US sitcom about a waitress working at a greasy spoon diner.
202 episodes of 30 minute duration. CBS 1976-85.
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!" (Another Flo remark was "When donkeys fly!") The other server was quiet and ditzy Vera (Beth Howland), who was more innocent than Alice or Flo when it came to men. And there were plenty of men who passed through Mel's Diner--mostly customers with first names such as Andy, Jason, Cecil, Mike and Brian. Two of the longer-lasting members of the regular diners were telephone repairman Henry Beesmire (Marvin Kaplan) and Earl Hicks (Dave Madden); they remained on the show until its demise.
'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. (The women also bonded, usually against Mel or some man who did them wrong--a strong example of women's liberation in the late 1970's.) Alice's scenes with son Tommy (Philip McKeon) were wise and touching, giving the show a strong family appeal as well.
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 and Tommy. In 1981, Ladd left the series (reportedly because of clashes between her and series star Lavin) and was replaced by Jolene Hunnicutt (Celia Weston), a character similar to Flo and Belle in both spirit and Southern accent.
By the fall of 1983, Vera found love and married police officer Elliot Novak (Charles Levin), but 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 19th 1985, had Mel selling the diner and giving each of his waitresses a $5,000 bonus. Jolene used the cash to buy a beauty shop; a pregnant Vera retired to become a full-time wife and mother; and Alice--at last--fulfilled her singing dreams by joining a band and moving to Nashville, Tennessee. Lavin was also able to satisfy her real-life itch for vocalizing; she sang the show's theme "There's A New Girl In Town" at the beginning of each episode.
Alice was one of the biggest sitcom hits of the late 1970's for a good reason: Underneath its predictable humor was true humanity between the four people of Mel's Diner. Not bad for a greasy spoon in the Southwest.
Return to Top of Page