The Waltons' The Sinner TV Episode: John Ritter Guest Stars

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The Waltons' The Sinner debuted on Thursday night, October 26, 1972. John Ritter is introduced as the Reverend Matthew Fordwick, a young, naive Baptist preacher who's slated to preside over a camp revival meeting on Walton's Mountain. Regulars Richard Tho

The Waltons ran on CBS-TV from 1972 to 1981. The 1972 episode "The Sinner" guest stars John Ritter as the Reverend Matthew Fordwick, a young Baptist preacher who arrives on Walton's Mountain to deliver an important sermon at a camp revival meeting.

The Waltons' The Sinner: Cast & Credits

John Furia Jr. penned the teleplay for "The Sinner," with Philip Leacock directing. Regulars, guest stars and supporting players are:

  • John-Boy Walton (Richard Thomas)
  • John Walton Sr. (Ralph Waite)
  • Olivia Walton (Michael Learned)
  • Esther "Grandma" Walton (Ellen Corby)
  • Zebulon "Grandpa" Walton (Will Geer)
  • Mary Ellen Walton (Judy Norton)
  • Jason Walton (Jon Walmsley)
  • Erin Walton (Mary Elizabeth McDonough)
  • Ben Walton (Eric Scott)
  • Jim-Bob Walton (David W. Harper)
  • Elizabeth Walton (Kami Cotler)
  • Ike Godsey (Joe Conley)
  • Narrator (Earl Hamner Jr.)
  • Yancy Tucker (Robert Donner)
  • Emily Baldwin (Mary Jackson)
  • Mamie Baldwin (Helen Kleeb)
  • Reverend Ethel Prissom (Collin Wilcox-Home)
  • Reverend Matthew Fordwick (John Ritter)

John Ritter (1948-2003) as the Reverend Matthew Fordwick - CBS-TV

The Sinner: Episode Synopsis

Asian missionary Ethel Prissom and the Reverend Matthew Fordwick come to Walton's Mountain for an all-day camp revival meeting. The 20-year-old Reverend Fordwick is staying at the Waltons, occupying John-Boy's room until the big meeting on Sunday. Meanwhile, John-Boy is relegated to the barn, where he makes his bed in the hayloft.

Olivia Walton is thrilled to have the Reverend Fordwick in their midst, but John Walton finds the new preacher a little green and overbearing, creating tensions in the Walton household. The young Baptist minister takes cold showers and engages in vigorous exercise, hoping to ward off "the temptations of the flesh." The good reverend also lectures the Walton kids on the evils of adultery and fornication, earning a rebuke from John.

Meanwhile, the 17-year-old John-Boy who desires to become a writer one day, struggles with the concept of sin. He queries his father, grandpa, storekeeper Ike Godsey and the Reverend Fordwick on the nature of sin, garnering an array of answers.

A careless Yancy Tucker nearly burns down the Waltons' barn during a drunken accident while the Reverend Fordwick engages in too much "recipe" with his relations the Baldwin sisters. The latter jeopardizes the reverend's debut sermon, with his sponsor – the stern missionary Ethel Prissom – now viewing him as nothing but a disgraced sinner.

The Sinner: Air Date & Network Competition

"The Sinner" aired over CBS on Thursday night, October 26, 1972, in the 8-9 (ET) time slot. Network competition that evening when Richard M. Nixon still occupied the White House was The Mod Squad (ABC) and The Flip Wilson Show (NBC).

The Sinner: Analysis & Review

Like Little House on the Prairie and several other family shows of the era The Waltons was often big on religion. The episodes that strictly centered on God and faith were generally none too subtle, giving the viewer a healthy dose of evangelism and that old-time Southern Baptist religion

John Ritter (1948-2003) is introduced in "The Sinner" as the Reverend Matthew Fordwick, a newly-minted, 20-year-old Baptist preacher who's spent the last four years studying to be a man of the cloth. The Reverend Fordwick, whom John Walton calls a "well-intentioned kid," is brought to Walton's Mountain by the stern, prissy missionary Ethel Prissom to preside over an all-day camp revival meeting.

While preparing for his big day, the Reverend Fordwick manages to create a wedge between the church-going Olivia Walton and her decidedly non-church-going husband John. Things get off to a bad start when John insists on taking the children swimming on the sabbath, the day the Reverend Fordwick and Miss Prissom happen to arrive.

John Ritter excels as the green Baptist preacher, who tests his sermons out at the Waltons. It's almost comic as Ritter's Reverend Fordwick engages in fire and brimstone rhetoric, preaching against the evils of adultery and fornication to a young audience who has experience with neither. "Repent!" he righteously exclaims.

The good reverend actually becomes the sinner himself when he and Grandpa Walton head over to the Baldwin sisters for a visit. The two spinsters, who are related to Reverend Fordwick, serve their home-brewn "recipe" (think sour-mash whiskey) as refreshments. Grandpa and the reverend then return to the budding site of the camp meeting, flushed to the gills with high-quality moonshine and drunkenly singing "When the Saints Go Marching In" and other tunes. "Neighbors and friends," Reverend Fordwick declares before falling out of the truck and passing out on the ground.

John and John-Boy later cart the passed-out reverend up to John-Boy's room. The next day the disgraced Reverend Fordwick asks to be taken to the nearest bus station. But John Walton has other ideas, escorting the reverend to the camp revival meeting where he insists that the preacher be given his chance. There's some resistance, mainly from the stern, unforgiving Miss Prissom, but the Reverend Fordwick ascends the podium where he delivers a humble sermon.

John-Boy, who wanted to learn about sin, receives a hands-on lesson regarding both sin and forgiveness. He witnesses his father accepting Yancy Tucker's apology for nearly burning down the Walton barn and the people of Walton's Mountain offering forgiveness and understanding to the young Reverend Fordwick.

"The Sinner" marked the first appearances of both John Ritter as Reverend Fordwick and Robert Donner as Yancy Tucker. Ritter, who would later find TV stardom as the lecherous Jack Tripper on Three's Company (1976-84), would appear as Matthew Fordwick in 18 episodes of The Waltons from 1972-76. "The Sinner" hails from The Waltons' inaugural season and is episode #8 of 214 in the series.

Repent...if you don't catch this charming episode of The Waltons!

Top Image

  • Richard Thomas, left, and Will Geer in The Waltons - CBS-TV

Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved.


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