‘All in the Family’: Rob Reiner Explained How Carroll O’Connor, Cast Made the ‘Stew’ of Each Episode

by Jennifer Shea

“All in the Family” was a team effort. The classic television show was the product of an epic collaboration between writers, actors and director, all striving to make the show the best it could be.

And that atmosphere was the result of show creator Norman Lear and star Carroll O’Connor’s open-minded attitude. At least, that’s what Mike Stivic actor Rob Reiner told the Television Academy Foundation in a 2004 interview.

“We were just all encouraged to participate creatively,” Reiner said. “Not only Norman Lear, but Carroll O’Connor set the tone of what was to happen on the show. Carroll as an actor believed that the best we could get from other actors was to inject our own thoughts and experiences and emotions into what it is we’re trying to do. And he encouraged us to all chip in and throw in ideas. So there was a real creative collaboration amongst all the actors – the writers, the actors, the director – all working together to make this stew that became ‘All in the Family.’”

Watch Reiner’s comments here:

‘All in the Family’ Benefited from CBS’s Infamous ‘Rural Purge’

Lear based the show that would become “All in the Family” on the British sitcom “Till Death Do Us Part,” according to Mental Floss. The first iteration of his American version was called “Justice for All.” And it featured different actors playing Archie’s daughter and son-in-law.

Lear pitched the show to ABC. But they passed, saying the younger actors had no chemistry with O’Connor and Jean Stapleton. So Lear recast the younger characters, renamed the show “Those Were the Days” and re-shot the pilot. ABC passed again.

Lear’s luck changed after Robert Wood took over CBS in 1969. Wood drove the network’s now-infamous “rural purge,” deciding based on market research that advertisers wanted a younger, urban demographic. He axed many of the network’s successful shows geared toward rural audiences – “Mayberry R.F.D.,” “Green Acres,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Petticoat Junction.” And he was looking for something edgy to take their place.

Lear’s show, now called “All in the Family” and featuring Reiner and Sally Struthers as the young people, fit that bill. It first aired on CBS in the summer of 1971.

And “All in the Family” would go on to become an all-time television classic. Whether because Lear had finally found the right raw materials or because of the show’s incredible collaborative process, “All in the Family” became culturally iconic.