Everybody likes the script, but nobody will buy it. That’s a common predicament for TV writers — even Norman Lear, these days.
In a lively Q&A with fellow showrunner Ryan Murphy, Lear told a Gotham crowd on Monday that he’s been actively pitching networks on a sitcom that he wrote aimed at older auds — without much luck.
“Everybody thinks it’s funny but no one will go near the demographic,” Lear, 90, admitted during a luncheon at the New York Hilton celebrating the 40th annual Intl. Emmy Awards, which were handed out Monday night.
“I want to see a show like that. I’m not sure that one Betty White” is enough to represent an entire generation, Lear said, bemoaning the networks’ obsession with the 18-49 demo.
Lear and Murphy were feted with honorary awards by the Intl. TV Academy. But Murphy made it clear he jumped at the chance to interview Lear, award or no. The co-creator of “Glee” and “American Horror Story” said he’s long idolized Lear, whose litany of hits include “All in the Family,” “Maude,” “Sanford and Son” and “The Jeffersons.”
In his latest series in particular, NBC comedy “The New Normal,” Murphy said he’s tried to infuse social relevance into the show about a gay couple who become parents through a surrogate mother.
Lear figures if he can’t get a show on the air about older characters, maybe no one can.
“I wrote it. It’s funny. Everyone likes it,” Lear said. “There are plenty of people out there between 50 and 100.”
Lear has mostly been out of the day-to-day TV biz since he sold his Embassy Communications/Tandem Prods. empire to the Coca-Cola Co. in 1985 (at the time Coke owned Columbia Pictures). But in 2007, he inked a deal with NBC to work with young scribe Nina Colman on a series, but the project never got very far.
Of the thousands of episodes he’s produced, Lear said his favorite was the “All in the Family” seg in which cab driver Archie Bunker gives mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a female passenger who turned out to be a transvestite.
Lear’s legacy in TV was to marry humor with thorny social issues of racism, anti-Semitism and sexism, a commitment that often brought him into conflict with network standards and practices execs. He said that when conflicts erupted, he’d just threaten to leave. “I found out they can’t take my wife or my kids,” he said.
“See, I try that and they don’t care,” Murphy joked, sharing his own frustration over run-ins with network watchdogs.
Lear said his favorite contempo show is “Mad Men.” And “I won’t go to bed without Jon Stewart.” In keeping with industry trends, he said “everything I see, I see on TiVo.”