Well – 8 years, at least (I think they’re marking the 1971 TVM “The Homecoming” as the beginning). This double-length special aired a couple of months after the 8th season ended, and is structured by Earl Hamner, in person, narrating to the audience the story, both real life and fiction, of the Waltons, as well as a tailor-written story about the family preparing for Grandma’s birthday celebration. A mostly seamless marriage of fact and fiction carry us along as we go down memory lane, and see some the highlights from the show’s past 8 years, including the book burning episode (one of my favorites), Olivia’s bout with polio, the big fire, John-Boy’s departure, Grandma’s homecoming after her stroke, Mary Ellen’s marriage and birth of her son, and Zeb’s passing. At the end of this scrapbook we see the actors playing the Walton children talk, via split-screen, to their real-life counterparts, Hamner’s brothers and sisters. This is probably the only clunker – the “questions” are all-too obviously scripted, and the answers, recited by non-actors, are even worse. Wise of old Earl to end with his monologue from the end of last season (see 7.22).
One thing Earl mentions that I appreciate is the way he and the crew attempted to make The Waltons a family show with an ongoing story, not as individual episodes fixated in no particular timeframe. Nowadays when practically all dramatic television is serialized, it’s not such an anomaly, but in 1972 it was.
I had figured this episode was filmed sometime in the first half of last season, as there is no Cindy, but Jim-Bob makes reference to getting into the Army Air Force, so this must have been shot in sequence and they arranged to get Learned back as Olivia.
The final dinner table scene is interesting, featuring the family at the dinner table saying good night to each other using real names.
For what it’s worth: the original Lorimar logo is played at the end of this show.