Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence were big fans of Dorothy Lyman who portrayed the role of the flamboyant Opal Sue Gardner on the long running soap opera All My Children (1970). It was Burnett who suggested Lyman for the role Naomi Harper (née Oates). During the first season of Mama's Family, Lyman continued to portray Opal. Every week, she flew from Los Angeles, where Mama's Family was shot, to New York City where All My Children was filmed. Lyman left All My Children after NBC renewed Mama's Family for a second season.
In the majority of the episodes, the characters wear the same colored or similar-colored attire. Mama wears blue or purple, Vinton wears tan, Naomi wears yellow (though in earlier episodes she didn't), Iola wears pink, and Bubba wears green.
Cancelled by NBC after two seasons, the series continued production for the syndication market for several more years, becoming one of the first dramatic or comedy series to successfully move off network and continue in syndication. A few years later, Baywatch (1989) would duplicate this feat with even greater success.
Vinton's two teenage children, Buzz and Sonja who appear on the show from 1983-1985 were written out of the show in 1986, and no explanation was ever given for their whereabouts (many probably assumed that both Buzz and Sonja went to college and lived on their own). In the 1990 season, when Vinton wants to have another child, he says that if it's a boy, he will name it Vinton Jr., forgetting that Buzz's real name is Vinton Jr.
The town the family lives in is called Raytown, and every business there is a variation of the town name. Instead of having a McDonald's, they have McRay's. The town's upscale restaurant is called Chez Ray. Also, Raytown has two newspapers: the Bugle and the Courier.
Vinton's occupation was as a locksmith by trade for a place called Kwik-Keys. Naomi worked at a grocery store called Food Circus; she was a checker when the show began, but eventually worked her way up to being the assistant manager.
Iola's mother and father are often talked about, but never shown. Correction: in the episode where mama get her drivers license, she yells out the window "hey Mrs. Boylen... Watch me burn rubber" as they show an old lady throwing out garbage.
The opening credits of the series in its first two seasons would only credit the main cast in episodes their characters appeared in. This allowed for Betty White and Carol Burnett to be credited as Guest Stars in the opening credits instead of the closing. When the series moved to syndication in 1986, this was eliminated, and all the main cast was credited for each episode. The exception to this is Mama's Family: Best Medicine (1986), in which Betty White was credited in the opening credits as a "Special Guest Star".
Although Iola Boylan is Mama's neighbor and is always at the house, and even in some episodes, remarks about knowing Vint, Ellen and Eunice when they were young, she was nowhere to be seen during the first two seasons.
During the course of Mama's Family, Dorothy Lyman was also playing a full time role on the Daytime Drama All My Children, resulting in her making continual travel between Los Angeles and New York where each show was filmed.
Rue McClanahan's exit from the series came from a character re-write for the character of Aunt Fran. McClanahan said in an interview 'They re-wrote the character and I didn't know how to play her anymore. I had the way I played her, but when they changed it, it was difficult to play her after the re-write'. Aunt Fran was written out after season 2.