The original ‘One Day at a Time’ TV show broke sitcom rules, one episode at a time

The original One Day at a Time TV show at Click Americana

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“One Day at a Time” stands out as a groundbreaking sitcom that dealt with the real issues of the time in a humorous but meaningful way. The show follows the life of Ann Romano, a divorced mother of two daughters — Julie and Barbara Cooper — as they navigate the ups and downs of life in Indianapolis.

Ann, a woman of grit and determination, is focused on keeping her family together while pursuing her independence. The addition of building superintendent Dwayne Schneider, and Ann’s boyfriend turned husband David Kane, adds layers of comedic charm and heartfelt moments to the series. “One Day at a Time” truly captured the essence of the era and continues to be remembered for its progressive spirit.

Old One Day at a Time TV show opening titles
# of seasons: 9
# of episodes: 209


  • Bonnie Franklin as Ann Romano: A determined and independent divorced mother of two, navigating life and seeking out love and career success.
  • Mackenzie Phillips as Julie Cooper: Ann’s older and rebellious daughter, dealing with issues from teen angst to marriage.
  • Valerie Bertinelli as Barbara Cooper: Ann’s younger daughter, who’s more reserved and level-headed compared to her sister.
  • Pat Harrington Jr. as Dwayne Schneider: The building’s quirky yet lovable superintendent who becomes a trusted friend of the family.
  • Richard Masur as David Kane: Ann Romano’s dashing boyfriend who later becomes her husband, providing a warm and caring presence in the family.

If you’re in the mood for some good old sitcom fun mixed with real-world issues, then the television series One Day at a Time may just be your go-to.

Premiering on CBS in 1975, this Norman Lear production was something of a revolution. Not just for the humor, but for the genuine way it portrayed a divorced mother raising two children.

One Day at a Time TV sitcom cast photo

The main character, Ann Romano, played by Bonnie Franklin, is an independent, newly divorced woman who moves out on her own with her two daughters: Julie and Barbara Cooper. She is a force to be reckoned with, navigating her way through a newly single life, managing her job, and caring for her teenage daughters all at the same time.

Julie, the elder daughter, played by Mackenzie Phillips [daughter of The Mamas & The Papas member John Phillips] is known for her rebellious nature and her complicated relationship with her mother.

Valerie Bertinelli played the younger daughter, Barbara, who’s quite the opposite of her sister — a positive, energetic, and curious teenager. Together, the three female leads of the show created a dynamic mix of personalities and situations that truly resonated with viewers.

Adding an extra dash of fun to the show was Pat Harrington Jr. as the building superintendent, Dwayne Schneider. His character is remembered for his colorful attire and signature tool belt, but most importantly, for his genuine care for the Romano family.

Old One Day at a Time TV show scene with Bonnie Franklin and Valerie Bertinelli

One Day at a Time wasn’t just about laughs, though. It tackled real issues that were seldom openly discussed on television at that time, including divorce, teenage sexuality, mental health, and more. It was a pioneer, making way for future sitcoms to break down barriers and address topics that matter.

With a run of nine seasons, One Day at a Time was one of the most American television sitcoms of the era. Why? Apart from the strength of its cast, the series found a way to balance heart and humor, making it one of the defining sitcoms of the 1970s and early ’80s.

In fact, its impact was such that it inspired a successful Netflix reboot in 2017 starring Rita Moreno — underscoring the concept’s enduring appeal and relevance.

One Day at a Time opening credits & theme song

YouTube video

‘One Day’ Has Excellent Prospects (1976)

By Buck Biggers in the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas) February 8, 1976

In this decade, the most influential name in television comedy has been Norman Lear, the producer primarily responsible for such series as All in the Family and Sanford and Son. Before Lear, a situation comedy on American TV was mostly of the larger-than-life variety, as demonstrated by series like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie and, earlier, I Love Lucy and My Little Margie.

One Day at a Time TV series debuts (1975)
One Day at a Time TV series debuts (1975)

Lear brought reality to television comedy. He also brought controversy. He often is criticized for giving his actors much less than the “star treatment.” This is because he does not believe that the series’ success is the result of any one actor or idea. It is, according to Lear, “a matter of chemistry.”‘ The producer’s critics say, however, that his chemistry does not always work. Example: Last season’s Hot l Baltimore.

What about Lear’s latest CBS entry on Tuesday nights? Let’s take a look at One Day at a Time in 3D (Difference, Depth, and Durability):

Scene from 80s sitcom One Day at a Time

1. Difference: Indianapolis finally has something to boast about other than the Indianapolis 500 auto race. Now, Ann Romano lives there.

