Faithful fans almost stopped The Waltons from ending in 1981

Earl Hamner, Jr. said he would’ve stuck around to do more episodes. If only.

In 1981, The Waltons was in the middle of a new season when CBS suddenly announced in January that the episodes airing that year would comprise the family drama’s final season.

The show’s ninth season had just premiered a few months prior to the announcement, and faithful fans were just starting to tune back in to catch up with The Waltons.

The announcement shocked fans, but the network’s decision came after The Waltons had spent years on a gradual descent from the top of the TV ratings. The show had dipped from No. 2 in its second season, down to the nation’s No. 42 show by its ninth.

It seemed like a done deal for The Waltons.

But then, all of a sudden, the month after CBS made their announcement, The Waltons shot back up in the ratings. Jumping up from No. 42, the show held solid week to week above the No. 14 slot.

CBS was reportedly shocked, but The Waltons creator Earl Hamner, Jr. was not.

"We have a very faithful audience and they’ve always come back to us," Hamner told The Orlando Sentinel in 1981. "So, I wasn’t surprised by the ratings, just delighted."

The Sentinel reported that CBS couldn’t ignore the surge in ratings, and in February 1981, actually started waffling on their decision to cancel The Waltons.

"CBS suddenly is talking about waiting to see if the upswing continues until April," the Sentinel reported, "before officially issuing a cancellation notice."

In the story, the reporter praised The Waltons for keeping it fresh no matter the ratings, summing up the appeal to fans, should the network decide to let the show go on:

"The Waltons is not a static show. Time goes by. Characters age and change, and because they do this against the backdrop of real historical events, new thematic possibilities are always opening up."

Hamner agreed, saying that if enough viewers kept tuning in that he would be willing to stick around and write more episodes of The Waltons for as long as the network would have him.

He predicted the show’s faithful fans would keep the ratings high and then CBS would have no choice but to renew.

"It will be good business to keep it on," Hamner said.

Unfortunately, nothing could stop the show from ending after the ninth season’s final episode "The Revel," which became the series finale.

A TV critic for the Associated Press spoke for all faithful fans when he wrote a column saying he didn’t know what to do with his suddenly wide-open Thursday nights.

"I am, and have been for nine years, addicted to The Waltons," wrote Peter J. Boyer.

He said he had followed the show from the moment the TV movie debuted, watching every Tuesday until the show was switched to Thursdays, and then when the show switched days, he simply rearranged his schedule to tune in then.

He was so serious about The Waltons, he refused to make plans because there was "a TV show I want to watch."

Explaining why he would never miss an episode, Boyer wrote, "The fictional Walton’s mountain, its air thick with moralistic homilies, beckoned anew each season."

After the network cancelled The Waltons, it marked the end of an era on TV, as the Eighties ushered in more action-packed shows and very few earnest family dramas.

At the end of "The Revel," Hamner said a begrudging goodbye to his faithful fans, delivering lines in his closing narration that were meant to strike home one last time:

"I hope that you'll remember this house as I do. The mystical blue ridges that stretch beyond it into infinity; the sound of warm voices drifting out upon the night air; a family waiting, and a light in the window. Good night."

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Pelican18 10 days ago
AP TV critic Peter J. Boyer is wrong about the show switching days. CBS never aired "The Waltons" on Tuesdays. Its regularly scheduled slot was ALWAYS Thursdays at 7C (8E). Perhaps the CBS station in his city would preempt it for local programming, then show that Thursday's episode the following Tuesday. TV stations used to do that sort of thing a lot in the 70s.
jimmy 10 days ago
I love The Waltons and hope METV continues to air them. We need more shows like this on tv setting the examples of self-sacrificing, working hard for what you want and need, putting others before yourself, teaching that we can't and don't always get what we want and not blaming others for it. Maybe if we all practiced this in reality there would be a lot less problems in the world today. Every time I watch a show, I try to imagine myself sitting at the table holding hands with the family and saying the blessing before eating or at bedtime saying good night to everyone.
TinaMarieHaddadRhodes 12 days ago
We watched the Waltons when I was growing up but I preferred Little House On The Prairie. But I thought Elizabeth was a very sympathetic character and she reminded me of myself, especially with the braids and bare feet all the time…
SheriHeffner 13 days ago
Stupid Mork and Mindy cancelled it.
rockaria 13 days ago
I follow Judy Norton (Mary Ellen Walton) on YouTube as she recaps some highlights from the series and answers fan questions.
Tommygunz 13 days ago
Unfortunately all good shows must come to an end, ratings going down, screen writers running out of ideas, actors not renewing contracts, even a death. By season nine, Richard Thomas and Michael Lerner had already left Ellen Corby was in poor health and Ralph Waite’s departure after about 8 or so episodes into seasons nine. Although right after season nine ended they quickly put out the first batch of Waltons movies in 1981 and the original cast returned, weddings, Thanksgiving and a Mother’s Day movie.
F5Twitster 13 days ago
"At the end of 'The Revel,' Hamner said a begrudging goodbye to his faithful fans, delivering lines in his closing narration that were meant to strike home one last time:"

That's a GRUDGING (adverb) goodbye, not begrudging (verb).
TlorDagama 13 days ago
I never liked that show from the beginning, it was just flat boring. Except for the mountain scenery, my family was just that way in the city, same old same old. Nothing ever happened. I met a guy who lived 70 miles away, my family thought it was like living in another country! I still remember my Nana saying "why do you want to go away from us?" We traveled a lot across the United States. I have never regretted the change in my life.
scott 14 days ago
I was in second grade when “The Homecoming” aired. When the last episode of the entire series aired — “The Revel” — I was well into high school. This series had a deep impact on me and taught me what families could be. Prior to his death, I had lunch with Earl and he kindly listened to me as I tried to express what his show gave me. In 2010, as I recovered from a broken leg, I watched every episode again and it certainly helped me heal. Thank you, Earl Hamner. Or perhaps I just say, “Good Night, Earl.”
Pelican18 scott 10 days ago
I'm just one year younger than you, and the show had the same deep effect on me. I must say, I'm envious of you for getting to meet Mr. Hamner. But I'm very glad you did.
LoveMETV22 17 days ago
The show had it's run. Fortunately it had a long 9 season run. However after the departure of
Richard Thomas and Michael Learned it was time to say good night to the series. They got lucky with the new John Boy and extended the series for a short while afterwards.
MrsPhilHarris 18 days ago
Sometimes it’s for the best to let a show die a natural death.
KJExpress MrsPhilHarris 18 days ago
Especially when actors leave or pass away. It's never quite the same.
Michael 18 days ago
But they didn't get help from Bjo Trimble to mount a letter writing campaign to Save the Waltons.
daDoctah Michael 18 days ago
My mind is now suitably boggled by the idea of Waltons fan conventions.
Michael daDoctah 18 days ago
I thought they had that. Walton cosplay "I'm the new John Boy". They have their own wiki to keep track of episodes.
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