Actress Bonnie Franklin, who died on March 1 at age 69 in Los Angeles, was a television trailblazer in the Norman Lear-Allan Manings sitcom One Day at a Time, which had a nearly nine-year run on CBS from 1975 to 1984. Franklin wasn’t the first to portray a divorced woman on TV, but as Ann Romano, a mother of two teenage daughters who moved to Indianapolis to get a fresh start after her marital breakup, her struggle to reinvent herself in her mid-thirties was more realistic than previous portrayals.
As Franklin herself explained about her character in a 1975 interview: “Since she went right from high school into marriage, she has no real experience in the outside world, and at 34, is just beginning to lead a new life. Thankfully, she’s not a caricature…. we have a baseline of a very dramatic show, and out of that comes the comedy.”
But as was typical of Lear’s reinvention of the sitcom as social commentary, One Day at a Time also gave Franklin an opportunity to tackle some hot-button issues. Here are five of the most controversial subjects dealt with on the show:
- Teen runaways. In season two, Ann’s daughter Julie (Mackenzie Phillips) quarrels with her and runs off to live in her boyfriend’s truck and an abandoned building.
- Teen suicide. In season three, Ann’s daughter Barbara (Valerie Bertinelli) broke off a friendship with a new girl at school, who became despondent and tried to take her own life.
- Sexual harassment. In season six, a college professor makes advances on Barbara, offering a better grade on a paper as an inducement. Instead, she files a complaint against him.
- Drunk driving. In season six, Ann leaves her job and starts a business with Nick Handris (portrayed by Ron Rifkin). After the two characters become romantically involved, Nick is killed in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. That leaves a grieving Ann to raise Nick’s teenage son.
- Second marriages. In the eighth and next-to-last season, Ann marries the father of her daughter Barbara’s husband, portrayed by Howard Hesseman (better known as disc jockey Johnny Fever on WKRP in Cincinnati).