Lear “tapped into something that nobody had ever done before or even since” with “All in the Family,” according to the popular sitcom star.
Rob Reiner was obviously devastated on Wednesday as he thought back on Norman Lear’s passing. Not only did he admire Lear—whom Reiner described as a “second father”—but he also died at a time when many of the issues he had attempted to expose and combat through his television programs—namely, prejudice and intolerance—were reappearing.
In a phone conversation on Wednesday, Reiner, who had visited Lear multiple times in the previous few months, stated, “He just couldn’t believe that this was happening to America.” “This is not the America that I grew up in, and that we fought to preserve,” he would constantly emphasise. This nation has experienced something that has completely deviated from everything it stands for.
“It’s like Alice in Wonderland,” he would say when we would discuss this, said the 76-year-old Oscar-nominated director Reiner. Playing the progressive son-in-law, Michael, to the narrow-minded, bigoted Archie Bunker on Lear’s most well-known sitcom, “All in the Family,” which aired on CBS from 1971 to 1979, earned Reiner two Emmy Awards.
The show debuted during the appointment viewing period, when the majority of American homes and TV channels were tuned in to the same shows simultaneously. The splitting and divisions have only been exacerbated by the changing viewing habits of American viewers, who can much more easily isolate themselves in echo chambers, according to Reiner.
“We were seen by 40–45 million people every single week,” he added, of the 200 million Americans who lived in the 1970s. “TiVo wasn’t present. DVR was not present. You had to see it when it was on if you wanted to watch it. This implied that you and 40 million other Americans shared a common experience.
Any topic that ‘All in the Family’ addressed during a given week—abortion, racism, gun rights—became water cooler chatter the following morning. The show tackled difficult subjects that would be seen as divisive today. According to Reiner, “you don’t have those kinds of communal experiences where you can talk to people.”
He went on, “The nation either sided with Mike or with Archie, and that made for great discussions.” “There’s no doubt that Lear reached a level of creativity that no one had achieved before or since.”
The 101-year-old Lear took his cue from his all-time favourite play, “Major Barbara,” by George Bernard Shaw. Reiner stated, “You’d go to the play and you’d come away with the equal pro-war/antiwar — you’d come away with equal arguments on both sides, and it was made to spawn discussion” if you were unaware that Shaw was a liberal. And that was Lear’s intention. Thus, he gave both viewpoints. Archie was on his side. Reiner continued, “And the guy I portrayed had my side, and we went at each other.