Norman Lear and His Masterpieces

Caproni

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An appreciation and discussion thread about television producer Norman Lear and his pioneering small screen comedies.

All in the Family
Sanford and Son
Maude
Good Times
The Jeffersons
One Day at a Time
Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

..... and the others!

I haven't considerable knowledge on Lear or his career, but I have done some exclusive studying on classic TV, and I know that Lear's name is a staple among historians for being an innovative and trend-setting producer of hilariously witty TV comedies.

Let's discuss Mr. Lear and his art.

Which one is your favorite?
 

Caproni

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First, I want to say that I am not old enough to have seen any of the aforementioned shows during their initial runs.

As long as I can remember, I've known about All in the Family, even before I was a fan of classic TV. My father is a big fan of the show, and particularly of Carroll O'Connor's Archie Bunker, so the idea of knowing whom the Bunkers are and how their show operates, has never been entirely foreign to me. I remember seeing reruns of Good Times on TV Land, or perhaps another channel, and I recall that I always found it funny.

As for the other two of the inter-woven sitcoms, my knowledge of those was non-existent up until a few years ago. The Jeffersons now, I have the first season on DVD. I believe it was my soon-to-be ex-step-aunt that gave me a brand new copy that she had of it some five or six years ago. I may have watched the first handful of episodes, but I never stuck with it, and it's been years --- if I were to guess --- since I've watched any of it. Once I found out that Bea Arthur was Maude, and that Rue McClanahan was her sidekick, I dove right into that show. Maude is the only one of these four that I own the complete series set of. I bought a bootleg copy a couple of years back before the retail set came out. Just yesterday, I bought the retail set for under $40 on eBay.

Your turn.
 

TJames03

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NL did have great shows, but they were all run into the ground. They all went on way too long. When he started churning out stinkers like 'Checking In' and 'Gloria,' it was very apparent his time was over (Archie Bunker's Place sucked balls, too). Archie Bunker without Edith, Gloria, and Mike was insane and the Jefferson's went on way too long. There were a LOT of terrible Maude episodes, too, and Good Times without James was just........bad times........

How One Day at a Time ran nine seasons is beyond me. Every episode is usually Bonnie Franklin screeching about some sort of perceived personal injustice. Ugh...
 

bmasters9

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How One Day at a Time ran nine seasons is beyond me. Every episode is usually Bonnie Franklin screeching about some sort of perceived personal injustice. Ugh...
Which is, to me, why Barney Miller on ABC and The Bob Newhart Show on CBS were the superior comedies of the 70s, and well-worth the money on DVD, while ODAAT is nowhere near!
 

Daniel Avery

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I was reaching teenager-hood as many of these shows were winding down (1983-86). It was my first exposure to the tendency of a network to beat a dead horse....

I was not that much of a fan of All in the Family. I grew up in rural Georgia, so the Queens accents and NY sensibilities didn't appeal....and that same urban in-your-faceness made Maude virtually intolerable to me. Bea Arthur was one of the best actresses ever---I gladly worshipped at the Temple of St. Dorothy of the Perpetual Putdowns every Saturday night in the 1980s--but I always felt Maude (the character) was just too strident and unlikeable. Both Maude and Archie just came across as "other" to me since I had never been exposed to New Yorkers and their urban issues. But that did not really change as I aged: I still have no wish to watch shows like Seinfeld.

I actually avoided One Day... because their 'modern social issues' stories were often too 'adult' (for the time) and my parents thought it was too mature for a kid. The segments where Julie ran away from home (which was a write-around for MP's personal issues) particularly bothered me for some reason--I guess because they made it sound like she was going to be raped/murdered/left in a ditch or something, the fate that befalls all kids who don't listen to their parents.

Of all the shows on your list, I am most fond of The Jeffersons. Though it was also set in New York, it was much more accessible for the general population because (especially in its later years) it was more of an "American Dream Realized" series. They pulled back on the social commentary and simply allowed the characters' flaws and strengths to drive stories like a traditional sitcom. Though CBS did let it go on a bit too long, the network did them dirty by not cancelling the show until after they had finished the final episode of that season, depriving the fans of a true "final episode". CBS had made a LOT of money off the show and the stars deserved more than just being told 'don't let the door hit you on the way out' (figuratively).

One tidbit I recall reading about Checking In (Marla Gibbs's ill-fated spin-off): it was so unpopular that the show was cancelled after four episodes, and they hurriedly wrote Florence back into The Jeffersons by announcing the hotel had burned down!

Also, the Gloria spin-off can't technically be dumped at NL's feet, because he parted ways with the producers early on when they were not accepting of his "suggestions" to make the show better.
 

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I watched all of them except for ONE DAY AT A TIME (although I did see it on occasion).

But I loved ALL IN THE FAMILY and MAUDE (most conservatives didn't, for obvious reasons) -- and I much preferred MAUDE over the overrated, stiffly self-conscious, '80s Susan Harris stuff like GOLDEN GIRLS.
 

TJames03

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Actually, I would have made the GG’s MUCH more socially conscious and much more of a dramedy. I always found that show too much of a sitcom.

Wouldn’t NL have the rights to stop “Gloria” from being made? He prevented Carroll O’Connor from reprising Archie in a new show in the late 1990’s because he owned the rights to the character, so couldn’t he have done that with the character of Gloria?
 

TJames03

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I know that NL wanted another spinoff called “Law in the Family” to come from “Archie Bunker’s Place,” but CBS said no.

Let’s not forget the dreadful 704 Hauser.....
 
