On December 16, 1975, “One Day at a Time” premiered on CBS. For nine seasons, the popular series followed the trials and tribulations of divorcée Ann Romano (Bonnie Franklin) and her two teenage daughters, Julie (Mackenzie Phillips) and Barbara Cooper (Valerie Bertinelli). They trade their suburban home for a cozy Indianapolis apartment, with frequent visits from their quirky super, Schneider, and Ann’s divorce lawyer/neighbor, David Kane. The single parent family had previously been missing from the prime-time television lineup, and as more families started to depart from the traditional nuclear family, Ann’s clan resonated with audiences, while her parenting style reflected the feminist perspective of the show’s creators.
“One Day at a Time,” penned by the husband-and-wife writing duo Whitney Blake and Allan Mannings, was inspired by Blake’s own experiences as a divorced mother. Norman Lear, known for creating many important and consciousness-raising sitcoms during the 1970s, including “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “All In The Family,” developed the show. “One Day At A Time” focuses on Ann adjusting to her new life as a single mother of two teenage daughters. She and her daughters would have to adapt “one day at a time,” as expressed in the show’s catchy theme song: “This is it! Straight ahead and rest assured you can’t be sure at all/So while you’re here keep doin’ what you do/Hold on tight, we’ll muddle through – one day at a time.”
With rebellious Julie and wisecracking Barbara, the show often explores the challenges Ann faces as a single mother of two complicated teenage daughters. In the pilot episode, Ann fights with Julie, who wants to attend an overnight co-ed camping trip. Julie threatens to return to her father and Ann hands her bus fare. When younger daughter Barbara asks why she responds, “I had to make a decision. For the first seventeen years of my life, my father made the decisions. And the next seventeen years, my husband made the decisions. The first time in my life I make a decision and I blow it.” Ultimately Ann gives Julie permission to attend the trip. In this opening episode, audiences learn that Ann will take a modern feminist approach to parenting. She rejects the traditional model of functioning as the unquestionable parental authority. After finally breaking out on her own, she wants to allow her daughters to also have agency.
Although the show ended in 1984, it changed the way that families were portrayed on television. Today, TV families take many different forms beyond the traditional model. A reflection of the show’s popularity, “One Day at a Time” was recently rebooted for Netflix, featuring a Cuban-American family, and a theme song performed by Gloria Estefan.