Ann, thanks to a divorce after almost two decades of marriage, suddenly finds herself faced with the challenge of earning a living, running an apartment, and managing the lives of two spirited teenage daughters. The only way to cope, she finds, is to take life One Day at a Time.

Still an attractive woman, Ann soon has suitors. There is David Kane, an attorney who, despite a polished courtroom technique, is surprisingly capable of putting his foot in his mouth.

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And there is Earl Schneider, the building superintendent who mysteriously finds that 95 percent of his duties lead him to Ann’s apartment. The “gay divorcee” concept strongly resembles “Fay,” an NBC series chat that was canceled after less than a 13-week run. But One Day at a Time has escaped what may have been the major problem for ‘Fay’: the censorship that faces any Series scheduled during TV’s ‘family hour.’

One Day at a Time TV sitcom cast photo

2. Depth: Richard Masur, whom you may recognize as Brenda’s boyfriend on Rhoda, is a perfect blend of stuffiness and humor as the lawyer-suitor.

Pat Harrington is so funny as the amorous building superintendent that he almost steals the show. The daughters, played by Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli, are adequate, but neither provides the sort of comedic spark viewers have come to expect from Lear’s choices. What of the star? Bonnie Franklin portrays Ann Romano, and Mary Tyler Moore ought to sue her.

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According to her biography, Bonnie’s professional credits are extensive, but there is not the slightest doubt in our mind that Bonnie’s preparation for the role took place in front of a TV set offering The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Bonnie Franklin has perfected every turn, every wink, every lip twist, every half-smile, and every hand-on-forehead movement that MTM uses in her series. And Bonnie does it all beautifully.

Our only problem is that we sometimes lose the thread of One Day at a Time because we become so entranced by Bonnie’s remarkable imitation.

Actress Bonnie Franklin on One Day at a Time television show

3. Durability: Opposite The Rookies and Police Woman, this new series offers the only available comedy and should enjoy high ratings, especially given the large audiences brought forward by the preceding CBS show, MASH. But success is due to much more than the luck of scheduling.

Despite some weakness in casting. Norman Lear, with One Day at a Time, has once again proven his mastery of chemistry. Equal portions of first-class characters, script, and direction always add up to comedy.

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Young actress Valerie Bertinelli takes life One Day at a Time (1976)

From the San Angelo Times (San Angelo, Texas) December 26, 1976

At 16, one usually takes life one day at a time. For Valerie Bertinelli, though, it’s more of a case of one year at a time.

Valerie is the cute-as-a-but-ton teenager who plays the younger daughter on CBS’ successful sitcom, One Day at a Time. And right now, having just turned 16, this is a big year — the Year Of The Car.

Young Valerie Bertinelli as a teen actress

“I have a brand-new car,” she said. and her round face broke out into a proud smile. Her father works for GM and got her a white Chevette with red pin striping. She added a personal touch, however: a decal on the back window with the initials E.J. “My friend says it stands for ‘Egocentric Jerk,'” she said, “but it doesn’t. It stands for Elton John.”

She’s a big Elton John fan. And that is an indication of just how normal a l6-year-old she is. She does everything any other girl her age does she likes to play and watch football. She likes to chew gum. She likes to go to the beach. She likes boys very much. And, right now, she likes acting. This year. There’s no guarantee about what next year may bring.

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If the series continues, she probably won’t go on to college, although she would like to. “If the series goes a few more years,” she says, “college would be very difficult. I’m going into the 11th grade next fall.” She’s spending her summer (beach and boys aside) going to summer school and taking math and PE.

The original One Day at a Time TV series cast (1970s)

Although she says she’s a good math student, she feels the need for more training in it than she got from her on-the-set tutor. And PE isn’t given at all by movie lot teachers.

She’s the second of four children. When she arrived, the family was in Wilmington, Delaware. Over the years, her father has been transferred, and she grew up in Michigan and Oklahoma before his work brought him to California when she was 10.

One day, when she was 11, she saw an ad in the paper for an acting school. On the spur of the thought, she answered the ad. The teacher is now her manager. She had done a few things a couple of commercials and a shot on Apple’s Way before she got the part of Barbara Cooper on One Day at a Time.

When she began her career, there was some talk of her shortening her last name. (She comes from an Italian-Irish family). She says she considered the idea but ultimately rejected it. ‘I decided,” she says, “that if changed my name, it would hurt my grandmother.” This year, acting is her passion.

Next year, who knows? There are other things in life. “I want to get married,” she says, “and I want to stay married to the same guy forever. But I think I’ll wait until I’m 25 or so before I do that.”

She’d also like to try the stage, some year. At the moment though, she’s content with her lot. “I love doing TV comedy,” she says. “It’s wild!”

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