ABOUT THE SHOW
What's Happening!! is an American television sitcom that aired on ABC from August 5, 1976 to April 28, 1979.
What's Happening!! follows the lives of three working-class African-American teens living in the Watts section of Los Angeles. The show stars Ernest Thomas as Roger "Raj" Thomas, Haywood Nelson as Dwayne Nelson, and Fred Berry as Freddy "Rerun" Stubbs. Co-starring are Danielle Spencer as Roger's younger sister Dee; Mabel King as Roger and Dee's mother Mabel; and Shirley Hemphill as Shirley Wilson, a waitress at Rob's Place, the neighborhood restaurant where the boys are regular patrons. Recurring characters include Rob (Earl Billings), owner of Rob's Place; and Miss Collins (Fritzi Burr), a sarcastic history teacher and the sponsor of the school newspaper.
Roger "Raj" Thomas (Ernest Thomas), the show's protagonist, is a teenager living in a house in Watts with his divorced mother Mabel and his younger sister Dee. Raj is an intelligent, well-mannered young man who sports large black horn-rimmed glasses and aspires to be a writer. Many episodes find Raj taking steps to pursue his dream, such as saving up for a screenwriting course or a typewriter. Eventually he graduates from high school, moves out, and attends college (ostensibly the University of Southern California).
Frederick (Freddy) "Rerun" Stubbs (Fred Berry) is an overweight, bumbling, comedic young man, commonly seen wearing a red beret and matching suspenders. He is often teased by his friends for being overweight and unintelligent. However, Rerun is a very skilled dancer and is commonly seen entering dance contests or trying to get on TV commercials. He is nicknamed "Rerun" because, due to his failures in school, "every summer he has to go to school to rerun the stuff he did all winter." In the third season, Rerun shares an apartment with Raj and works as a page for ABC.
Dwayne Clemens Nelson (Haywood Nelson) is the youngest member of the group. Dwayne has an unassuming, good-natured demeanor and suffers from debilitating shyness and acute fear of the dark. While Rerun attempts to enter dance contests and Roger aggressively pursues his dream of becoming a famous writer, Dwayne's plotlines often deal with his problems with girls and bullies. Dwayne's character is well known for his greeting, "Hey, Hey, Hey!" (which differs slightly from the "Hey, Hey, Hey!" greeting of Bill Cosby's Fat Albert character). Dwayne is the only character who appears in every episode of What's Happening!!
Mabel Thomas (Mabel King) is Raj's 'large and in charge' mother. She is typically the voice of wisdom, and the parental authority over the main cast. Mabel's ex-husband drifts in and out of her life during the first season. Her role became less important in later episodes until eventually she disappeared from the show, though her character was never written out and still mentioned off-screen. Supposedly, actress King disagreed with the show's concept and direction and decided to leave the show. Her trademark phrase is "This is true."
Dee Thomas (Danielle Spencer) is Raj's younger sibling. She personifies the typical 'annoying little sister'. Dee is obsessed with making money, usually by blackmailing her brother and his friends a quarter at a time. She is also shrewd and difficult to keep secrets from. As the series progressed and Dee grew older, her caustic personality mellowed into a sly sense of sarcasm. While Dee still enjoyed occasionally scamming Raj out of a quarter every so often, she became much more likable and got along better with him. After Raj moved into an apartment in the third season, Dee remained in the Thomas house with waitress Shirley moving in to help out. Her trademark phrase is "Ooooohh, I'm tellin' Mama!" Her favorite food is peanut butter. Her birthday is September 17.
Shirley Wilson (Shirley Hemphill) is a portly waitress at the neighborhood restaurant Rob's Place, where the main cast are regular patrons. She is a brash person who likes to take shots at the boys, and most often clashes with Rerun (the overweight characters exchange "fat jokes"). Some episodes turn the spotlight briefly on Shirley and her joys and sorrows. Shirley moves into the Thomas residence in the last season to supervise Dee after Raj moves out and Mrs. Thomas leaves to tend a sick relative.
Bill Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala) is Mabel's ex-husband and the father of Roger and Dee. He divorced Mabel, ran out on his family, and became a shady character. When he first appears, he tries to con Mabel out of money. Later episodes in which he appears depict him in a more positive light and culminate with his marriage to Lee Henderson (Lee Chamberlin). After his marriage, Bill was never seen again on the show, although he is mentioned.
Gene "Rabbit" Walker (Ray Vitte) is a political-science major at the University of Southern California, and a track-team member. He appears in several first-season episodes as a boarder at the Thomas home, renting Dee's bedroom. In his first appearance, he is referred to as "Dean" which is even written on the end credits. Gene took a liking to Dee, giving her the nickname "Small Portion".
"Big Earl" Barnett (Johnathan Welsh) is a police detective who lives in the apartment building Raj and Rerun move into and was introduced in the third and final season.
"Little Earl" Barnett (David Hollander) is Big Earl's son. He has a huge crush on Dee, who is about 5 years his senior.
Rob (Earl Billings) is the owner of Rob's Place.
Terry "Snake" Simpson (Leland Smith) is a basketball player whom Roger tutored. He eventually became a friend of Roger, Dwayne, and Rerun.
Miss Collins (Fritzi Burr) is a high-school teacher. She admired Roger, but had trouble with Rerun.
Marvin (Bryan O'Dell) is Roger, Dwayne, and Rerun's high-school classmate. He was a reporter for the school paper and was sometimes seen at Rob's Place.
Leon (Henry Robinson) made two appearances as a customer in "Shirley's a Mother" and as a strong arm gangster who bets on Rerun's disco dance abilities in "Disco Dollar Disaster".
Diane Harris (Debbi Morgan) is another classmate of Roger, Dwayne and Rerun. For the first two seasons she was frequently seen in the classroom or at Rob's Place with them, and at a birthday party for Roger. (In the pilot episode, she was referred to as "Diane Stewart.")
Larry Nelson (Greg Morris) is Dwayne's father, a local politician.
Notable Guest Stars
- The Doobie Brothers appeared as themselves to perform a concert at their former high school, Jefferson High, where Raj, Rerun, and Dwayne attend. Incidentally, one of the band's members was a classmate of Rerun's, as he remembered Rerun from one of their old classes; Rerun responded that he's still a student there.
- Actor Theodore Wilson made three appearances on What's Happening!! as three different characters: he played Betty's father in the pilot episode, in which Betty [who is Betty?] hosted a house party without her parents' permission; a card player alongside Mabel's employer, who gambled away his wife's jewelry but pointed the finger at Mabel as a coverup; and as bootlegging criminal Al Dunbar, who forced Rerun to illegally record the Doobie Brothers concert.
- Actress Chip Fields appeared on What's Happening!! as two different characters: Shirley's pregnant sister Norma; and Rerun's sister Donna, with whom (and her husband Ike) Rerun lived before moving in with Raj.
- The dance group The Lockers appeared in the first season as a group called "The Rockets" that Rerun auditioned to perform with on TV. (Fred Berry was an original member of the Lockers.) Wolfman Jack also made an appearance in this episode.
- Sorrell Booke, Hazzard County's corrupt county commissioner Boss Hogg from The Dukes of Hazzard, appears in the Season Three episode "Basketball Brain", as an agent of the star basketball player whom Roger is tutoring.
- Actor Tim Reid appeared as Dr. Claymore in the episode "It's All in Your Head"