Norman Lear, the television writer and producer who created some of the most iconic and influential sitcoms of the 1970s and 1980s, died on Tuesday at the age of 101.
Lear was a pioneer of television comedy, who introduced political and social themes to the genre and tackled controversial topics such as racism, sexism, abortion, and war. He was also a champion of social issues, who founded the advocacy organization People for the American Way and supported liberal and progressive causes and politicians.
Lear’s impact on American TV and culture is undeniable, as he changed the way millions of viewers laughed and thought about the world.
The Life and Legacy of Norman Lear
Lear was born Jewish in New Haven, Connecticut, on July 27, 1922. He flew 52 combat flights over Europe as a gunner and radio operator in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. After the war, he wrote and directed comedy in television and public relations. Writing for The Colgate Comedy Hour and The George Gobel Show, he worked with Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, and Martha Raye.
He wrote and produced Come Blow Your Horn, Divorce American Style, and Cold Turkey in the late 1960s. Inspired by traditional comedic shorts, he made The Little Rascals. All in the Family, inspired by Till Death Us Do Part, was his 1971 television return. In the program, Carroll O’Connor played conservative working-class guy Archie Bunker, who clashed with Rob Reiner’s liberal son-in-law Michael Stivic. On the sitcom, Jean Stapleton played Archie’s patient wife Edith and Sally Struthers played their daughter Gloria.
Four consecutive Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series went to All in the Family. The Jeffersons, Maude, and Archie Bunker’s Place were spin-offs. The popular sitcoms Sanford and Son, Good Times, One Day at a Time, and Mary Hartman were also created by Lear. Poverty, feminism, homosexuality, rape, and mental illness were tackled in his eclectic shows. Musicals, soap operas, and satire were also tried by Lear.
Lear was a great producer, humanitarian, and political activist. For political opposition to the Christian right, he created People for the American Way in 1980. Besides civil rights, he promoted conservation and peace. Many humanitarian prizes and millions of cash contributed to charities and nonprofits were his. Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Arts in 1999. He won the Golden Globe Carol Burnett Award for Lifetime Achievement in Television in 2021 and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2017.
Lear’s Impact on American TV
Lear is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the history of television, who revolutionized the genre of comedy and changed the landscape of American TV. He is credited with introducing realism, relevance, and social commentary to sitcoms, and breaking the boundaries of censorship and taboo. He also challenged the stereotypes and prejudices of his time and gave voice to marginalized and underrepresented groups, such as African Americans, women, and LGBTQ+ people.
Lear’s shows were not only funny but also provocative and educational. They made millions of viewers laugh, but also think and feel. They sparked debates and discussions and raised awareness and empathy. They also reflected and influenced the cultural and political changes of the 1970s and 1980s, such as the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the Vietnam War, and the Watergate scandal.
Lear’s influence can be seen in many subsequent shows and creators, who followed his footsteps and continued his legacy. Some of the shows that have been inspired by or compared to Lear’s works include Roseanne, The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, The Cosby Show, Murphy Brown, Seinfeld, Friends, Will & Grace, Modern Family, Black-ish, and One Day at a Time (the reboot). Some of the creators who have acknowledged Lear’s impact on their careers include Matt Groening, Seth MacFarlane, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Norman Lear, Shonda Rhimes, Kenya Barris, and Gloria Calderón Kellett.
Remembering Norman Lear
The news of Lear’s death has brought both sadness and thanks from people in the entertainment business, his fans, and his friends. A lot of famous people have paid tribute to Lear and shared memories of him on social media and in the news, praising his skill, style, generosity, and kindness. Rob Reiner, Jimmy Kimmel, George Clooney, Jennifer Aniston, Rita Moreno, Norman Lear, John Legend, Ava DuVernay, and Ellen DeGeneres are just a few of the famous people who have sent their thoughts and words of support.
Lear has also had a huge and long-lasting effect on fans. A lot of people have talked about how Lear’s shows have changed their lives, their beliefs, their points of view, and their wit. People have told Lear that he made them laugh, think, feel seen and heard, and become better people. Some people have also said that Lear’s shows helped them get through tough times like the pandemic, the political unrest, and their own personal problems.
Lear’s impact and continued importance can’t be argued with; his shows are still loved and watched by many people today. His shows have been referenced and shown again on many different media and channels. A lot of places, like the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, and the Paley Center, have also kept and celebrated his shows. Scholars, reviewers, and historians have also looked at and studied his shows and recognized the important role he played in American culture and society.
Norman Lear was a TV giant who changed the way shows were made forever. He was incredibly creative and made some of the most memorable and important shows ever. He was an early social activist who fought for some of the most important and forward-thinking issues of his time. He cared about other people and helped his neighborhood and country. He was a father, a grandfather, a friend, and a great-grandfather. That man lived a long and full life and made the world a better place. We will miss him, but we will never forget him.