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darkshadows38

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not all his shows are masterpieces and i dunno what my favorite one is since he has so many but All In the family is up there i think. the guy has done a lot of great shows don't get me wrong but he's done a lot of really bad awful shows too. i never could get into good times for example but to each their own who like it
 

TJames03

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Good Times would have been really good, but backstage cast probs and the firing of John Amos at the end of Season 03 ruined it. Esther Rolle leaving at the end of Season 04 really ruined it. Though she returned to the show at the beginning of Season 06, it was over. However, Amos and Rolle were right that the show was catering to JJ’s stupidity.

Carroll O’Connor’s greed and insistence on carrying on without Stapleton, Struthers and Reiner was unreal. He played off them so well, but Archie without them made the character bland.
 

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I was not that much of a fan of All in the Family. I grew up in rural Georgia, so the Queens accents and NY sensibilities didn't appeal....and that same urban in-your-faceness made Maude virtually intolerable to me. Bea Arthur was one of the best actresses ever---I gladly worshipped at the Temple of St. Dorothy of the Perpetual Putdowns every Saturday night in the 1980s--but I always felt Maude (the character) was just too strident and unlikeable. Both Maude and Archie just came across as "other" to me since I had never been exposed to New Yorkers and their urban issues. But that did not really change as I aged: I still have no wish to watch shows like Seinfeld.
I take it you wouldn't have cared for Friends either-- I never did, that or Seinfeld!
 

Daniel Avery

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I thought Good Times was too depressing, much as One Day... often became. And yes, the way they handed GT over to Jimmie Walker was not appealing (shades of Urkel on Family Matters). It takes a good team (not just a producer or a writer) to transition a series from one theme to another and keep the same vibe. Both of these shows encountered casting upheavals that caused the very nature of the series to change, and neither of them handled the changes very well (in my opinion). Obviously many people continued to enjoy them, or else CBS would not have held on. Also, I think CBS stuck with "known quantities" like the NL sitcoms because they didn't yet have anything new and revolutionary to compete with ABC (who basically took over the sitcom market in the late-1970s and early 1980s). It was only when CBS realized that the "socially-conscious sitcoms" era was considered "over" by viewers flocking to mindless fare like Happy Days, Three's Company, and others that CBS started cancelling their long-running (and in some cases barely recognizable) NL sitcoms. The final nail in their coffin had to be the immediate love affair viewers had with NBC's The Cosby Show, which took a Norman Lear-esque premise (a wealthy African-American couple raising several kids in an affluent Brooklyn neighborhood) and totally left out the biting social commentary and confrontations with predominantly white neighbors. Their "soft touch" seemed to be a total rejection of the Norman Lear-style sitcoms, and was an immediate hit.
 

Jimmy Todd

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I read that Esther Rolle insisted her character have a husband because she wanted to fight the stereotype that Black men abandon their families. I liked GT best when both parents were there. Losing John Amos really hurt the show.
AITF was a brilliantly written show which also had superb actors. I also read that Mr. Lear was horrified when the character of Archie became something of a folk hero to many. I believe he thought this meant people were embracing racism. The show was so well written there answered layers to its characters and social commentary. I believe at least one significant reason accounts for the character's appeal. There's a line I recall
that was funny but also telling. Mike is trying to convince Archie he is violating a guest character's civil rights. Archie blurts out, "Can't you find one lousy ammendment to protect me! I know I got a lot against me. I'm white, I'm Protestant. I'm hard-working!" This reveals a frustration coming economic pressure and the perception of not being heard. It's something we can see in many situations involving all ethnicities. Feeling disenfranchised breeds resentment which leads to hatred. This isn't something to immediately take a side on, imho, but rather to acknowledge and discuss. It's relevant than and germaine(or German, to borrow one of Archie's malapropisms) today. That is my idea of brilliant writing.
 

TJames03

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Rolle was so right. It all became about JJ and the chicken shack and DYNOMITE!!!!!!
 

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honestly Archie's place or whatever the hell that was called? is a show i actually like. is it as good as All in the family hell no it's not. what's interesting is that Mickey Rooney was asked to play Archie but turned it down. one wonders what the show would have looked like had he taken the role instead of Carol O' Conner
 

TJames03

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The first season of ABP is bizarre in the fact that the show is, literally, so dark. The lighting is half gone. I think Stapleton made only four appearances in the entire season, too. Stapleton, Struthers, and Reiner knew that they had went as far as possible, but O’Connor milked his role until it Archie was a shadow of his former self. A real shame that some actors don’t know when to give it up.....
 

TJames03

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Also, Bea Arthur knew when to end “Maude,” too. Season 06 saw ratings tanking, but they wanted a Season 07, but she refused. If you’ll notice in the last three episodes of the show, everyone left except Maude and Walter and Maude became a Congresswoman and went to Washington, D.C. That was to be the new premise of the show, but Arthur wisely knew that it was a no-go. “Hanging In” could be considered a spinoff from “Maude” because it has all the same characters and actors from the final episodes as “Maude” (though it featured Bill Macy in a new role).
 

Caproni

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I watched all of them except for ONE DAY AT A TIME (although I did see it on occasion).

But I loved ALL IN THE FAMILY and MAUDE (most conservatives didn't, for obvious reasons) -- and I much preferred MAUDE over the overrated, stiffly self-conscious, '80s Susan Harris stuff like GOLDEN GIRLS.
The Golden Girls is the reason I heard about Maude. The Golden Girls is my favorite classic sitcom, and I personally feel it has a better feel than Arthur's Maude. I like that The Golden Girls is an ensemble, whereas Maude is usually centered entirely around the titular character, with some episodes featuring her in a solo outing. I love Bea Arthur, but her performance as Dorothy is better and the show is better overall.
 
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