Now this is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
Legendary writer-producer Norman Lear was on CNN last week and said he’s thinking about rebooting ALL IN THE FAMILY and maybe doing a Hispanic version of ONE DAY AT A TIME. (And if you don’t know about those shows, it’s definitely time to google and go, “Wow” when you see what Lear, who created both series, was doing in the ’70s.)
Here’s a transcript of Lear’s interview on RELIABLE SOURCES:
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Hey, welcome back.
You know, this upcoming week is ’70s week here on CNN because the channel is premiering the follow-up to “The Sixties” called “The Seventies”. They got us speaking about the media’s contribution to the decade’s culture, all embodied by one man, and because decades before Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox brought LGBT issues to our TV screens, before “Empire’s” African-American cast, or the outspoken language allowed on cable TV nowadays, there was Norman Lear.
Lear got his start in TV in 1950 writing for Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin on the Colgate comedy hour. He would eventually revolutionize and redefine the American sitcom “All in the Family,” “Good Times”, “Sanford and Son”, “The Jeffersons”, “Maude”, “One Day at a Time” and so on and so on.
The shows broke boundaries of subject matter and language, in race, gender politics, you name it, he went there.
STELTER: Thanks for joining me.
NORMAN LEAR, TELEVISION WRITER & PRODUCER: My pleasure. I’ll take that back. We’ll see.
STELTER: We will see.
LEAR: Yes, we’ll see.
STELTER: People always say, even decades after your programs originally premiered, that you made people talk. You got people talking with your programs. Is that a failure on the part of other show creators that they didn’t get people talking in the same way as you?
LEAR: I think the difference might be that what they talked about following “All in the Family” included the subject matter of the show, whether it was either menopause, or Mike’s inability to make love because he was studying so hard, or Archie is out of work, or his feelings about Richard Nixon or whatever we were dealing with.
STELTER: Did it ever occur to you that television was just supposed to be disposable and mindless and entertaining and not make people think?
LEAR: When I was accused of – if you want to send a message, Lear, there’s Western Union. That was the general idea of you’re not supposed to have a point of view in a show.
And for a long time, I didn’t think we were expressing a point of view. I really thought we were just wishing to make people laugh, serious people, we were dealing with serious subjects because there’s humor in everything.
Then, I realized, now, wait a second, I’m 52 years old or whatever the heck I was at the time. I have a point of view. I have children. I care about my country. I care about my family. I deal with real subjects, and find the humor where they were.
Then, I realized preceding us were dozens of shows in which there were no problems in the American family. They didn’t deal with menopause. They had no – abortion didn’t exist in the world. Nobody was out of work.
Well, that carried a message, too, you know? Wall to wall, floor to ceiling it carried a message. There were no problems – except the roast is ruined and the boss is coming to dinner and the family was really upset.
STELTER: So, how often were you called on the carpet, so to speak, for controversial or provocative subject matter?
LEAR: Well, weekly. Every time they saw a script, they had something to say. The American people were ready for 98 percent of everything we ever thought of doing, and it was these frightened people representing other people, who were representing other people, who were representing ultimately sponsors.
STELTER: I’m talking about some of the different storylines that you all approached.
STELTER: Sexual assault, and race, transsexual character at one point.
LEAR: Yes, I wanted to do a story about Edith losing her faith in God, and we found a way to do that when we had this – you mentioned a transsexual character – we had a wonderful transsexual character on the show that she loved, and – Beverly Lahave.
So, Archie was driving a cab. A woman had an attack in the back of the car. He gave her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. And when she came to thank him, Edith answered the door and found out she was transsexual, and the audience found out she was – had been a male.
So, now we’re faced with Archie is going to come downstairs in a moment and he’s going to meet somebody he gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to who is there to thank him for that. And it’s going to turn out to be a guy who is dressed – in Archie’s view – who was dressed as a woman.
But the character was really wonderful. And we thought the only way that Edith might lose her faith is if this character was killed for being who the character was. And so we were able to do two parts. If you were to ask me which two shows, you know, on “All in the Family” I favored the most, it would be those two episodes.
STELTER: Let me ask you about language on your shows, because there was a memorable episode where you used the word “fag.” I can’t imagine hearing that on network television today. How did you get it by the censors?
LEAR: It was the language of the moment when it was used by people who would use it.
Archie would use it, and we did. And that was a perfect example of, it would be silly to take it out of Archie’s mouth. It’s so a part of him. I remember the dialogue. Mike has a – had a friend over who wore – was wearing glasses and carrying an umbrella. And Archie was calling him gay or queer. He was calling him queer.
And Mike said, just because he wears glasses, carries an umbrella, you call him queer. He said, you call him queer. He said, no, a guy who wears glasses is a four-eyes. A guy who is a fag is a queer.
It was so Archie. It wasn’t misusing the language. And as I sit here and think about it now, you know, would America live with that? It wasn’t one state that seceded from the Union.
STELTER: What are the chances we’d ever see a reboot or a recreation of “All in the Family”?
LEAR: I have been asked to consider it by – what did you call them? They’re not networks.
STELTER: Streamers. I think that was your word.
LEAR: Yes, by people who stream.
STELTER: Netflix, perhaps?
LEAR: Netflix, Amazon. And I’m thinking about it.
I’m also thinking about – I think you know that they have come at me to do Latino version of “One Day at a Time.” And I like that idea. So I’m thinking about it.
STELTER: So many people are able to connect with these shows decades later.
LEAR: Because we were dealing with human problems, they don’t change. There’s been so much forward movement since then, but there are a lot of people trapped in lives that are not aware of that forward movement.
But that certainly explains why people are watching today and still – and think they’re watching something that might have been made last week.
STELTER: I wonder if the same is true when it comes to race relations. It feels like one of the dominant narratives on television for the past year – in news television – has been race, with Ferguson and Baltimore and everywhere else.
LEAR: Yes. Race problems have not gone away.
And we have barely begun to deal with them, when you see the kinds of things that are happening in the cities you mentioned. Things are every bit as difficult race-wise as they were then. We may be better informed about the problems, but the – whatever is behind it all, our human nature, has not changed.
STELTER: If the ’60s were a time of revolution, the ’70s were what? How would you describe it as a decade?
LEAR: It was a decade in which I was having one hell of a time. And I had five families on the air and one on Mooncrest Drive.
STELTER: If you could go back to the 1970s for one day, what would you do?
LEAR: I would work out.
STELTER: Thank you so much.
LEAR: My pleasure. My pleasure. Thank you, Brian.
STELTER: Norman Lear really is one of a kind. And he’s a big part of this week’s premiere of the CNN’s original series “The Seventies.” It’s on Thursday, June 11, 9:00 p.m. Eastern time. And the episode on Thursday is all about television.
You can see and hear this with your own eyes and ears HERE