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This was a show of all shows that was one of ABC-TV's brilliant Friday night lineup schedule back in the late 1970's and throughout the mid-1980's.The producers of this show(Paul Junger Witt and Terry Thomas) went on to create other successful series to follow like "It's A Living" and "The Golden Girls",and "Empty Nest",but "Benson" is one of their best works ever. This was actually a spin-off on a earlier show called "Soap" in which Robert Guillaume's character was changed from a household servant to Lt. Governor of a huge party of characters and so forth. The reason I watch this show was that of Robert Guillaume's character...He was witty,humorous and hilariously funny. The result made Robert Guillaume a household name not to mention putting this show at the top of the Nielsen ratings during it's run. His constant squabbles with Rene Auberjonois(Clayton Endicott) and Inga Swenson(one of Guillaume's fellow alumni from "Soap")not to mention Governor Gatling(James Noble) made that show was it was and it was the most funniest show on the air during its day. Over the course of the show's run,it was nominated for a total of 17 Emmys. It won two including Best Actor in a Comedy Series for Guillaume's second-to-last season portraying the title character,marking him second to The Jeffersons' Sherman Hemsley as the only African-American actor to win the award. The show lasted seven seasons on ABC-TV producing 158 episodes that aired from the debut episode on September 13,1979 and ending with the two-part series finale on April 19,1986. Most recently,the Antenna TV Channel has brought "Benson" back on the air after missing in action on television for merely a decade since it's original broadcast.
I watched this show regularly for about four years or so,all the way to
it's last show in 1986. By then,it had been moved to Saturday
nights,with ABC clearly putting it out to pasture as the ratings were
probably slowing(if not outright dipping)and the writing and
story-lines getting more contrived and preachy over the last two
seasons. Still,I got into this show and enjoyed it quite a bit.
A spin-off of the groundbreaking,controversial and(in my and I'm sure not the only opinion)brilliant "Soap",this show followed the life of acerbic but humane and wise butler-turned-house servant-turned-budget secretary-turned lieutenant Governor Benson DuBois(Robert Guillame,who seemed to be born to play this role). He,similar to his role on "Soap",has to put up with his share of rich(and almost entirely white)stuffed-shirts and makes friends with the TAte-Gatling family,only this time it's with Jessica Tate's cousin,the Governor himself(JAmes Noble,who is FANTASTIC here)and his daughter KAtie(Missy Gold,who will always be a cute blonde kid to me).It is the Governor,in fact,who appoints Benson to his posts in the Mansion,and Benson in turn puts up with the jovial absent-mindedness that the Gov exudes,being an aid as well as a gentle foil. The primary antagonism/grudging compatriots in the show came from the dour German housekeeper Gretchen Kraus(Inga Swenson,who probably had trouble getting casting directors to NOT cast her as Teutonic women after this show)and the pompous ass of an adviser Clayton Endicott III(Rene Auberjonois,another great actor that probably had to work hard to free himself from being typecast). Also,Benson ended up befriending his secretary Denise(Didi Conn,who will always be Frenchy from Grease to millions!)and her eventual husband,the lovably scattered gubernatorial staffer Pete Downey(Ethan Phillips,still working,Thank God!).Also featured as the staff(mostly in the first two seasons,which I must confess I have not seen as much of as the later shows) were Harris/Thomas/Witt standby Caroline McWilliams,Lewis Stadlen,co-producer Bob Fraser and Jerry Seinfeld(!).
This show was early Friday nights for me when I was too young to have much (if any) of a social life,and while the humor and pacing may seem dated and slow by today's standards(put this up against something like "Seinfeld" or "Scrubs" and see what I mean),watching it on TVLand again had me laughing out loud at times and appreciating this show for what it was:simple sitcom material done right. While this show does SEEM like twenty years or more has passed,it's a good t.v. memory,something that to me makes television worth watching.
This was one of my favorite shows growing up. It was a rare example of a spinoff series being more successful than the original, as it spun off from Soap. Robert Guillaume was perfect as the wisecracking butler who assisted the meek governor for whom he worked in various aspects of his life, especially family and business. Benson is later appointed state budget director and then elected Lt. Governor. All in all, I sometimes miss this show due to its humor and characters.
