Norman Milton Lear is an American television writer and producer who produced such 1970s sitcoms as All in the Family, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, Good Times, Maude. As a political activist, he founded the advocacy organization People for the American Way in 1981 and has supported First Amendment rights and progressive causes.
Born in New Haven, Connecticut, to Enie/Jeanette (Sokolovsky) and Hyman "Herman" Lear, a traveling salesman. His grandparents were all Russian Jewish immigrants. Jeanette was the inspiration for the character Edith Bunker, and Herman for Archie Bunker.
Lear won a one year-scholarship to Emerson College. He dropped out when news about Pearl Harbor struck, and decided to enroll in the United States Army. He was nineteen. In the army, Norman was a radio operator. He was discharged in 1945.
Norman landed a press agent job but was not being paid well so decided to pursue another career. In 1954, he was a writer for the CBS sitcom, Honestly, Celeste! Lear then became the producer of NBC's The Martha Raye Show. In 1959, he created his first TV series with Roland Kibbee, The Deputy, on NBC, starring Henry Fonda. In 1967 his comedic writing career began. He wrote and produced the 1967 film, Divorce American Style, and directed the film, Cold Turkey, starring Dick Van Dyke.
All In The Family came about when Lear read a British column on the show "Til Death Do Us Part", about a father and a son-in-law who fought about everything politically. He immediately knew it was just like him and his father. Lear tried to sell the "blue" collar sitcom to ABC, and two pilots were filmed and rejected. A third pilot was filmed, and CBS picked up the show. It premiered on January 12, 1971.
When it was first aired, a big warning appeared on the screen stating none of the content being presented should be taken seriously and should only be seen for the purpose of hilarity. Next came Sanford And Son, along with creator Bud Yorkin, in 1972. It was inspired by British sitcom Steptoe and Son. In All In The Family, a guest-star named Bea Arthur appeared in an episode and in 1972 the first spin-off was formed called Maude, starring Arthur. A memorable episode from Maude which struck a degree of controversy was the abortion episode.
A spin-off from Maude, Good Times, with the maid character played by Esther Rolle, premiered in 1974, dealing with issues like poverty, crime, welfare and life in low-income African-American housing areas. This wasn't the only sitcom to depict life for African-Americans: in 1975 The Jeffersons, another spin-off from All In The Family, followed.
All In The Family received multiple Emmy awards. Good Times ran for five seasons till 1979, with multiple Golden Globe nominations. Maude ran for six seasons, till 1978, receiving multiple Emmy and Golden Globe wins and nominations. Sanford and Son ended in 1977 with a Golden Globe win and several Emmy nominations. All In The Family ended in 1979, after nine seasons.
Next came another spin-off of the show called Archie Bunker's Place, with Caroll O'Connor and Danielle Brisebois. Archie Bunker's Place ended in 1983, and was his last successful television show. Lear made a comeback in 1990 with several short-lived shows, including Sunday Dinner and 704 Hauser.