“All in the Family” has long been considered one of television’s greatest shows; it ranked number 4 in TV Guide’s 50 Greatest Tv Shows of All Time. The Writer’s Guild of America called it the fourth-best written TV series ever. High accolades for a show that critics initially didn’t like.
“[All in the Family] was not universally loved by critics when it came out […] Do you remember why people didn’t like it right out of the gate?” Myers asked 99-year-old Norman Lear.
Lear replied, “[They] didn’t understand the reason for a bigot as the center of a show.” Archie Bunker was a notorious bigot, but the center of the show was putting him in situations so he could learn and grow. He sometimes showed his emotional side that he tried adamantly to hide from others. Lear went on to tell a story about a critic who wrote a scathing review in The New York Times. A week later, the critic wrote another review rescinding on her initial review. She said she “understood the show better.”
Myers asked, “How many times have you had a critic change their mind in your 100 years?”
To which Lear replied, “That was it.”
Norman Lear Discusses Memorable Fan Mail
Seth Myers asked Norman Lear if there was any fan mail that he remembered receiving with any fondness, and Lear had a great answer.
“I remember a piece of mail where it called me the number one enemy of the American family in our generation,” Lear replied. Harsh words, but even harsher when he tells the audience where they came from.
“I realized later that […] the guy who wrote it is on the air, and he’s a reverend,” Lear continued. It was Jerry Falwell; a prominent televangelist and conservative activist, he started the Thomas Road Baptist megachurch in the late 50s until the early 80s. He had a TV and radio show called the Old-Time Gospel Hour. And, apparently, he didn’t like Norman Lear.
“Then I heard from [televangelist] Pat Robertson,” Lear went on, “who certified that Falwell was correct.”
It’s true that “All in the Family” was a rare show that tackled controversial topics in a time where those things were swept under the rug. Topics like racism, antisemitism, infidelity, rape, abortion, the feminist movement, and the Vietnam War, among others. It paved the way for other shows to present those themes in both dramatic and comedic formats. Most importantly, it allowed its viewers to learn lessons through its characters.