Hollywood Flashback: ‘Alice’ Served Up a Hit for CBS in 1976

FX/Hulu’s Chicago-set restaurant dramedy The Bear has sizzled its way into the awards conversation as a frontrunner in a variety of fields, including for its lead performances from Jeremy Allen White and Ayo Edebiri. But The Bear isn’t the first series to center its narrative around food service: In 1976, Alice premiered on CBS, following its eponymous waitress as she begins a new job at a diner in Phoenix.

The series was based on the 1974 film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Robert Getchell, which won a lead actress Oscar for Ellen Burstyn. Getchell spun his story into a sitcom that centers on Linda Lavin’s Alice, an unemployed widow who travels from New Jersey to Los Angeles with her son to pursue a music career, but ends up taking a waitressing job at Mel’s Diner after her car breaks down during the trip.

Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Davis, the duo who wrote the first four seasons of I Love Lucy, served as executive producers on the show. And while Alice offered no deep dives into the workings of a restaurant kitchen, the diner served as a backdrop to chronicle the everyday challenges faced by Alice and her co-workers, sassy Flo (Polly Holliday) and wide-eyed Vera (Beth Howland) and their gruff boss, Mel (Vic Tayback), from single parenthood to relationships to equal rights for women.

Critics weren’t always satisfied — THR‘s reviews over the years praised Lavin for giving the title role “admirable pent-up anger and adroit expressions” but also claimed that the series “relies more on sight gags than character for comedy.”

Viewers, though, had a strong appetite for it, as did the TV Academy and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which recognized Alice with eight Emmy nominations and 15 Golden Globe noms (and eight Globe wins), respectively, over its nine-season run. Two-time Globe supporting actress winner Holliday went on to star in a spinoff series called Flo, for the character who originated Alice‘s most memorable catchphrase: “Kiss my grits!”

This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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