The Everett Collection

Norman Lear had a special message hidden inside Sanford and Son and All in the Family

Norman Lear created some of the most iconic and controversial television series to ever air on our screens. With six hit shows included on his long list of achievements, Lear was considered a comedy legend.

Some familiar favorites you may recognize from Lear include: All in the Family (1971), Maude (1972), Sanford and Son (1972), Good Times (1974), The Jeffersons (1975) and One Day at a Time (1975).

What he and Tandem Productions did was put all of our "cultural dirty laundry" on display for thousands to relate and react to each week; Bigotry, illiteracy, race, poverty, irresponsibility and ethnic stereotypes are all topics Lear wasn't afraid of. 

He was both praised and condemned for putting these social problems on television for all to see, and with the controversy swirling around him, he broke new ground and new records. 

For example, his character Archie Bunker from All in the Family was portrayed as that bigot stereotype mentioned above. He used Archie Bunker to get a laugh, a reaction and most importantly, a reflection. 

According to a 1975 interview with the Calgary Herald, when All in the Family first aired on CBS in 1971, Bunker was not instantly loved by the viewers watching — who would have thought a self-proclaimed bigot would turn off audiences so quickly?

"It took a full year before America began to realize that the fact Archie Bunker was a bigot was perhaps 10 percent of anything concerning the show," Lear said.

Lear said part of his success was because he never underestimated the intelligence of the TV viewers. Lear said he wasn't sure if television was capable of changing attitudes in America, but he continued to write what he knew. Lear was truly the king of situational comedies and was even represented on three major networks within the market at one time.

At the time of this interview, Lear felt that many Americans were dealing with too much: loss of employment, payments that were impossible to make on time, lack of proper health care and lack of opportunity.

"What leadership does in this country everywhere is to consistently underestimate the American public," Lear said. "They also would say that the working man, especially in bad times, doesn't want to come home and face his problems... that he wants escapist entertainment only."

"Well, everything we do asks the viewer to face his problems," Lear continued. "It's done with humor. People are laughing. But they are also observing the human condition in which they are surviving. The working man loves to be stimulated."

Lear called on his fans to look within themselves while watching characters such as Archie, Fred Sanford, Michael Evans and more onscreen. He believed all six of his shows met the "intellectual curiosity" of viewers. His message was to become aware of yourself, and instead of being an Archie Bunker, learn from those mistakes that make us human. 

"I'm doing exactly what I want to do and I don't care who knows it," Lear said.

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