Norman Lear snapped a lot of television taboos with his hit CBS comedy, “All in The Family.” But which episodes really stand out for him?
“With ‘All In The Family,’ my mind races across shows,” Lear says in an interview with the Archive of American Television. “One on Edith’s (Jean Stapleton) suspected of having breast cancer, another she was nearly raped.
“The Vietnam episode,” Lear says. In this one, Archie (Carroll O’Connor) invited a friend over for dinner and his son-in-law Mike (Rob Reiner) also invited a friend, too. Now Mike’s friend had gone to Canada as a draft-dodger.
‘All in The Family’ Episode Focuses On Vietnam War
“When Archie learns this, and he’s at the dinner table, he wants him out of there,” Lear says. “And he feels that his friend, at his age, who had lost a son in Vietnam, would have to agree.”
That’s not how it works out, Lear explains.
“(Archie’s) friend, to his surprise, said, ‘No, his son did what he had to do and this fella did what he thought he had to do. I’ll have dinner with him,'” Lear says. “Anyway, there was an explosive scene, and Archie, and Carroll, was so brilliant.”
Lear mentions another episode where Archie goes out to get his Sunday newspaper. When the camera and viewers look at his front door while he’s getting the paper, we’re shown that a swastika had been painted on his door.
“It turns out that the Jewish Defense League had mixed up his address and they thought they put it on the house of the Jew that lived a block away,” he says. “So the Jewish Defense League comes over to confront him and others come over to protect him. The show is about violence and Archie’s lesson.”
Take a look at a short clip from this episode with O’Connor, Stapleton, and Reiner.
Lear Uses Movie Experience When Defending Program
Now Lear spent some time in middle America filming a 1970 movie called “Cold Turkey,” starring Dick Van Dyke. It was an anti-smoking movie which was filmed in Iowa. This is important to remember when Lear would be challenged about episode content by CBS executives.
“If Program/Practices wanted me to change something, they would say, ‘This won’t fly in Des Moines’ or they’d say, ‘There’ll be a knee-jerk reaction in the middle of the country,” Lear says.
“And I felt like I was from Iowa, I told them, (because) I came to make so many friends there,” he says. “I would say, ‘Don’t hand me that. I come from Des Moines’ or ‘I am the middle of the country.’ And I felt it, believed it.”
Lear, who received the Carol Burnett Award from the Golden Globes on Feb. 28, always had his finger on the pulse of hot social topics. This was reflected not only in “All in The Family,” but “Maude,” “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times” and other programs.
“All in The Family” set new benchmarks for television programming. Lear is responsible for bringing these challenging topics to American TV viewers. The show, even 50 years later, has relevant subjects connected to modern-day life.