In Sept. of 2007,we marked the 30th anniversary of the first time we
met Benson DuBois on the ABC show "SOAP".
Played wonderfully by Mr. Robert Guillaume for just two years,1977 to 1979, Benson the butler proved the overall foil and sometimes good friend for the certifiably cuckoo Tate family.
In the beginning Benson was the kind of butler seen on comedy movies,wise-cracking to his boss's every few minutes. (Doorbell rings) "You want me to get that?" said as if it's not his job to do so. Jessica Tate:"If you don't mind." He basically did nothing for Mr. Tate because he loathed him.
He truly was the only sane person in the middle of it all,his best show in that series was leading the rescue of Billy Tate from the "Sunnies" cult. "We're the Step Brothers,where's the audition?"
Not long after that show,ABC did what it did best at that time,gave a great character a spin-off and hoped it worked with audiences. Benson hit the fall schedule in 1979 and it certainly did fly with fans of Soap.
At first Benson was just the man who made sure things ran smoothly at the Governor's Mansion. Governor Gatling was Jessica's cousin and like Jessica a little short in clear thinking. Gretchen Kraus was head of the kitchen but ended up at odds with Benson. Causing Benson to make comments about her after she'd leave a room,only to hear her shout "I hear you!!",a long running gag.
The Governor was also a widower with a little girl to raise named Katie,who in the first show wants to attend a KISS concert.Gatling:"They're always sticking their tongues out"!
Gatling had a secretary named Marcie and an assistant named Taylor in the first season but next season Marcie was gone and Talylor was later replaced by Clayton (brilliantly played by Rene' Aubenjournois,late of "Boston Legal"). Clayton took a page from the Charles Winchester book of snobbery and made it an art form. His funniest show with Benson is the insult contest in the kitchen. (Gee,guess who won?) There was also Peter and Denice who met while working for the Governor & Benson and fell in love and got married and then left the show.
Benson slowly rose up in status at the Mansion. He was appointed by the Governor to be the new budget director and then Benson became the Leuitenant Governor of a state with no name. Kraus left the kitchen and became Benson's assistant. Katie simply grew up before our eyes.
Benson was also the kind of character we saw a lot of in '70s/'80s TV,the one everyone comes to with their problems. That,thankfully faded overtime.
The wit on this show was sharp and Guillaume as Benson made great use of it. During a debate,his opponent points out sarcastically,that he (Benson) is the "black" candidate. Benson shoots back with,"It's just as obvious sir,that you are the "bald" candidate!" Humor also came from trying to cover up potentially embarrassing situations that could ruin the Governor's credibility or Benson's.
The history of Benson shows up in later shows,his family,like most of his generation,had little to nothing but through his hard work and determination (and maybe a little luck) arrives at a point he most likely never could have imagined. In that sense,he was a great role model.
The ratings,yes,were down in 1985-86 and the unexpected "non-resolved" ending was what viewers had to settle for. Most were not pleased with this ending and even TV guide gave it a "jeers",saying they should at least come back and finish it. It never happened.
In a way it makes sense that it ends with the Governor and Benson shaking hands,the election almost cost them their friendship. It also makes sense because it's parent series SOAP ended with no conclusion either. As mentioned in other reviews here,sitcoms like this just aren't made anymore and in viewing today's slim pickings,something like this would be a God-send.
One thing Guillaume did make sure of was that Benson would never be in any sense a stereo-typed black character. He was intelligent,educated,witty,hard working and suave and most importantly successful. Something most people credit to The Cosby Show and Cliff & Clair. Before them,remember,there was Benson. (END)
I watched Benson before I saw any episodes of Soap so I never knew the connection. I remember watching an episode with the lovely Katherine Helmond guest starring reprising her soap role. Her character's date ends up dead and it could be scandalous. Her character turns to Benson for help. Of course, he helps out rather than let his beloved friend in trouble. His character's rise from governor's head housekeeper to Lieutenant Governor is a bit unrealistic but he makes it believable for the audience. I remember him winning an Emmy. I think it's a first for an African American actor to win for Best Actor in a Comedy Series. I remember cast of characters including an understated actress named Inga Swenson who played Olga. Peter Noble who played the widowed Governor very well. Rene Aubernois who played Benson's nemesis. I won't write enemies because they weren't. I remember them being at odds with each other. I loved Didi Conn who played secretary and the man who played her on screen husband. They left before the show ended after 7 seasons. I also remember Missy Gold, Tracey's Gold's older sister, who played the Governor's daughter. I'm kind of sad that it's been twenty years since it left our airways. Friday nights were never the same on the ABC network. Good shows like Benson are hard to come by nowadays.
