All in the FamilyAll In The Family was a popular and acclaimed American situation comedy which ran on the CBS network from January 12, 1971 until 1979. In the fall of 1979, the show was retooled and given a new name, Archie Bunker's Place. It would run another four years, finally ending its run in 1983.
Produced by Norman Lear, and based on a British television series Till Death Us Do Part, the show broke ground in its depiction of issues previously unsuitable for network television comedy, such as racism, homosexuality, women's liberation, rape, breast cancer and impotence.
The show was wildly popular, and ranked #1 in the yearly Nielsen ratings from 1971 to 1976. Only one other program, The Cosby Show, has tied All In The Family in terms of years at the top of the ratings.
All in the Family was notorious for featuring language and epithets previously censored from television, such as "fag" for homosexual, and phrases such as "God damn it". While moral watchdogs attacked the show on those grounds, others objected to the show's portrayal of Archie Bunker as a "lovable" bigot. Defenders of the series pointed out that Archie usually ultimately lost his arguments. (It is perhaps worth noting that Alf Garnett, Archie Bunker's counterpart in the original British series, was far from lovable, and used much stronger language that would never have been allowed on US network television.)
Set in the borough of Queens in New York City, the program starred:
Lear bought the rights to Till Death Us Do Part and incorporated his own family experiences with his father into the show. He would tell his mother to "stifle yourself" and she would tell him "you are the laziest white man I ever saw" (two 'Archieisms' that found their way onto the show). While in pre-production, the last name chosen for Archie's family was "Justice" and the show's title was Justice for All but was later changed to Those Were the Days.
Former child actor Mickey Rooney was the show's choice to play Archie but Rooney declined the offer due to its strong potential for controversy and poor, in Rooney's opinion, chances for success. Actor Carroll O'Connor enthusiastically sought the part even though he agreed with Rooney's assessment of the show's chances. After seeing the show's pilot, the production company, ABC, also fed into this doubt and canceled the project.
Rival network CBS then bought the rights from ABC and re-titled the show All in the Family. In an effort to warn viewers about the controversial nature of the show, CBS ran a disclaimer before airing the first episode (which disappeared from the screen with the sound of a toilet flush).
Sample episode: "Sammy's Visit"
Jewish and African American performer Sammy Davis, Jr loved the show and often pestered Lear to allow him to make a guest appearance. But Lear resisted, feeling that Sammy's appearance playing a character part would upset the continuity of the series. So the writers developed a plot that would allow Davis to play himself in an episode; Archie, low on cash, takes up moonlighting as a taxi driver and he picks Davis up as a fare, but Davis accidentally leaves his briefcase in the cab.
In spite of his bigoted opinions of both Jews and African Americans, Archie can barely contain his excitement as he tells Edith about his encounter and the fact the Davis, himself, would be stopping by later to retrieve his briefcase. (Archie's friend Munson was going to deliver the briefcase to the Bunker residence). He then sternly warns Edith (whom Archie often called "Dingbat") not to mention Davis's glass eye but later slips and asks coffee-sipping Davis "...Do you take cream and sugar in your eye?" while staring into Davis' glass eye.
In a later exchange between the two Archie says; "I think that if God had meant for us to be together, he'd have put us together. But look what he done. He put you over in Africa, and put the rest of us in all the white countries," to which Davis responded, "Well, he must've told you where we were because somebody came and got us."
Finally Munson arrives with the briefcase and, also star struck, asks if he could photograph Davis. Davis agreed on one condition; that Archie be in the photo with him. Then right as Munson snapped the photo Davis placed a kiss on Archie's cheek. A look of confusion mixed with horror replaces the grin on the bigot Archie's face and the studio audience erupted into unconstrained laughter.
"Sammy's Visit" would later win the episode's director, John Rich, an Emmy Award for Best Directing. It first aired on February 19, 1972.
An animated series Wait 'Till Your Father Gets Home was based on All in the Family, but was not a Norman Lear production.
All in the Family on DVD
The first two seasons of All in the Family are available on Region 1 DVD from Sony Pictures Television. The third season will be released in August 2004.
- Stay Tuned: Television's Unforgettable Moments, Joe Garner, (Andrews McMeel Publishing; 2002) ISBN 0-7407-2693-5
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