Norman Lear Made ‘All In The Family’ Writers Read Newspapers To Stay Updated For The Show

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Norman Lear Made ‘All In The Family’ Writers Read Newspapers To Stay Updated For The ShowNorman Lear Made ‘All In The Family’ Writers Read Newspapers To Stay Updated For The Show

Norman Lear’s All In The Family addressed social issues that would normally be taboo on television, and CBS, able to predict the kind of feedback they’d get from the show’s debut episodes, hired extra telephone operators to deal with upset viewers.

Per show writer Bernie West, they had an impressive level of creative freedom when it came to the topics they were dealing with. “When you hear about other shows not being able to say this or that, it’s nice to be with a show where we can be as free as we are,” he said.

The show kept it candid

All In The FamilyAll In The Family
ALL IN THE FAMILY, writer, producer, and show creator Norman Lear, on set, (Season 1, 1971), 1971-79. ph: Gene Trindl/TV Guide/©CBS/Courtesy Everett Collection

Bernie added that he enjoyed the “topics, the treatments, and the latitude we have to make things as funny and as true to life as possible.” Per Donna McCrohan’s Archie & Edith, Mike & Gloria: The Tumultuous History of All in the Family, the scripts were the result of a joint effort, unlike most shows at the time.

Story editor Michael Ross recalled that writing for All In The Family was much more than a job, but a passion project for all involved. “Most situation comedies in Hollywood are 10-to-5 jobs for the writers. But on All in the Family, there is a kind of community effort. Everybody stays with it until the final moment,” he said.

All In The FamilyAll In The Family
ALL IN THE FAMILY, from left: Maureen Stapleton, Allan Melvin, Carroll O’Connor, Danielle Brisebois, (1978-1979), 1971-1979. ph: Farooz Zahedi / TV Guide / ©CBS / courtesy Everett Collection

They did not need much imagination

Based on the sitcom’s reputation for depicting real life, it did not “take a lot of imagination” to come up with scripts. “It just took looking around,” Lear once explained. The late producer was said to have required all writers to keep up with the news for inspiration and brought in subject-matter experts to provide more insight ahead of upcoming episodes.

Norman LearNorman Lear
ALL IN THE FAMILY, writer, producer, and show creator Norman Lear, in his office, 1971, (Season 1), 1971-79. ph: Gene Trindl/TV Guide/©CBS/Courtesy Everett Collection

Ronald Brownstein confirmed Lear’s mode of operation in Rock Me On The Water, where he revealed they had the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times in the office “so anybody who missed something could read it,” he stated.

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