John Boy Walton Actor Richard Thomas Addresses ‘The Waltons’ Snubs in Classic TV Lists: ‘The Industry Gets a Little Embarrassed’

The Waltons has had fans since it premiered in 1971. Many of them tuned in to see The CW’s new movie The Waltons’ Homecoming on Nov. 28. Richard Thomas, who played John Boy Walton on the original series, played himself in the new film. Thomas introduced and narrated The Waltons’ Homecoming to pass the torch to the new family. 

John Boy Walton actor Richard Thomas wears a Christmas scarf
Richard Thomas | Tom Griscom/The CW

Thomas was on a Zoom panel with the cast and producer of The Waltons’ Homecoming on Nov. 10. Asked about the lack of inclusion of the original series in a lot of Best of TV lists, Thomas has a compelling theory as to why The Waltons may be snubbed.

Richard Thomas suspects ‘The Waltons’ embarrasses modern Hollywood

Ever since prestige TV took over, dark, edgy shows like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad became the cause celebre. The Waltons were a wholesome family living in the Great Depression. Thomas knows people appreciate that, even if it’s not “cool” anymore. 

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“I think sometimes the industry gets a little embarrassed by that, by that point of view, by the simple openness and the love that underpins all that,” Thomas said. “It’s sometimes a little easier to go to the dark, funny place, which I do myself all the time, so I completely understand it.” 

Maybe John Boy Walton wasn’t precocious enough

Thomas reminded reporters that The Waltons was acclaimed and popular in the ’70s. It continues to be, even if it doesn’t make headlines anymore. 

“Well, it got the attention it deserved at the time it was made. And I hope for the same kind of response now. It’s a really, really good question, it’s a very interesting one. When retrospectives are done, The Waltons is frequently mentioned, but more often than not, the sitcoms get a lot, a lot more play. Sometimes it’s hard to look at our good side. It’s a lot more fun to enjoy the cynicisms and the way we look at ourselves more objectively that happens in comedy. I think The Waltons was aspirational. Well, of course this isn’t the way people always are, but this is certainly the way we wish we could be.”

‘The Waltons’ had tough competition 

Thomas takes the long term success of The Waltons with humility. He knew it wasn’t a sure thing when he was playing John Boy Walton as a child

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“It was kind of a miracle and a mystery,” Thomas said. “Certainly the last thing any of us expected was that it would be embraced the way it was. I think our competition on Thursday night was Flip Wilson and Mod Squad, which were hugely popular shows, and terrific shows for people. I think we premiered in 34th place and finished the season in first. It was just this steady climb. The critical community certainly came, went to bat for us.” 

The Waltons stood out in the TV landscape then as much as it does now. 

“There was no other show like it,” Thomas said. “It wasn’t a different version of something else. It was just about a normal family struggling to survive, and people could identify with that. If they wanted to have that experience, there was only one place they could go just to see us. Different members of the family called each other to the television. Sometimes, in some households kids discovered it and started watching with their parents. Older people started watching it and wanted their children to watch. So gradually the demographic of the family came together to watch the show. And it was a such a hard time at that time, the 1970s.  There was so much conflict. There was so much division. It was so much fear and cynicism and it was a comfort. It was just a comfort.”