TODAY   |  March 03, 2010

Tenants of ‘227’ reunited

“You don't need to roam, cause there's no place like 227.” TODAY’s Al Roker checks in with the vibrant cast of NBC’s hit TV show.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

announcer: like home

>>> back now at 8:09 on day three of our special series "great tv families reunited." this morning, got a good one, the cast of the popular '80s sitcom "227" is together again for the first time since the show went off the air 20 years ago. here's a quick look back.

>> ooh. * there's no place like home * with your family around you, you're never alone * * when you know that you love, you don't need to roam 'cause there's no place like home *

>> reporter: "227" premiered in 1985 and proved, just like the song says, that there's "no place like home." it did so by showing off the colorful personalities inside this washington, d.c., apartment building, number 227, where the gossip on the front stoop between best friends was often just as hot as the coffee.

>> good afternoon, rose.

>> good afternoon, mary .

>> girl, i heard the o'ryans got a crack in their mallet.

>> no!

>> yeah.

>> i can't believe it! they just celebrated their silver anniversary.

>> i can tell you one thing, they ain't going for the gold .

>> reporter: but audiences tuned into nbc on saturday nights to watch for more than just stoop talk. they connected with this loving, working-class family that happened to be black. housewife mary jenkins ruled the roost.

>> you girls finish your homework?

>> daddy!

>> mary .

>> lester ?

>> sorry.

>> reporter: while construction worker and supportive husband lester brought home the bacon.

>> mary , i know i don't always say it when i should, but i love you.

>> lester .

>> reporter: their teen daughter, brenda, was an honor student , raised to respect her parents, but often took after mom by speaking her mind.

>> it's my new look.

>> child, come back here.

>> i'm not a child. i'm almost a woman.

>> reporter: among the other tenants, rose holloway, the constant voice of reason.

>> better listen to her, mary . she knows what she's talking about.

>> reporter: the cranky, yet caring, nosy neighbor pearl with her grandson calvin.

>> have you gone crazy, boy?

>> um, yes, ma'am, i think i have.

>> reporter: and who could forget sandra clark ?

>> look at this old rag.

>> reporter: the sexy and single tenant who always knew how to vamp. the sitcom spoke to every family matter from finances to friendship to teenage dating.

>> i have to grow up some time.

>> yeah, but so fast?

>> reporter: and that's what made it relatable. the show ended in 1990 , but since then, there's been no place like "227."

>> i mean, no place, child.

>> and here they are, the cast of "227." golden globe and emmy nominee marla gibbs , who played mary jenkins . regina king played daughter brenda. jackee harry won her role as sandra clark , and curtis baldwin played calvin dobbs . good morning.

>> good morning.

>> when i said it went off the air 20 years ago, you all went nuts.

>> yes.

>> i think you got that wrong. it wasn't 20 years ago.

>> wow.

>> so, what does it feel like, you all back together again on tv?

>> great.

>> great.

>> any time we can get together with our tv family, we're very happy.

>> you know, not to bring this down, but we want to pay a little tribute to one member who couldn't be here because she passed on.

>> alaina, yes.

>> alaina. tell us about her.

>> she looks so great, the picture you see was her birthday, and we had a party for her, and she looked so great. she looked like she was on the other side of it. she had gotten --

>> and she just passed a few months ago, alaina reed , so, we miss her. this show, back in the day, you know, this was a show about a family that just happened to be black.

>> right.

>> why do you think this show resonated so much with people?

>> because i think we represented a lot of people across the board in the country. they felt, they related to us. because you know, our families were always situation comedies . a lot of people going through those situations, so they related.

>> and how -- this was a show that actually started out as a play. what was it like translating a show from play to tv?

>> well, it was good, because we had marla fighting for the honor of not being a black woman alone trying to raise a family, to having a caring, hard-working family --

>> this was a nuclear family .

>> oh, yeah, very much so.

>> and jackee , you exploded on this show. i mean, were you playing to type or did you have to research this a bit?

>> i'm going to cut you up, al. [ laughter ] i wasn't playing to anything initially. i was just trying to be funny. marla can tell you this, because she was at all the auditions, all 400 of them. and i just came in and i wanted to be something different, so i had my girlfriends from high school and mae west and lucile ball , i put them all together.

>> all together.

>> uh huh . i had that walk and they said do more of that. and i said, you sure?

>> and i'm sure you had to be coaxed out of your shell.

>> i -- no, no, no, you know, but i thought -- because i was telling regina , who is our star -- this is our star. really. we adore and i'm going to come to tears because she's just so wonderful. not that she wasn't wonderful then, but she was a kid. but now she's just a great actress and we're so proud of you.

