For fans of Classic TV, two lineups of programming from the early 1970s are likely to be considered the greatest ever. On Saturday nights CBS aired All in the Family, MASH, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show and The Carol Burnett Show, while Friday nights on ABC consisted of The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Room 222, The Odd Couple and Love, American Style. Pretty amazing, isn’t it? And three of those shows — The Brady Bunch, Love, American Style and Room 222 — are currently celebrating their 50th anniversaries.
“I remember when Room 222 turned 30,” laughs actress Karen Valentine, who played student teacher (eventually promoted to full teacher) Alice Johnson on the show, “and I thought that was pretty amazing. And now 50? It’s pretty unreal. It’s, like, where did the time go?”
Room 222, which ran from 1969-74, is set at the fictional Walt Whitman High School, a Los Angeles school marked by its racial diversity at a time when TV was just beginning to deal with such things. Within Whitman High, the focus is largely on the title classroom and the history class taught by Pete Dixon (Lloyd Haynes), described by Wikipedia as “an idealistic African-American school teacher.” Other main characters include guidance counselor Liz McIntyre (Denise Nicholas), who is also Pete’s girlfriend; and principal Seymour Kaufman. Beyond the faculty, the show also delved into the school and personal life of a number of the students as well.
The series’ creative pedigree is pretty impressive as well. It’s created by James L. Brooks, who’s also the creator behind The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its various spin-offs, and Taxi; and one of its executive producers is Gene Reynolds, a guiding force of MASH.
“Room 222 just started so many things for me,” relates Karen. “It was the most amazing way to enter the business. Top-notch all the way and an amazing combination of people. It was a show where the stars just aligned. And for me, I remember going on an audition and met with a casting director at 20th Century Fox. I walked in and he didn’t even look up from his paper. He said, ‘How tall are you? What are the color of your eyes?’ and all the usual sort of questions you get asked, and, then, ‘Okay, thank you very much.’ I was dismissed, and I thought, ‘Well, I don’t think that went so well.’ Six months later I got a call from my agent saying, ‘You have a callback,’ and I asked, ‘For what?’ ‘Room 222.’
“I went out and met with Gene and Terry Becker, who was associate producer of the show, and I had my audition with Gene,” she continues. “When I got the script, I went, ‘Oh my God, this is really good. This is fun. This is today.’ It felt so right. And I remember when we did the pilot, everything just seemed to flow together perfectly with it.”
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