‘The Waltons’: One Actress Explained Why CBS Thought Show Would Be a ‘Sacrificial Lamb’

by Quentin Blount

Despite turning out to be a hit show, actress Judy Norton once said that CBS thought The Waltons would be more of a “sacrificial lamb.”

Norton, of course, is without a doubt best remembered for her role as Mary Ellen Walton on the popular 1970’s TV series. She also made appearances in the other Waltons film productions.

However, the star actress explained in a 2019 interview that the show was originally just intended to be a TV Christmas movie. After a while, producers began discussions about making it into an actual series.

Norton says that as more and more negative influences flooded local programming, the network was looking to create a family-oriented show. She adds that The Waltons was supposed to be a “sacrificial lamb” of sorts.

“CBS would have had to have been on board. I guess the producers were in conversations with CBS about doing that,” Norton explains. “My understanding is at that point in time, the networks were starting to get a lot of pressure from the Moral Majority groups. They were saying that there was too much sex and violence and you know, non-family type programming. So CBS basically gave the green light to creating The Waltons. The show was supposed to be sort of a ‘sacrificial lamb’ in a sense.” 

Meanwhile, Judy Norton goes on to say that the network thought the show would flop.

“They were going to do this nice little family show that nobody was going to watch. And then they could say, See, nobody wants that kind of programming,'” she laughs. “‘We’ll appease all the protestors and then they’ll have to shut up because no one’s watching the show.’ So yeah, that’s literally the story I heard.”

‘The Waltons’ Star Fit Her Role Perfectly

We will always recognize Judy Norton for her role as Mary Ellen Walton. She admits that she was a perfect fit to play the eldest daughter of John Walton Sr. and Olivia Walton.

“Basically that she was a tomboy and the role was for a TV movie,” Norton said to Everything Zoomer. “I played a lot of sports as a kid, so I understood the character and easily identified with her.”

After her audition, Norton said that she was called back in where she was told she got the part.

“I got called back and the casting directors brought the six of us into a room. They told us that we got the parts,” Judy Norton said. “It was incredibly unusual because you almost never get cast while still in the room.”

For more on the cast of The Waltons, be sure to follow along with us here at Outsider.