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Norman Lear, legendary TV producer, got Americans laughing — and talking

by Patt Morrison | Off-Ramp®

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Norman Lear attends The Tanning of America special screening at the Leonard Goldenson Theatre on June 3, 2014 in North Hollywood, California. Jesse Grant/Getty Images

Norman Lear — who wrote, produced and created shows like "All in the Family," "Sanford and Sons," "The Jeffersons" — told KPCC's Patt Morrison that he feels he got America to talk to each other.

"People who meet or see me and recognize me will say, 'I can't forget having spent those years looking at the show with my family, because my father was like Archie, my mother was like Edith,'" said Lear, who is promoting his new memoir. "And that's what I got, mostly. It caused people to talk together."

Lear's new book, titled "Even This I Get to Experience," chronicles his childhood, his career creating some of America's most beloved TV shows, and his history of progressive political activism. Lear spoke with Morrison at his office in Beverly Hills.

Interview Highlights:

On the lasting effect his creations had on American conversation:

You know, I think the major effect was that it helped Americans to talk to one another. People who meet or see me and recognize me will say, "I can't forget having spent those years looking at the show with my family, because my father was like Archie, my mother was like Edith." And that's what I got, mostly. It caused people to talk together. 

You know, as writers, we sat about scraping the barrels of our own experience. Everybody read the newspapers, everybody paid closer attention to their children, to their wives, to their families. And that's where we got our stories. And that's why so much of it was volatile or edgy. It was current, is the way I looked at it. 

On what made his shows so revolutionary for American TV:

What I used to hear before anything else was, "Listen, if you want to send messages, there's Western Union." I didn't know how to answer that until I began to realize that before "All in the Family" went on the air, the "Beverly Hillbillies" of the world — the edgiest subject they worked with was something like "the roast is ruined, and the boss is coming to dinner."

Well, if that's all you're doing on television, and that's the kind of problem families faced, then look at that statement. There is no race issue in America, there are no economic problems, we're not facing war, we love everybody that's elected to office — that's a heavy message. 

On the controversial character Archie Bunker:

There was no doubt that he had bigoted attitudes. But I had a father that used to call me the laziest white kid he ever met. I would scream at him, "You're a bigot! Why do you have to put down a whole race of people to call me lazy?" "That's not what I'm doing! And you're the dumbest white kid I've ever met!"

But in terms of impact, I remember thinking constantly, where racism is concerned, "If a couple of thousand years of the Judeo-Christian ethic didn't blunt or stop racism, my little half-hour situation comedies weren't going to do the job."

Visit amazon.com to purchase Norman Lear's "Even This I Get to Experience."

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