>> thank you.

>> we're still waiting for you to call us.

>> wow! do you guys stay in touch? do you guys?

>> yes.

>> yeah, we do.

>> marla and i are great friends. i've come full circle with her, you know. just get it out of the way, we are like this.

>> i love so much just being -- and i'm a little misty because this is the first time we've all been together and just to hear you say that just means so much, but i learned so much just from being around them, where i am today, the foundation --

>> you really have tears in your eyes.

>> yeah. the foundation started on this show. i learned the importance of being a professional and when jackee was talking about staying out of the other person's idea --

>> places and things.

>> the eye lines and how they, you know, things that were going on in their personal lives, i never was privy to those things. they never brought them to work. i found out about them as an adult, was like, what, really?

>> and curtis, you wanted, publicly, you wanted to thank marla because she took a chance on you.

>> i surely do. i love her. she's like my mom. she's an incredible, incredible inspiration to my life, you know. having crossroads in the community where i can go and stay away from all negative things and find something positive to be involved in just makes her an incredible person in my life.

>> just real honored --

>> thank you, calvin.

>> now marla , it's fortunate enough for an actor to be associated with one great role. you have been fortunate enough to have two. we knew you as florence for 11 seasons, your first, you know, on "the jeffersons."

>> two incredible families, yes.

>> what is that like, being part of two iconic characters, portraying two iconic characters?

>> it was fantastic. i mean, i can't forget "the jeffersons" cast and i can't forget the "227" cast. i was so fortunate to go from one wonderful cast to another, and --

>> and how -- i'm sorry, go ahead.

>> and we were just like family, all of us.

>> in doing a show like this, you, i would assume, have to become fairly close, but like any family, i'm sure sometimes you get on each other's -- you would get on each other's nerves.

>> oh, yeah.

>> did that ever happen, hal?

>> except for curtis, i was there with all these ladies, and it was just the second time in my career that had happened. i had been in a series where i was the only guy, you know, and i had five or six ladies all around me. so, oh, yeah, you know. i told them, don't call me to make up. come bring makeup to my room. but it was really wonderful with all of them. i mean, i got different points of view from every woman and i loved them all for it.

>> it's like you had four wives on this show.

>> oh, yeah.

>> talk to me about pearl, helen martin , who played pearl.

>> wow, pearl.

>> incredible.

>> we were just saying some helenisms before we came in.

>> i told you one. childhood with a razor. what's the other one?

>> if anything ever drops, you say who dropped the teeth?

>> the day she died, she was in the hospital and the doctor said, don't worry, helen, you're going to be fine. she said, "oh, yeah? then what the hell am i doing in here?" i mean, she was feisty and --

>> she was.

>> and no one ever knew how old helen was.

>> no, you didn't know.

>> she admitted to 94.

>> wow.

>> a show like this, why don't you think we have shows like this on the air anymore?

>> we're not the ones to ask. [ laughter ]

>> hey, i need this job. don't hurt me here. jackee , you portrayed such a memorable character. was that, in a sense, a double-edged sword --

>> yes.

>> in that it was such a great character, but you could get pigeon-holed doing something like that.

>> i have gotten pigeon-hold. i was telling regina in the green room , on " law & order ," that bothers me because i'm an actor and i can act, and you get type-cast, but she said forget that. you've become something great to somebody and marla tells me this, stop it. and i have to, because i look like, ew, when you show the clips, i go, ew, ew, you know? because i didn't mean to do that. i just meant to be funny, but --

>> she was funny.

>> yes, no question about that.

>> the same cut sometimes and laugh, and she was so ridiculous.

>> so ridiculous.

>> ridiculous. regina , you made the transition from a child actress to a bona fide actress star, breaking out, especially in "ray." do you look back at what you learned here on "227" to be able to put that into motion in what you've done?

>> definitely. i feel like when it was actually happening and we were doing the show, i wasn't realizing -- i did not realize the training ground that i was on. i didn't -- all the jewels that i was getting from everybody around me. and then, you know, as an adult, i'm like, man, i see, sometimes i see kids on set and i'm like, ooh, we would have never been able to do that, get away with that. but yeah, i am aware that i wouldn't be here if i didn't have just this strong foundation it was five years.

>> wow. well, you guys are terrific and we look forward to you sticking around. marla gibbs , regina king , jackee harry , hal williams and curtis baldwin hanging around to answer your e-mails coming up.

>> uh-oh!

>> that's right. submit them to that's right, i want you to target jackee , give her a hard time .