All in the Family broke some serious television ground. It came at a time when shows didn’t focus on real-life issues or current events. At the same time, Archie Bunker was not the typical TV patriarch. Before him, most fathers were kind, loving, gentle types. At most, they could be stern from time to time. Even those moments of sternness served to teach some kind of lesson. Archie, on the other hand, was brash, prejudiced, and constantly tossed barbs at his wife, daughter, and son-in-law.
All in the Family was also on the front line of what was known as the “rural purge,” on network TV. Before that, shows like Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres took audiences to rural America. It was a great bit of escapism for large portions of the audience. So, CBS knew they were taking a big risk. It was a complete departure from the usual fare. At the same time, they knew that Archie was bound to offend several viewers. So, they took some precautions. For one, they hired extra operators to handle calls from outraged viewers, according to a Forbes article.
CBS Was Prepared for All in the Family Backlash
It’s interesting to see how the network prepared for the audience’s reaction to All in the Family. The sitcom definitely falls into the category of “They don’t make them like they used to.” At the same time, networks don’t take chances like they used to. Today, it seems like everyone is trying to play it safe. In the early seventies, though, CBS just put together a complaint department specifically for the show.
It would be fair to think that the phones were ringing off the hook with people complaining about All in the Family. After all, Archie Bunker was racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, and just about any other kind of bigoted you could think of. At the same time, the series was completely different from anything audiences had seen before. However, CBS didn’t get many calls. In fact, viewers loved the show. After a slow start in the first season, the classic sitcom became the top-rated primetime show for five years straight.
Gathering an army of complaint-taking phone operators wasn’t the only step that CBS took, though. They ran a disclaimer before the first episode of the show. It said, “The program you are about to see is All In The Family. It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices, and concerns. By making them a source of laughter, we hope to show – in a mature fashion – just how absurd they are.”
CBS knew they had something special on their hands with All in the Family. At the same time, they knew it was a risky show to air. Thankfully, they took that risk. The classic TV show brought years of laughter. It remains both hilarious and thought-provoking. It just goes to show, sometimes you have to take a big risk to reap a big reward.