Dallas International Film Festival 2016
Greetings again from the darkness. Very few people have achieved the level of career success of Norman Lear. Very few people have had the impact on culture as Norman Lear. Very few people have led a life as interesting as Norman Lear. And if all of that somehow doesn’t impress you … Norman Lear is 93 years old and still working! It’s no wonder that co-directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady decided to tell his stories.
This is a man who served in WWII and flew 52 combat missions. He also purchased a copy of the U.S. Constitution so that it could tour the country and citizens could see it up close. He is regarded as the most influential TV producer ever. His roster of hit shows includes: “All in the Family”; “Maude”; “Good Times”; “The Jeffersons”; and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”. These weren’t just popular or funny shows. They were ground-breaking and controversial … they changed TV and they changed society.
At one point, Mr. Lear was producer on 6 of the Top 10 shows on television. His “Good Times” series was the first to put an African-American family front and center. “Maude” was the first TV show to seriously discuss abortion, while “All in the Family” brought Archie Bunker (the great Carroll O’Connor) and the generation gap with changing societal mores right into our living rooms.
The film features a great deal of interview time with Mr. Lear, but also with others who worked with him and/or were influenced by him. The Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner segment is especially poignant, as it’s three comedy trailblazers who made such a difference in how we are entertained. At one point, Lear states “I never lost my childlike view of the world”, and he says that contributed to always having a fresh approach.
Frances Lear, the feminist activist, is the perfect life partner for Norman, and the film captures their magic. They make such an impressive team committed to their causes, yet still maintaining a solid marriage. In fact, a documentary focusing on Frances would also be quite interesting.
In the world of television programming, there is BN (Before Norman) and AN (After Norman), and the timeline is not only obvious, but also important. Norman says he worked to deliver “serious people comedy … we had something on our mind”. The proof of his influence is that he was able to inspire TV viewers to further discuss and consider the issues he found important.