Who can forget all the ruckus flushing a toilet on network television during “All In The Family” caused the sensors? What about JJ Evans declaring in every episode that he was the one and only “Kid Dynamite” or when “Maude” became the first network sitcom to tackle the subject of abortion? The creative genius behind all those characters, shows and memorable moments came from the magnanimous mind of multi-Emmy winner…Norman Lear.
Directed by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, this masterfully and beautifully shot doc captures the childhood imagination of Norman Lear, the King of Sitcoms! At the height of his career, he was the show runner for 6 out of 10 shows on network telelvision. At 93 years young, he is at it again with a Latino re-boot of “One Day At A Time”, which made household names out of Bonnie Franklin, MacKenzie Phillips, Valarie Bertinellii and the late Pat Harrington, Jr..
Lear, who attended the Q&A afterwards, wearing his favorite garment (a signature white hat) revealed the secret to which contributed to his success was his ability to “never lose a children’s view of the world”.
More than being a love letter on celluloid, watching it sent me right back to those days of watching television when you couldn’t tape it on a DVR or stream it online. If you missed it, you had to wait and hope that your episode would be re-run before the new season began. Norman Lear pushed the envelope and made the audiences think about and discuss subjects that were considered taboo. Subjects like feminism, abortion, race, single-mothers, drug-addicted teens. You name it – Lear wrote about it.
Peppered throughout the doc are scenes and interviews from all his various shows and its stars – John Amos, Esther Rolle, Bea Arthur, Rob Reiner and Carroll O’Connor to name a few. My favorite moment was a reunion of sorts between Lear, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. It was like watching a sketch routine being rehearsed for the Catskills Mountains – it was fan-freaking- tabulous!!!!
One would wonder how one man could tap into so many emotions and yet make us laugh right through the tears. Well, it should come as no surprise that the greatest comic geniuses of our time came from the most tragic and unliklely of circumstances. Richard Pryor grew up inside the walls of a Peoria, Illinois whorehouse. Jim Carrey was homeless and living in his car. Robin Williams suffered from depression. Jim Belushi dulled his pain with booze and pills. Norman Lear grew up watching his Dad carted off to prison – not knowing why or if he would ever see him again. The brilliance of these men gave us memories and laughter for a lifetime. It’s unfortunate that they all paid such a high price for that trade-off.
I had the opportunity to thank him and asked if he thought television and the world was just a little over sensitive and ultra PC (politically correct). He remarked simply “Yes…when George Jefferson in an episode of “The Jeffersons” used the “n-word” it caused shockwaves across network television…it’s a disgusting word but it exists”. He continued, “We have to discuss and not ignore in order to see change…we need to have the conversation to understand the humanity in order to bring us together”.
When asked about #OscarsSoWhite, Lear simply said, “Don’t think of diversity as a social handicap, but as a strength…we all need each other…we need that diversity”.
Norman Lear: Just Another Version of you was released by American Masters on July 8, 2016.