Based quite loosely on the 1974 Oscar-winning film Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, this situation comedy centered on Alice Hyatt (Linda Lavin), a widowed mother with a 12-year-old son who leave their New Jersey home to start a new life in Phoenix, Arizona.
While waiting for her break as a singer, Alice serves meals at Mel's Diner, a greasy spoon known for the chili made by cook and proprietor Mel Sharples (played by the late Vic Tayback, the only member of the film cast to join the TV version when it debuted on CBS in 1976). Aiding and abetting Alice were her two fellow waitresses. Flo (Polly Holiday) was a raunchy, fun-loving gal with a knack for putdowns-- especially anything regarding Mel or his cooking. Flo provided the show with its most-famous catchphrase "Kiss my grits!" The other server was quiet and ditzy Vera (Beth Howland), who was more innocent than Alice or Flo when it came to men.
Alice was pretty much standard sitcom fare for the late 1970's and early 1980's with fill-in-the-blank situations and at least one "Kiss my grits!" exclamation by Flo in every episode. Beneath the predictable jokes was a strong chemistry among the cast members, with Lavin--a former co-star of the detective comedy Barney Miller--as the stable glue that held the workplace family together.
In early 1980, the original "family" broke up when Holiday's Flo left Mel's Diner and Phoenix for Texas and a short- lived spin-off series called, appropriately, Flo. The new sitcom gave Flo her own restaurant, the "Yellow Rose". It immediately landed in the top ten; when it returned in the fall of 1980, its ratings went downhill and was cancelled in the spring of 1981. Despite its failure, Flo (and Holiday) never returned to Alice. To replace Flo, the producers turned to Dianne Ladd, who played Flo in the film version. On the sitcom, she played Belle Dupree, a Mississippi gal who wrote country songs and lived near Alice.
By the fall of 1983 the ratings began to decline as CBS moved Alice from its comfortable Sunday night perch to other timeslots; its placement against the red-hot NBC action-adventure series The A-Team was the nail in the coffin. The final episode of Alice on March 19, 1985, had Mel selling the diner and giving each of his waitresses a $5,000 bonus.
Alice was one of the biggest sitcom hits of the late 1970's for a good reason: Underneath its predictable humour was true humanity between the four people of Mel's Diner. Not bad for a greasy spoon in the Southwest.
Alice was screened in the UK on Channel 4 from 27th August 1984 until 8th October 1986 each weekday afternoon in a continuous run until 188 episodes had been shown -14 short of every episode made.
Published on November 27th, 2018. Mike Spadoni (2001).