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Norman Lear, who revolutionized prime-time TV with 'All in the Family,' dies

By Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Norman Lear, the multiple Emmy Award-winning writer-producer and liberal political activist who revolutionized prime-time television in the 1970s with groundbreaking, socially relevant situation comedies such as “All in the Family,” “Maude” and “The Jeffersons,” has died. He was 101.

One of the most successful and influential producers in television history, Lear died at his home in Los Angeles, said his publicist Lara Bergthold.

In the mid-1970s, it was estimated that some 120 million Americans — more than half the nation’s population at the time—watched the various sitcoms produced by Lear and Bud Yorkin, his longtime partner in Tandem Productions. Indeed, Lear and Yorkin had five of the top 10 programs in the Nielsen ratings for the 1974-75 TV season.

Lear’s success as a television producer and show developer was such that after he accepted an Emmy for “All in the Family” as outstanding comedy series in 1972 — one of seven Emmys the landmark show won that year — Johnny Carson quipped: “I understand Norman has just sold his acceptance speech as a new series.”

Along with his reputation as a prolific television producer, Lear earned praise and condemnation as a TV trailblazer whose sitcoms toppled taboos in their treatment of then controversial topics such as LGTBQ rights, abortion and infidelity.

“Norman Lear has held up a mirror to American society and changed the way we look at it,” President Clinton said when Lear received the National Medal of Arts in 1999.

 

Lear, whose resume included three years writing for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis on “The Colgate Comedy Hour” in the early 1950s, teamed with director and producer Yorkin in late 1958 and formed Tandem Productions.

Over the next decade, they executive-produced “The Andy Williams Show” and produced TV specials that were written by Lear and directed by Yorkin, including ones starring Bobby Darin, Danny Kaye and Henry Fonda.

They also made half a dozen movies, including the Yorkin-directed “Divorce American Style” (which earned Lear an Oscar nomination for his screenplay) and “Cold Turkey” (which Lear wrote, produced and directed.)

Then came “All in the Family,” a situation comedy unlike any that had preceded it on American TV.

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