Norman Milton Lear (July 27, 1922 – December 5, 2023) was an American film and television writer and producer best known for developing, producing, and/or creating a number of sitcom megahits in The '70s, including All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Maude, The Jeffersons, Good Times, and One Day at a Time, among others. During his career Lear was nominated for 17 Primetime Emmy Awards (winning six) and an Academy Award, and received two Peabody Awards.
Lear's series are fondly remembered as amongst the best of their era and as revolutionary trope codifiers for the socially-conscious sitcom, as they often dealt frankly (even by present-day standards) with social and political issues of the day, in the process breaking all sorts of taboos (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 '80s and into The '90s (Diff'rent Strokes, Who's the Boss? and The Facts of Life among them); he also briefly entered the movie business with his acquisition of Embassy Pictures, before hitting a bit of a lull, between having sold his assets to what eventually became Sony Pictures Television, and creating 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. He found a surprise new success with the highly popular 2017 Netflix remake of One Day at a Time, at age 95.
Lear was also known for being a social and political activist for liberal causes (often of the First 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) with having helped jump-start his directing career by fronting the money for This is Spın̈al Tap (having owned Embassy Pictures at the time). He became 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.
Lear was married three times and had six children. He died of natural causes at the age of 101.
List of Works
- All in the Family (1971–79)
- Sanford and Son (1972–77)
- Maude (1972–78)
- Good Times (1974–79)
- The Jeffersons (1975–85)
- Hot L Baltimore (1975)
- One Day at a Time (1975–84)
- The Dumplings (1976)
- Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976–77)
- All That Glitters (1977)
- Fernwood Tonight (1977)
- A Year at the Top (1977)
- a.k.a. Pablo (1984)
- Sunday Dinner (1991)
- The Powers That Be (1992–93)
- 704 Hauser (1994)
- Channel Umptee-3 (1997)
- Maggie Bloom (2000)
- One Day at a Time (2017–20)
- Man of the House (TBA-)
This writer's work contains examples of:
- After Show/From the Ashes: His most famous shows, such as All in the Family and Sanford and Son, get hit by this trope in the form of, respectively, Archie Bunker's Place plus 704 Hauser and Sanford plus The Sanford Arms. It must be noted, however, that Lear was not involved in the production of the last two.
- 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.
- Creator's Oddball: Channel Umptee-3, being an animated Edutainment Show, fairly far from Lear's usual output.
- Cultural Translation: All in the Family and Sanford And Son were adaptations of the Brit Coms Till Death Us Do 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.
- 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.
- Retool: 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 a Thematic Theme Tune and cameras panning over whatever city or town the series took place in.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Almost all of them are right in the middle. The heartfelt moments, human decency and Hidden Depths of even the most Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist 's make the scale much more balanced.
- 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 Retool/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.
- Transatlantic Equivalent: His first two hit sitcoms, All in the Family and Sanford and Son, were both Americanized remakes of British sitcoms.
- Trope Codifier: Lear's shows, especially All in the Family, were this for socially conscious American 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 much of the time, as does Maude Findlay of Maude. 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.