A writer, Hamner got his big break by writing eight episodes of the TV series The Twilight Zone. After writing episodes of Gentle Ben and Nanny and the Professor, Hamner wrote the 1971 Christmas TV movie, The Homecoming, which was successful enough to spin off into a series: The Waltons (1972-1981). Hamner served as the show’s executive producer and did the voice-overs, portraying a grown-up John-Boy looking back at his past — which was pretty easy for him to do, since John-Boy’s character was based on his own Depression-era childhood, and the Walton family was based on his own family.
Their story was first told in his best-selling 1962 novel Spencer’s Mountain (which had been made into a film of the same name in 1963); The Waltons was also based on that book. Hamner said shortly after the show’s debut that “people are hungry for a sense of security. They’re hungry, too, for real family relationships — not just rounding up the family for a cookout but real togetherness where people are relating honestly.” He told writers and directors “to always walk that fine line between excessive sentimentality and believable human warmth.” That wasn’t necessarily how Hamner himself lived, though: his next hit show, which he created while still working on The Waltons, was the schlocky primetime soap opera, Falcon Crest (1981-1990). How could such a mild-mannered writer also create that? “If you are a good writer — and I think I am — you are able to handle any kind of group and imagine their lives,” he said. After both shows ended, Hamner still wrote, including working on several Waltons TV movies. He died on March 24, from bladder cancer, at 92.