Amos N' Andy had the distinction of being one of the longest running (since 1929) and most popular US radio shows of all time before it came to TV screens in June of 1951. Had it remained a radio series, the chances are it would never have been steeped in the deep controversy that ultimately resulted in the reruns being pulled from syndication in 1966, never to be seen again.
Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll not only produced the original radio series they also played the leads. However, when it was decided to take the series to television they wisely decided to recast, due to the fact that Gosden and Correll were white and the entire cast of 'Amos N' Andy' were meant to be black. (After this series it wasn't until the 1970's that another US show appeared with an all-black cast, that series being 'Sanford and Son'). Amid much ballyhoo a search was held for suitable actors to take the roles, which eventually (after a four year search) went to Alvin Childress and Spencer Williams Jr. Set in Harlem, the series centred around three men: Andy, the somewhat naive and dim-witted president of The Fresh Air Taxi Company, Amos, his more level-headed partner and cab driver (who narrated most of the episodes), and George "Kingfish" Stevens (Tim Moore), an inept con artist, and head of "The Mystic Knights of the Sea" fraternity.
Civil rights groups such as the NAACP protested that the series fostered racial stereotypes with exaggerated accents and eye rolling antics reminiscent of the way black people were unfairly depicted in many Hollywood movies years earlier. However, this view was not shared by everyone, including Alvin Childress who defended the show by saying, "I didn't feel it harmed the Negro at all. . . . Actually the series had many episodes that showed the Negro with professions and businesses like attorneys, store owners, and so on, which they never had in TV or movies before...." In all 78 episodes were made between 1951 and 1953 and the show continued in syndication for years afterwards. However, the turning point came in 1963.
CBS announced that they had sold the show to both Kenya and Nigeria, but soon afterwards an official of the Kenyan government announced that the programme was to be banned in his country. This re-focused attention on the series racial issues so that when a Chicago TV station announced it was resuming reruns the following year there were widespread protests. This came at a very sensitive time in the US -for civil rights was a major political issue at the time and coupled with the fact that the reruns were having a noticeable effect on the sale of CBS' films, the show was withdrawn from sale.
Critics have debated whether or not the show was indeed racist ever since with no positive conclusion and in all probability that viewpoint will always remain, for many, a wholly personal one. But in the history of US television, Amos N' Andy, for one reason or another, has certainly left its mark. The principle writers of the show, Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher went on to create, write and produce the massively popular Leave It To Beaver (popular in the US, that is, as it was only ever aired in one or two regions in the UK) as well as The Munsters. 67 episodes of Amos N' Andy were aired in the UK by the BBC between 1954 and 1957, making it the first US sitcom shown on British television.
Published on November 27th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.