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One Day at a Time

One Day at a Time

Norman Lear's One Day at a Time (1975-1984) explored the life of a liberated divorcée who took back her maiden name and found success without a husband. Ann Romano (Bonnie Franklin) married too young, divorced her husband, and took her two teenage daughters, who kept their father's name, from suburban Logansport to a tiny apartment in the big city of Indianapolis. The older daughter, 17-year-old Julie (Mackenzie Phillips), was stubborn, headstrong, and impetuous. Her sister, 15-year-old Barbara (Valerie Bertinelli) cracked wise, but was basically a good girl. The girls had all of the dating and school problems of most teenagers, but lived with only one parent, the feisty Ann, who had gone from her parents house to her husband's, and was now finally on her own.

Though developed by Lear, One Day at a Time was created by Allan Mannings and Whitney Blake, who had been a regular on the TV series Hazel. Originally called All About Us, the show became almost notorious for the casting of pert, freckle-faced redhead Franklin as a hot-tempered Italian woman. Like all Lear comedies, One Day at a Time tackled serious contemporary issues. The show focused on these issues and how they played out in an unconventional family structure. Early episodes focusing on Ann had her suburban friends worrying about her being alone and man-less. But Ann had men in her life. The building superintendent, mustachioed Duane Schneider (Pat Harrington, Jr.), who fancied himself Don Juan with a pass key, soon developed a strong platonic relationship with Ann and became a sort of uncle to the kids. Ann did date, however. First she dated her divorce lawyer, a younger man, named David Kane (Richard Masur). She later incorporated partner and lover Nick Handris (Ron Rifkin) and his ten-year-old son, Alex (Glenn Scarpelli) into her life. Nick soon left the show, and—in one of the more contrived plot twists—gave Ann custody of Alex, even though he had a real mother in Chicago.

As youths, Julie ran away with her boyfriend, and Barbara tried to shed her good-girl image by running off with a platonic friend. As the series continued, Bertinelli's character made her a teen star at a time when Jodie Foster and Tatum O'Neal also played all-American tomboys. In 1981, when Bertinelli married rock musician Eddie Van Halen, CBS tried to keep it a secret, worrying that it would tarnish "Barbara's" image as the little sister or girlfriend everyone wanted. But Barbara soon grew old enough to marry dental student Mark Royer (Boyd Gaines). After the series ended, Bertinelli enjoyed success as a "women's movie" and mini-series regular. Phillips, daughter of the Mamas and the Papas leader John Phillips, developed chronic drug problems that forced One Day at a Time's writers the unenviable job of coming up with reasons for the now-skeletal and bug-eyed Julie to leave and return, culminating toward the end of the series with the character abandoning her husband Max (Michael Lembeck) and infant daughter.

One Day at a Time held a unique position in television as one of the first shows to feature a mother who had chosen to be single. Ann wasn't widowed, and her ex-husband, Ed (the occasionally-seen Joseph Campanella) wasn't an adultering lout. Ann and Ed simply did not have a happy marriage. Ann was also TV's first prominent "Ms." One of Ann's bosses made a big deal out of calling her "M.S. Romano," as the rest of the country got used to using that new appellation. Ann's co-worker—and later business partner—Francine Webster (Shelley Fabares), represented a more strident version of a liberated woman. Unlike Ann, Francine was calculating, manipulative, and sexual. One Day at a Time did not conclude with a cancellation; it was ended when Franklin and Bertinelli decided not to return for another season. By the last season, Ann had become a successful advertising executive, remarried (her son-in-law Mark's father), and moved to London after receiving a great job offer. Julie was gone, and Barbara and her husband were starting a new life.

—Karen Lurie

Further Reading:

Brooks, Tim, and Earle Marsh. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-present. New York, Ballantine Books, 1995.

McNeil, Alex. Total Television. New York, Penguin, 1996.

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