing families. From the beginning of the history of television in the early 1950s to present day, there have been many television shows and sitcoms about the common North American family. Todays sitcoms have single-parent households, several friends and roommates, gay relationships and unmarried adults whose lives revolve around the workplace (Terry). This is very different compared to the old-fashioned nuclear family unit of mom, dad, and the kids in past decades. The stories or themes are a reflection of societal beliefs, attitudes and behaviours of the typical family of the time. Television is often evolving with North American families to better portray or resemble them on TV. This can be seen through the different family shows throughout the decades, from Leave it to Beaver in the pre-1970s to The Brady Bunch, to The Cosby Show in the 1980s and finally to Malcolm in the Middle in present day. Significant change among family shows can be clearly shown in these selected programs. Although the typical North American family has constantly transformed over the years, television sitcoms have reflected and met this change.

Leave It to Beaver (Pre-1970s)
A classic among classics, Leave it to Beaver appeared on television in 1957. The show is family-oriented with themes revolving around moral messages, parenting, and relationships. There is one or more moral messages often included in an episode, such as when the boys disobeyed their parents and then lied. However, regardless of the circumstances, the program consistently delivered strong advice to children respecting their obligations to their family in particular and society in general. When the boys need advice or did something wrong, the parents are the two most important figures they can turn to. Teaching children proper moral behaviour required input from the parents. This program was intended for adults seen through the eyes of a little boy. It provided advice to parents to help them establish proper parenting techniques. There is also a lot of emphasis on different relationships between the characters. Examples of this include Beaver, a youngster who sees girls as the enemy, as well as the relationships within the family. Leave it to Beaver cleverly portrays the innocence and traditional North American family of the pre-1970s.

The Brady Bunch (1970s)
The Brady Bunch is one of the most beloved and talked about programs in television history. The concept of “The Brady Bunch” started back in 1966 when Sherwood Schwartz (the creator and producer of the show) heard that somewhere between 20-30% of all families had at least one child from a previous marriage. The show was about a mother with three daughters by one marriage, marries a widower with three boys, a maid and a dog. The first season of The Brady Bunch focused on the newly blended family and the conflicts that arose from the merger. The family eventually learned to get a long as they knew more about each other. They all helped each other with their individual problems and went through their difficulties as a family. The remaining years were more about a wholesome, but large, family with universal plotlines that were familiar to anyone growing up in astro-turf covered, suburban, middle-class America (TV Land). The Brady Bunch endured because it spent little or no time on actual current events or fads, but focused on topics that were significant to any generation of kids. The Brady Bunch is a touchstone of American pop culture and is a pure example of classic TV.
The Cosby Show (1980s)
Prime-time soaps and action dramas dominated the early 1980s until The Cosby Show made its debut in 1984. The show concentrated on the day to day lives of the upper-middle-class Huxtable family. This was both a throwback to earlier sitcoms and a fresh new perspective on family life. Dr. Cliff Huxtable, who was an obstetrician-gynecologist, and his wife Clair, an attorney, headed the Huxtable family. Both parents never struggled with money but did have more than their share of troubles with their five active children. Each child brought its own special characteristics and personalities into the family mix. As the series continued its eight-year run, the Huxtable brood grew larger and larger as the kids grew up and brought friends, spouses, and extended family members into the group (Nick at Nite). Some critics argued that the Huxtable family’s troubles were far from typical because the show avoided most controversial issues, including race. Nevertheless, The Cosby Show was an instant ratings smash. Its popularity was due to a variety of factors, such as humour, but also because of Bill Cosbys calm yet goofy behaviour. The parents of the show solved the familys problems with love, humour, and patience, although Cliff’s constant remark was “I just hope they get out of the house before we die” (The Cosby Show).

Malcolm in the Middle (1990s/2000s)
Malcolm in the Middle, created by Linwood Boomer (3rd Rock from the Sun), is the story of a middle-class family comprised of four squabbling brothers and their parents, who are just trying to hold on until the last one turns eighteen” (Dawson). The show features an odd family made up of parents Lois and Hal, and their four sons, including 11-year-old Malcolm, played by Frankie Muniz, who has a genius IQ and often turns and speaks into the camera as a way to address the chaos around him (Terry). Hal and Lois do not have the best-kept lawn, the cleanest house or the most well behaved children in the neighbourhood. But despite being overwhelmed by the daily uproar, at the end of the day Malcolm and his brothers know they are loved. Aside from the near-constant chaos occurring, it’s also filled with scenes of kindness and support for each other. These range from Lois’s unconditional support for her husband when he takes an unpaid leave from his job to pursue his dream of painting, to the discovery that Reese has a hidden talent for gourmet cooking. Money is always a need for the family, as both parents sometimes struggle to give their children the basic necessities. Malcolm in the Middle already has taken its place in family television history for the shows production and for its unique portrayal of the relationships that define family relations. With his appeal and intelligence, Malcolm goes through his childhood like any other person. But as he says, “the best thing about childhood is that at some point it stops” (FOX Network).

Televisions portrayal of the family has undergone a significant transformation in the fifty years of its existence, as stated in this research report. The families seen on television today are almost opposite of those seen in the early 1950s. The relationship between the parents and the children has gone from the perfect family in Leave it to Beaver, to the dysfunctional one in Malcolm in the Middle. But it is the dysfunctional relationships that better portray the typical North American family of today (Embry). Many things have changed in television as racial and ethnic lines have been crossed. When TV sitcoms began, mostly whites dominated the shows. Today, there are more types of sitcoms with minorities such as African-Americans or Jews. If anything, television families have been teachers, showing the viewing audiences how to act and how things truly are in society.

Works Cited
Dawson, John. Malcolm in the Middle. <> December 2003.

Embry, Ben. The Evolution of the American Television Family. <> December 2003.

FOX Network. Malcolm in the Middle. <> December 2003.

Nick at Nite. The Cosby Show. <> December 2003.

Terry, Sara. The evolution of TV’s family comedy shows. ;; December 2003.

The Cosby Show. Created by Bill Cosby. Nick at Nite. NIK2, USA. December 2003.
TV Land. The Brady Bunch. ;; December 2003.

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