Produced by the team that bought you "Soap",and later on "The Golden
Girls", "It's A Living",and "Empty Nest"(under the supervision of
executive producers Susan Harris, Paul Junger-Witt,and Tony Thomas),the
sitcom "Benson" became one of the biggest hits to come out of the
late-1970's and continue its streak into the mid-1980's. This series
was basically a spin-off from the soap opera parody "Soap"(the title
character,portrayed by Robert Guillaume,had originally first appeared
on the earlier series as the wise-cracking yet level-headed African
American butler for the highly dysfunctional Tate
family);however,"Benson" discarded the soap opera format of its parent
show in favor of a more conventional sitcom structure,which was created
by Susan Harris who also served as executive producer of this series.
In the show,Benson DuBois(Guillaume) had been hired to be the head of household affairs for the scatterbrained and widowed Governor Eugene Gatling(James Noble),and his daughter Katie(Missy Gold). Governor Gatling was cousin to Jessica Tate(Katherine Helmond),and Mary Campbell(Cathryn Damon),the two sisters on whose families the stories centered on "Soap". The state of which Gatling was governor remained unidentified with the series,although "Soap" had taken place in Connecticut. The series revolved around Benson's housekeeping dilemmas,his fights with the German cook Gretchen Kraus(Inga Swenson,one of Guillaume's fellow alumni from "Soap" and his interactions with John Taylor(former "Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea" alumnus David Hedison in the pilot episode,and during the first season Lewis J. Stadlen),who assisted Governor Gatling as the chief of staff. After the first season,Taylor's job was filled by Clayton Endicott(Rene Auberjonois for the remained of the series run)who was written out by having him run for political office and actually snub his employer's endorsement. He lost the election,but returned when Benson asked him to. But in spite of their adversarial relationship(during the early years of the series)the insults between Kraus and Benson were intense at times but still became good friends. Benson also have very good relations with the Governor's secretary,Marcy Hill(Caroline McWilliams),and her successor,Denise(Didi Conn). Marcy left after the second season after getting married. Denise and Pete Downey(Ethan Phillips),the Governor's press secretary(who were introduced in Season 2)met and later married while working in the Governor's mansion and were expectant parents for most of the third-to-the-last season.
Throughout the course of the series,Benson worked his way up the ladder going from the head of household affairs to state budget director,and eventually was elevated to the position of Lieutentant Governor(by the show's final season)and almost was elected Governor in the show's final episode(which was a two-part series finale) where Benson DuBois was running against his former employer Governor Gatling. "Benson" was mostly seen on ABC's Friday night line-up of great shows,and it was a immediate hit spanning seven seasons on the air from September 13,1979 until the show's final episode on April 19,1986. A total of 158 episodes were produced. Over the course of the show's seven-year run,it was nominated for an impressive 17 Emmys. It won two including Best Actor in a Comedy Series for Guillaume(beating out Sherman Hemsley of The Jeffersons)marking the only time an African American has won the award.
I have been watching re-runs of "Benson" on TV Land. I love this story
of Benson going from butler to bureaucrat to lieutenant governor.
The final episode of the series was a stroke of genius. Governor Gatling finds out that through a loophole in the state constitution, he may run for a third term although everyone simply assumed he was term limited at two terms.
When Gatling announces to Benson and everyone that he's going to run for an unprecedented third term; the relationship between Gatling and Benson chills. Until a television debate where the governor suddenly realizes that what Benson has said is not personal.
