Norman Lear would threaten to stop All in the Family when network executives attempted to sanitize the show
Norman Lear's effect on All in the Family can never be overstated, but that doesn't mean that television lovers everywhere won't spend the next hundred years searching for new and unique ways to commend the creator for his tremendous influence on the medium.
While there were many players who were involved in the boundary-pushing of All in the Family that led to its success, Lear was always at the helm of the ship, attempting to nudge that envelope one inch further than many wanted him to go.
According to Rock Me On The Water by Ronald Brownstein, many felt the Lear was the nucleus that held the show together. Rob Reiner specifically called Lear "the guiding light."
"He was more than anything the force that pushed us to be better," Reiner said. "Norman would force us to want to dig deeper, always dig deeper, dig deeper. He wanted it to go further."
According to Up the Tube: Prime-Time TV and the Silverman Years by Sally Bedell, Lear stated that the reason the show was so successful was because it depicted "real human behavior."
"In a medium where one sees too little of it, you can watch Edith and Archie relating and find something universal and interesting." Lear said. He was acutely aware of what made the show special to viewers, even if the network executives didn't. He said, "The network at the beginning was horrified by topical humor. They said, 'Don't talk about Nixon because when we go into reruns and he isn't around anymore the shows won't sell.' But it doesn't really matter what the men say. You are watching a father and his son-in-law. The behavior is what is important."
But sometimes Lear would have to resort to more drastic measures in order to achieve his vision. There were apparently a handful of times when Lear would have to threaten to stop the show when the network attempted to prevent him from venturing into more sensitive topics. Lear said, "The first time or two there were threats of lawsuits. I would say, 'Back up the truck and take my house and furniture.' But I knew they couldn't take my wife and children."
Lear usually got his way, and would inevitably be proven right, as the more sensitive episodes of the series were the most well-received by viewers. Alan Wagner, who previously served as the East Coast vice president of programming at CBS, said, "Nobody shaped Norman's shows except for Norman. He was willing to listen to good advice from anybody. But he was not going to sit still to someone dictating to him things he didn't believe in."
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