Ran on ABC (1979 – 1986)
When you think back to ‘80s television most likely you think of the front runners, like Family Ties, The Cosby Show and Cheers. But there were a few shows that flew a little under the radar that people loved and that ran forever, like Night Court, Head of the Class and this one:
First of all, let me just say that “Benson” should be a font – don’t you agree? Does it get more ‘80s than this, all bubbly and round? While we’re on the subject of the title shot of the show, let’s talk about the governor’s mansion. The Benson mansion, shown above, is known as the Bundy House and is located in Pasadena (click for info on the house, including its address, if you’d like to do a little location-stalking).
Ok, back to business. Benson of course starred Robert Guillaume as the title character. The show was actually a spinoff of the ‘70s hit television show Soap in which Guillaume played a butler for the Tate family, around which the soap opera-esque show centered.
Benson ran on ABC from 1979 to 1986 where Guillaume played an assistant to the widowed Governor Gatling (played by James Noble) and daughter Katie (played by ‘80s TV fixture Missy Gold.) The governor was cousin to Jessica Tate (Katherine Helmond) and Mary Campbell (Cathryn Damon), the two sisters who had appeared previously on Soap.
Benson tried his best to fulfill his professional duties while dealing with the sweet but scattered ‘guvnah, his family and his co-workers at the governor’s mansion.
Benson had an ongoing feud from Soap alumni Inga Swenson (top left in the cst pic above), who played the German cook Gretchen, and who can forget the fantastic René Auberjonois (top right), who was nominated for an Emmy for his performance playing the stuffy Clayton Endicott III.
Other notable stars who appeared on Benson were Didi Cohn as the governor’s secretary Denise and a young Jerry Seinfield playing delivery boy Frankie!
The show ran for seven seasons throughout which Benson worked his way up from assistant to the governor and his family to Lieutenant Governor. The show ended its run with Benson running against his former employer, Governor Gatling for the elected position. The series ended with the two of them sitting together watching the election results, without letting the audience know who actually won.
Robert Guillaume went on to star on stage and screen throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, guest starring on shows such as Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and A Different World and on the TV miniseries North and South.
He also has a beautiful singing voice and starred in such musicals as Guys & Dolls, Porgy & Bess and he replaced Michael Crawford in the LA production playing the Phantom of the Opera.
But for a generation of ‘80s kids who grew up in front of the television, we will always remember him as the smart, funny Benson, who went from butler, to assistant, to possible governor.
Now, I dare you to get try and get this theme song out of your head for the rest of the day.