The TV Shows of Norman Lear, ‘All in the Family’ to ‘Live Before a Studio Audience’: A Complete Guide

Although Norman Lear came from a background that included working as a publicist for Broadway stars, writing jokes for comedians and splitting his time between political activism and as a producer and director of television (often in the variety show genre), it wasn’t until 1971 and the arrival of All in the Family that the world came to know his name. And for good reason, as that show was truly transformative for television, featuring a less-than-admirable leading man in the form of Carroll O’Connor’s racist and ultra-conservative Archie Bunker and grappling with issues that, insofar as TV sitcoms prior to it were concerned, simply didn’t exist.

“I never thought of the shows as groundbreaking,” Norman revealed to the Harvard Business Review, “because every American understood so easily what they were all about. The issues were around their dinner tables. The language was in their schoolyards. It was nothing new. Before All in the Family, there were a lot of families on television, but the biggest problem they faced was Mom dented the fender or the boss is coming to dinner and the roast is ruined. America had no racial problems, no economic problems. Women didn’t get breast cancer, men didn’t get hypertension.”

All in the Family, of course, was just the beginning for him, with much more — The Jeffersons, Good Times and Maude among them, which will be looked at below — to come.

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Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Norman Milton Lear was born July 27, 1922 (that’s right, he’s 97 and still going strong) in New Haven, Connecticut. Referring to himself as a “Child of the Depression,” a big influence on him was a father he adored, although he apparently spent his life unconsciously seeking to make up for the fact that the man let his son and everybody else down. In speaking to author Paula Finn for her book Sitcom Writers Talk Shop, he revealed that the seeds for All in the Family were actually planted by his father.

“I had read about the English show ‘Til Death Do Us Part from some publication, and I thought, ‘Holy s–t, I grew up with that! How could I never have thought of that?'” he related. “Because my father used to call me the laziest white kid he ever met. And I would scream at him, ‘You know you’re putting a whole race of people down just to call me lazy?’  And he’d say, ‘That’s not what I’m doing; you’re the dumbest white kid I ever met!'”

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His shows were hugely influential, evident in the recent Live in Front of a Studio Audience specials that featured recreations of episodes of All in the Family, The Jeffersons and Good Times, with modern actors bringing his classic characters to life, but he himself looks at all that he accomplished rather philosophically.

“When I’m asked, ‘Did you change anything?’ I always repeat the story my grandfather taught me,” says Norman. “My grandfather said, ‘When you throw a stone or a rock into the ocean or the lake, the level of the water rises. You’ll never see it. What you get to see is the ripple.’ So I use that metaphor. What you get is a ripple.”

To follow that ripple, please scroll down. 

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