The show was created by Earl Hamner Jr. and was based on his book Spencer's Mountain, and the series pilot was a TV movie entitled The Homecoming: A Christmas Story broadcast in 1971.
The family, consisting of John and Olivia Walton and their seven children, as well as John's aging parents, Zeb and Esther, struggles to live a decent life during the Great Depression and the Second World War. John Walton and his father operate a lumber mill, with the Walton sons helping out in the business as they grew older.
The audience follows the family's story through the eyes of John-Boy, the eldest son and an aspiring novelist. In the signature scene that closed each episode, the viewer sees the family house draped in darkness, save for one light in an upstairs window. Through voice-overs, each character bids the other good-night until the last good-night from John Walton, Sr. to his son: "Good night, John-Boy." "Good night, everyone" -- and the last light in the house clicks off.