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TV Legend Norman Lear Wows at NATPE

by Cathy Corcoran

When Norman Lear walked onstage to a standing ovation in the Fontaine Ballroom on Tuesday, the NATPE keynote speaker was wearing his hat. 

 

"I've always been obsessed with longevity," the 92-year-old icon said. "In my earlier years I thought that washing my hair every day might lead to long life, so I poured on the shampoo.

 

“But all that washing might have lead to your losing your hair,” said moderator Phil Rosenthal (creator of Everybody Loves Raymond).

 

“That’s okay,” countered Lear, doffing the hat to reveal a shiny bald dome. “That's why I always wear my hat.”

 

Lear lead the packed audience through a laugh-filled 45 minutes with reminiscences from his days with All in the Family, to battles with network execs, to his new book—Even This, I Get to Experience—to his plans for a new TV show.

 

Moderator Rosenthall said that when All in the Family debuted in 1971, he was a 10-year-old boy glued to the tube every Saturday night watching the show. Lear laughed imagining that. "Before All in the Family, shows like Petticoat Junction, The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres dominated the three networkk, and they were the only game in town," he said. "The biggest problem these TV families faced was the boss unexpectedly showing up for dinner, or mom trying to hide the dented car from dad."

 

Meanwhile in the real world, students were marching in the streets and raging controversy over the Vietnam war was dividing families along generational lines. Lear wanted to do a show with a TV family dealing with challenges that real American families were dealing with—the war, racism, homosexuality, menopause, breast cancer and the intergenerational conflicts immortalized by Archie and Edith Bunker, their daughter Gloria, and her husband, Michael, aka “Meathead.”

 

“The network guys didn’t know what to make of us,” he said.

They weren’t the only ones. Lear held a prominent place on Richard Nixon’s enemies’ list, and is proud that Nixon can be heard (on the infamous secret audio tapes aired in the Watergate hearings) complaining that he couldn’t understand why All in the Family wanted to “... make a horse’s ass out of a real good guy like Archie Bunker."

After All in the Family, Lear went on to create and produce hits like Sanford and Son, Mary Hartman Mary Hartman, Maude, and others.

 

Now, he has an idea for a new show, He'd shoot it with three or four cameras in front of a live audience, but, he says, he can’t get it on the air.

 

What? Norman Lear can’t get a show on the air? Apparently not.


In addition to the networks, the 113 cable networks, and 32,800 hours of primetime content, Lear says, “How come no one is interested in old people?”

 

His new show is funny, he says. “It can reflect what’s going on in our world through the eyes of older and wiser characters, but no one cares about them.”

 

“People over 60 are the largest demo and the fastest-growing one...And we have the most disposable income, too,” Lear said.

“So what are we gonna do?” he shrugged. “Sit around and complain all day?”

 

Not Norman Lear. He says everyone should carry two pieces of paper in his or her pocket. “The first one should say, ‘I am but dust and ashes.” But before the audience can get depressed about that, he adds. “The second piece of paper should say, ‘Isn’t it great to get up in the morning?’”

It is if you’re Norman Lear.

 

Lear’s new book, Even This I Get to Experience is published by Penguin Press.