The Waltons was one of the most popular television shows of its time. After the first season, the show’s popularity exploded. For the bulk of its nine-year run, it occupied one of the top slots in ratings rankings. As a result, the show boosted the careers of young stars like Richard Thomas and Judy Norton.
Part of what made the show so popular was that it was different. The show stood out from the primetime crowd for a variety of reasons. In a 2017 interview with The Archive of American Television, Richard Thomas talked about what made The Waltons so much different.
Richard Thomas on What Made The Waltons Different
According to Richard Thomas, the thing that made the show stand out from the crowd was that it told small stories. Those stories seemed real to viewers. Additionally, The Waltons gave fans characters they could relate to in a time when they needed them the most. Thomas said, “They weren’t superstars, they weren’t wealthy, nobody was an ace cop or a great doctor or a fantastic lawyer or a detective or a cowboy.” Instead, the show put a working-class Depression-era family front and center.
Somehow, Richard Thomas said, The Waltons “Reflected the lives of a lot of people,” at the time. The show really struck a chord with those who lived through the Great Depression. When the series hit the airwaves in 1972, “Those people were moms and dads and grandmothers and grandfathers.”
Because people could see themselves in the simple lives of the Walton family, they tuned in every week.
More Differences that Made The Waltons Great
Richard Thomas mentioned that The Waltons focused on a working-class family living their lives. Their popularity came from more than that, though. At the time, rural families were on television to be the butt of a line of jokes. Think about shows like The Beverly Hillbillies which went off the air the year before The Waltons premiered. The Clampett family was a parody of rural life.
Instead of making fun of its subjects, The Waltons showed a glimpse of life in a rural area. The show didn’t shame the family for being working-class and living off the land. Instead, it highlighted the virtues of a simple life. Sure, the series had its funny moments, but no one was laughing at the family for their location or economic situation.
This good-hearted view of an American family was what people were looking for. At the time, the Vietnam War was in full swing. The country was divided, boys were being drafted, and times were hard. So, everyone needed an escape. The Waltons gave them that escape. By being a wholesome and heartwarming show, it gave millions of Americans a place to turn to forget their woes for a while.