Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Debuting August 31, 1976 on CBS, the weekly, half-hour comedy series Alice was loosely based on director Martin Scorcese's 1974 theatrical feature Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More, which won an Academy Award for star Ellen Burstyn. In the film, the recently widowed Alice Hyatt (Burstyn) leaves her New Jersey home in the company of her son Tommy (Alfred Lutter III) and heads to California, hoping to achieve success as a singer. Along the way, she takes a job as a waitress at a greasy spoon diner in Tucson, Arizona. Vic Tayback appears as Alice's crusty but lovable boss Mel, while her fellow waitresses include the worldly Flo, played by Diane Ladd, and the slightly ditzy Vera, played by Valerie Curtin. The film version of Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More was a fairly realistic romantic drama with comic undertones. The TV series Alice--set in Phoenix rather than Tucson--was a sitcom through and through, with farcical situations, hilariously exaggerated supporting characters, and an omnipresent and very loud laughtrack. It was also one of the most popular series of its time, remaining on CBS for nine full seasons and ranking between fourth and eighth place in the ratings for four of those seasons. And just as the movie earned an Oscar for Ellen Burstyn, so too did Alice yield several Emmy nominations and Golden Globe awards. Linda Lavin took over from Burstyn in the role of Alice Hyatt, with Philip McKeon as son Tommy, Polly Holliday as the wisecracking Florence Jean "Flo" Castleberry ("Kiss mah grits!") and Beth Howland as the scatterbrained Vera Gorman. Of the film's cast, only Vic Tayback was carried over into the series as the irascible Mel, though Diane Ladd, the original Flo, joined the cast as new waitress Belle Dupree when Polly Holiday left in 1980 to star in her own spinoff series Flo. Ladd herself would be replaced the following year with Celia Weston as Jolene Hunnicutt. Other cast members included Marvin Kaplan as Henry the mailman, one of the steadiest customers of Mel's Diner; Dave Madden as another of the diner's habitués, Earl Hicks;Martha Raye as Mel's domineering mother, Carrie Sharples; Charles Levin as Eliot Novak, the police officer whom Vera married in Season Eight; and Michael Durrell as Nicholas Stone, who became Alice's steady beau in the ninth and final season. Such was the popularity of Alice that, even while it was still being seen in Prime Time, CBS reran the series as part of its daytime schedule from 1980 to 1982, and a year later released the first several seasons for off-network syndication. After 202 episodes, Alice ended its network run on July 2, 1985.
diner, waiter, single-parent