Toronto Star Classroom Connection

Lear revolutionized television

Norman Lear, the writer, director and producer who revolutionized prime time television with “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” and “Maude,” propelling political and social turmoil into the once-insulated world of TV sitcoms, has died. He was 101.

Lear died Tuesday night in his sleep, surrounded by family at his home in Los Angeles.

A liberal activist with an eye for mainstream entertainment, Lear fashioned bold and controversial comedies that were embraced by viewers. His shows helped define prime time comedy in the 1970s, launched the careers of Rob Reiner and Valerie Bertinelli and made middle-aged superstars of Carroll O’Connor, Bea Arthur and Redd Foxx.

Lear “took television away from dopey wives and dumb fa- thers, from the pimps, hookers, hustlers, private eyes, junkies, cowboys and rustlers that con- stituted television chaos, and in their place he put the American people,” the late Paddy Chayef- sky, a leading writer of televi- sion’s early “golden age,” said.

Tributes poured in after his death: “I loved Norman Lear with all my heart. He was my second father. Sending my love to Lyn and the whole Lear fami- ly,” Reiner wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “More than anyone be- fore him, Norman used situa- tion comedy to shine a light on prejudice, intolerance, and in- equality. He created families that mirrored ours,” Jimmy Kimmel said.

“All in the Family” was im- mersed in the headlines of the day, while also drawing upon Lear’s childhood memories of his tempestuous father. Racism, feminism, and the Vietnam War were flashpoints as blue collar conservative Archie Bun- ker, played by O’Connor, clashed with liberal son-in-law Mike Stivic (Reiner). Jean Sta- pleton co-starred as Archie’s befuddled but good-hearted wife, Edith, and Sally Struthers played the Bunkers’ daughter, Gloria, who defended her hus- band in arguments with Archie.

“Controversy suggests people are thinking about something. But there’d better be laughing first and foremost or it’s a dog,” Lear said in a 1994 interview with The Associated Press.

Lear’s business success en- abled him to express his ardent political beliefs beyond the small screen. He was an active donor to Democratic candidates and founded the nonprofit liber- al advocacy group People for the American Way in 1980, he said, because people such as evange- lists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were “abusing religion.”





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