The cliffhanger comes when the two meet in the kitchen of the Governor's Mansion and the two sit at the table to reminisce. They both agree that they could both be out of a job if the third candidate in the race wins.
Then Governor Gatling and Benson's attention is drawn to the small TV set where the announcer says "Cap-TV is now prepared to make a projection in the governor's race." Both wish each other good luck and shake hands. Fade to black. The classic of all cliffhangers.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I used to watch this series as a child during the 1980's and enjoyed
alongside other 80's "Family Ties", "Different Strokes" and "Facts of
Life" and more. This was a spin-off to the hit comedy "Soap" which
lasted longer than it's processor and went on to win Emmies for best
Benson Dubois(Robert Guillaume), the Tate's wisecracking, no-nonsense butler from "Soap" is now working in the Governor's mansion as the head of the household staff but ends up becoming the right hand man for the lovable yet bumbling and scatter-brained Govenor Eugene Gatlin(James Noble) who is also Jessica Tate's cousin, by solving his and everybody's problems. The rest of the staff includes secretary Marcy Hill(Caroline McWilliam),the only normal person in household other than Benson, Gretchen Kraus(Inga Swenson), the sharp-tongue German cook, John Taylor(Lewis J. Stadlen), the Governor's pompous, stuff-shirt aid, and the Governor's nine year old daughter Katie(Missy Gold).
I liked this funny show even better than "Soap" which had humor and sharp wit and unforgettable characters. I particularly enjoyed Benson's interactions with the other members in the mansion. With his sharp-tongue and acerbic wit was always squaring off his nemesis Miss Kraus or Taylor who resented Benson's constant interference. Then there was his friendship with Marcy which was very believable and with Katie he was good fatherly figure and of course there's the Governor himself there was a great buddy/employer relationship with Benson as the straight guy to the goofy politician. Taylor left after end of the first season and was replaced by the the equally pompous Clayton Endicott(Rene Auberjonois)who was funnier and I loved his rivalry with Benson more which was one of my favorite parts of the show. He was the perfect nemesis and foil with his sharp wit and arrogance and had great chemistry together. Other characters came and went over the years, Marcy left early in the third season and the ditsy Denise Stevens(Didi Conn)replaced her. Pete Downey(Ethan Phillips) also joined the staff as the idiotic PR man and Mrs. Cassidy(Billie Bird) came aboard in the later part of the series as the new housekeeper. a then unpopular Bob Fraser and Jerry Seinfold had recurring roles and Jessica(Katherine Helmond) made two guest appearances(the second time as a ghost). Over the years Benson position in staff would change as he became Budget Director then Lt. Governor. Pete and Denise would marry and have a baby, Miss Kraus would become Benson's secretary and Katie grow up into a teenager. Just like "Soap" this series ended with a cliffhanger when Benson was running against Governor Gatlin but viewers were left wondering who got elected.
Anwyay, I will never forget this fabulous show and wish they would air re-runs maybe on TV Land or Nick at Night. It's shame that nowadays they don't seem to make great shows like the did in the 80s and 90s.
Excellent series. Without a doubt, my favorite episode was when Robert Guillaume sang "O Holy Night" during one of the Christmas-time episodes. This was one of the best of this series, of which there were many fine episodes. Actually, the series finale was just weird in that we never found out who actually won the election. Perhaps though it is just as well. Another excellent episode was when Benson saved Krause's life by using the Heimlich Manuver. Years later a young child (maybe pre-teen, I forget) saved the life of a friend using this technique because this child saw this particular Benson episode. Amazing show by some very talented actors.
I just saw the "Benson" show for the first time this weekend. It was
during the TV Land, 48-hour, Benson Marathon! I had a ball!
I NEVER knew someone could laugh so much and so hard! My favorite episode was the one in which Clayton is kidnapped. That was a good one! Trouble never fails to catch up with that guy! And what a rescue team....Uh yeah!!!....Not!
My next favorite episode involved Klaus' SPOOF-OF-A-MARRIAGE! Could kind of guess what was coming but it was fun to watch anyway! I spent the whole weekend holding my sides and trying NOT to laugh continuously! Needless to say, I failed! Oh well, you can't win them all! HA HA HA!
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