At one time, Archie Bunker was the hottest character on TV. “All in The Family” faced a challenge when actor Carroll O’Connor almost left.
O’Connor, who portrayed the boisterous Bunker on Norman Lear’s classic show, didn’t like his contract and walked out. Now the show was entering its fourth season and doing well in the Nielsen ratings. Lear faced two problems: one, how to deal with O’Connor’s actions, and two, how to write around his absence.
The episode, “Where’s Archie?”, is focused around Archie traveling to Buffalo, N.Y., for a union convention. He doesn’t call Edith (Jean Stapleton) when promised, leaving her, Mike (Rob Reiner), and Gloria (Sally Struthers) quite worried. It was taped at the beginning of the fourth season for CBS.
Bunker Almost Written Off Of ‘All in The Family’ By Lear
Lear was ready to kill off Bunker’s character from the show if salary negotiations fell through with O’Connor. Both sides, though, came to an agreement and he rejoined the “All in The Family” cast. The episode itself, though, does not appear until the show’s fifth season.
As it turned out, Lear was able to put that script to use on another of his hit shows, “Good Times.”
On that show, actor John Amos, who played James Evans, was fired in 1976 after clashing with writers on how African-Americans should be represented. All Lear did was use the “Where’s Archie?” script and turn it into “Where’s James?” and start a new story arc for “Good Times” to follow.
With O’Connor now back firmly with the show, “All in The Family” continued to have success by presenting issues of the day through the lens of Bunker’s eyes.
Just Who Actually Was The ‘Real Life’ Archie Bunker?
Lear, like any good storyteller, uses many different things to draw ideas. When it comes to Bunker, though, he used someone quite close to him as an example.
Lear’s father had a sliver of inspired involvement in the Bunker character. The show’s creator said his childhood was difficult and he butted heads a lot with his father. There were times that Lear’s father faced legal problems and even held a number of prejudices that reflect in Bunker’s character.
In an interview with NPR, Lear said that his father would often call him the “laziest white kid he ever met.” Then Norman would scream back, “How can you put down a whole race of people just to call me lazy?”
Their contentious relationship was one area where Lear could reflect that type of tension on screen between Bunker and Mike Stivic, played by Reiner.