Like his previous smash hit All in the Family, producer Norman Lear's NBC sitcom Sanford and Son was based on a British original, in this instance Steptoe and Son, the story of an elderly, irascible cockney junk dealer and his cloddish bachelor son and business partner. In the initial development stages, Sanford and Son was to have been about a pair of Jewish men, but it was finally decided to transform the characters into African-Americans -- and in so doing, veteran "Chitlin Circuit" standup comedian Redd Foxx was catapulted to superstardom. Debuting January 14, 1972, the NBC series cast Redd Foxx as Fred Sanford, a 65-year-old L.A. junk dealer who ran a ramshackle salvage business in the backyard of his home. The cranky, mercenary Fred was satisfied with his lot in life, which was more than could be said for his 34-year-old son, Lamont (Demond Wilson), who was forever seeking out strategies to escape the junk business and go off on his own -- and, hopefully, to find himself a wife. The wily elder Sanford would have none of this, and devised all manner of schemes and subterfuges to keep Lamont from leaving. His favorite ploy was to feign having a heart seizure, whereupon he would look heavenward and "call out" to his late wife, "I'm comin', Elizabeth! This is the big one! I'm comin'!" Inasmuch as this charade fooled no one -- least of all Lamont -- one wondered if the younger Sanford really was that hepped out about leaving after all, or whether he felt secure in his shabby environs.
Although none of the series' supporting characters appeared on every episode, most were seen frequently enough to qualify as regulars. During season one, Fred hung out with his old buddy Melvin (Slappy White), and throughout the series he palled around with Bubba Bexley (Don Bexley). Beginning in 1973, Whitman Mayo was seen as Fred's crony Grady Wilson, who virtually became the series' star later on during Redd Foxx's frequent defections from the show due to salary and other squabbles with the producers. (Mayo himself virtually disappeared from Sanford and Son during the 1975-1976 season when he was spun off into his own sitcom, Grady.) Other recurring characters included eccentric police officers Swanhauser (Noam Pitlik), Smith (Hal Williams), and Hopkins (Howard Platt); Lamont's friend Rollo Larson (Nathaniel Taylor); restauranteur Ah Chew (Pat Morita); rival junk man Julio Fuentes (Gregory Sierra); Fred's off-and-on lady friend, Nurse Donna Harris (Lynn Hamilton); and Lamont's girlfriend and later fiancée, Janet Lawson (Marlene Clark). The one "standout" supporting character was Aunt Esther Anderson (LaWanda Page), who constantly quoted Scripture and who expressed her disapproval of Fred's shenanigans by giving a good solid punch once in a while (in some early episodes, Beah Richards appeared in a similar role as Aunt Ethel). With the departure of both Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson at the end of the series' sixth season, Sanford and Son was canceled September 2, 1977, to be "reborn" twice, first in the form of the spin-off series The Sanford Arms in the fall of 1977, then as the short-lived 1980 offering Sanford, with Redd Foxx in his original role.