An Iranian immigrant on the lessons he learned from George and Weezie
News of Sherman Hemsley's death two weeks ago at the age of 74 hit hard around these parts. My mother called to share the news, and to offer the traditional Iranian blessing for the dead. George Jefferson fot kard, khoda biamorz. There was no need to explain the sentiment behind the call, which I understood immediately. Nearly 40 years after immigrating from Iran, she and my father remembered more than just a television show or a source of nostalgia. The Jeffersons had been an important part of our beginning here in the United States, of how we became Americans.
The Jeffersons debuted in January 1975 and was already a hit by the time we arrived in March of that same year. My folks had left Iran, not for a deluxe apartment in the sky but a modest condominium in the middle of the country. One (very bulky) TV, four channels, and no remote was the setup in our new home, as it was in most households in those days, and it was not long before George and Weezie became part of our viewing routine.
The lack of choice made it easy for us to pick up the thread, to feel included instantly. Nearly one-third of all Americans were tuning in each week to watch The Jeffersons that year. Television is regularly blamed for the decline of civic and associational life in this country, but during the '70s and '80s, before basic cable and satellite scattered viewers into a million little demographics, weekly broadcasts of a show like The Jeffersons provided a shared, collective, and national experience.