From 'All in the Family' to 'Good Times,' These Are Norman Lear's Greatest Hits
The remarkable storyteller, activist and philanthropist turns 100 in 2022.
Norman Lear, the prolific writer and producer of many great TV shows from the 1970s, turned 100 on July 27, 2022. To celebrate his milestone birthday and amazing legacy, ABC is airing a one-night-only celebration honoring the life and legacy of the remarkable storyteller, activist and philanthropist.
The ABC special, Norman Lear: 100 Years of Music and Laughter, airs tonight Thursday, Sept. 22 at 9 p.m. ET.
In the 1950s, when television was becoming more commonplace in homes across America, Lear got his start as a writer on The Ford Star Revue. He was spotted by and hired to write for The Colgate Comedy Hour, starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. He continued writing for many other comedy/variety shows of that era.
In the late ‘50s, he co-founded Tandem Productions. In the ‘60s, he went on to produce motion pictures including Divorce, American Style, Start the Revolution Without Me, and Cold Turkey.
In 1970, he wanted to bring an Americanized version of the British TV hit Till Death Us Do Part to TV stateside. CBS-TV picked up the program which we all know as All in the Family. The show premiered on January 12, 1971, and since it dealt with racial and political issues as well as themes that were intended for more mature audiences, CBS ran the following disclaimer before the show: “The program you are about to see is All in the Family. It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices, and concerns. By making them a source of laughter, we hope to show—in a mature fashion—just how absurd they are.” There was no real public outcry, and after the show became a hit during summer reruns, it continued for nine full seasons, garnering many awards along the way.
Following the success of that show, Lear created a long list of classic TV shows and gathered more awards for his TV shows and movies, as well as for some for his humanitarian deeds. While awarding Lear the 1999 National Medal of Arts, then-President Bill Clinton said, “Norman Lear has held up a mirror to American society and changed the way we look at it.”
This quote from Lear sums it up quite nicely, I think, why he’s loved the work he’s done. While riding in a plane, Lear looked down and thought, “Hey, it’s just possible, wherever I see a light, I’ve helped somebody laugh.”
I’m pretty sure that’s true.
Congratulations, Mr. Lear, and thank you for all of the great TV shows, movies, and of course, the laughs!
Norman Lear’s shows also had some of the most memorable themes of all time. Relive some of these great theme songs and opening sequences.
Norman Lear's Greatest Projects
All in the Family Pilot
There are two names you may not recognize; these were the original actors to play their daughter, Gloria and her husband… um… Richard. Another fun fact: Edith and Archie originally had the last name of “Justice,” not Bunker. Why? One possible title for the show was “Justice for All.”
All in the Family
This is one you are most likely familiar with. This is a later version in which they say the line "Gee, our old LaSalle ran great" clearly, because people had a hard time understanding it in the earlier version.
Sanford & Son
When it premiered in 1972, Sanford and Son was an immediate success. Seen as NBC's answer to CBS's All in the Family, the edgy show starring cantankerous junk dealer Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) and his son Lamont (Demond Wilson) presented a family dynamic not often seen on network TV at the time.
Filled with running gags and catchphrases, the series has been hailed as a precursor to many other African American sitcoms, including Lear's The Jeffersons and Good Times.
The first spinoff from All in the Family featured this iconic theme song sung by Donny Hathaway, best known for his duets with Roberta Flack in the ‘70s.
Florida Evans was Maude's housekeeper. Her character was so popular that they spun her off onto her own show.
George and Louise "Weezy" Jefferson "moved on up" away from Queens (and Archie Bunker) in this spinoff. This theme song was sung by Ja'net DuBois (who also portrayed Willona Woods on Good Times).
One Day at a Time
This was one of the first shows to deal with a divorced woman striking out on her own. This is the opening sequence from the first season. Like a lot of Lear shows, it featured an outdoor scene.
Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman
Lear branched out to daytime or late-night TV (depending on when your local station ran this show) with this spoof of daytime dramas. The lady yelling the name at the beginning of this theme is one of the stars of the show, Dodie Goodman. (She played Mary's mother.)
Sanford and Son
The TV program that was able to bring raunchy comic Redd Foxx into everyone's living room. Again, the title sequence features outdoor scenes. This theme is by the great Quincy Jones. It was so popular that it was released as a single. Check out the full version—it's called "The Streetbeater."