Norman Milton Lear (born July 27, 1922) is an Emmy and Peabody Award winning and Academy Award
nominated television writer, producer, screenwriter and occasional voice actor best known for being the creator, producer or developer of a number of sitcom
megahits in 1970s
including All in the Family
, The Jeffersons
, Good Times
and Sanford and Son
(with Bud Yorkin) among others. Lear's sitcoms are fondly remembered amongst the best of era and as revolutionary trope codifiers
of the socially conscious Sitcom
as his shows often dealt frankly (even by today's standards) with social issues of the day and breaking taboos of the day (everything from All in the Family
having the first audible toilet to Maude
featuring the first sitcom character to get an abortion) without being overly preachy. Lear's various production companies continued pumping out sitcoms through The Eighties
and into The Nineties
, Who's the Boss?
and The Facts of Life
among them) before hitting a bit of a lull with a string of shows that got Screwed by the Network
after only a few episodes and generally aren't as highly regarded (or well remembered) as his early work.
Lear is also known for being a social and political activist for liberal causes (often of the 1st Amendment variety) having founded the progressive advocacy group People For the American Way and often contributing to Democrat campaigns. He's also credited by Rob Reiner (who had acted on Lear's All in the Family
) as having helped jump start his directing career by fronting the money for This Is Spinal Tap
. As of late he's become close friends with Trey Parker and Matt Stone
of South Park
fame having voice acted in a couple episodes, being credited as a consultant on a few others and even officiating Trey Parker's wedding.
List of Works Films Written
Notable TV Shows Created or Produced
- Come Blow Your Horn (1963)
- Divorce American Style (1967) - Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay
- The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968)
- Cold Turkey (1971)
This writer's work contains examples of:
- Anvilicious: Subtlety about social issues was rarely a major feature in Lear's series.
- After Show/From The Ashes: All in the Family had one in the form of Archie Bunker's Place, and Sanford and Son had two in the form of The Sanford Arms and Sanford, but Lear wasn't involved with either of them.
- Cerebus Syndrome: Every now and then, individual episodes of Lear's show would get this. The Good Times episode "The Big Move" probably had the cruelest case.
- Cultural Translation: All In The Family and Sanford and Son were adaptations of the Brit Coms Til Death Do Us Part and Steptoe And Son, respectively.
- Downer Ending: Quite a few memorable episodes of Lear's shows would start off pretty light, but drop one of these on the audience's lap.
- Executive Meddling: Lear intended to end All in the Family after season 8 and gave the show a fitting Series Fauxnale that resolved the main plotline but CBS decided to carry the show on for another season and four more seasons as the retooled Archie Bunker's Place without Lear.
- Grand Finale: Good Times, One Day at a Time and Maude all received these.
- Long Runners: The Jeffersons (11 seasons, 253 episodes), One Day at a Time (9 seasons, 209 episodes) and All in the Family (9 seasons, 208 episodes)* . Though only the first two were under his supervision for the entire duration.
- Only Sane Man: Lamont of Sanford and Son.
- Perpetual Poverty: Sanford and Son and Good Times both ran on this trope. Any time it seemed like the characters were going to get out of their situation Status Quo Is God would kick in put them back in their place.
- Poorly Disguised Pilot: Maude and The Jeffersons both got these on All In The Family in the second and fifth seasons respectively.
- The short lived Gloria received one on Archie Bunker's Place.
- Re Tool: Both All In The Family and Sanford And Son received these without Lear's involvement.
- Lear tried to initiate one of these to save Maude by ending the sixth season with most of the supporting cast being Put on a Bus, Maude winning a seat in Congress and moving to Washington DC with her husband. It was never tried out beyond the initial setup though since the network decided to end the show and Bea Arthur decided to move on to other projects at about the same time. As such, the set up ends up working pretty well as an accidental Grand Finale for the series.
- Screwed by the Network: The Jeffersons never received a proper series finale and was cancelled without warning (lead actor Sherman Hemsley didn't even know until he read it in the paper) despite being Lear's longest running sitcom. Maude was also killed by a combination of this due to its plummeting ratings and Bea Arthur deciding to move on from the role.
- Series Fauxnale: "The Stivics Go West" for All In The Family.
- Signature Style: Sitcoms that often touched on issues of the time with little sugarcoating, featuring unsympathetic male protagonists with sympathetic long suffering wives (or a long suffering son in the case of Sanford and Son), sets that more resembled those stage plays than sitcoms, the occasional Very Special Episode and usually opening credits that featured an Ear Worm Thematic Theme Tune and cameras panning over whatever city or town the series took place in.
- Spin-Off: All in the Family was the launching pad for more than any other show in TV history, its spin-offs even had their spin-offs! The mothership spun off several successful shows including Maude, The Jeffersons and a Re Tool / After Show called Archie Bunker's Place (without Lear's involvement). Then Maude spun off Good Times, The Jeffersons spun off Checking In and Archie Bunker's Place spun off Gloria but Good Times was the only one of these to be successful or even last more than a few episodes.
- Sanford and Son had three ill fated and forgotten ones (Grady, The Sanford Arms and Sanford) but none of these had Lear's involvement and were the brain children of his producing partner Bud Yorkin.
- Trope Codifier: Lear's shows, especially All In The Family, were this for socially conscious sitcoms.
- You can also thank him for pretty much creating the high quality African American sitcom with Sanford and Son and continuing to spearhead the movement with Good Times and The Jeffersons (which still holds the record after a quarter of a century as the longest running TV series with a primarily black cast).
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Archie Bunker of All In The Family and Fred Sanford of Sanford and Son are two of the most famous examples of this trope, George Jefferson of The Jeffersons also qualifies. To Lear's credit though all of these characters `had Hidden Depths and over time developed into fairly sympathetic characters.
- Very Special Episode: All of Lear's shows had these from time to time but they often managed to avoid coming off as Anvilicious. The most famous ones are probably the All in the Family episode where Edith is nearly raped and the episode of Maude where she gets an abortion.