PopPolitics: Norman Lear on the Showdown That Almost Nixed ‘All in the Family’ (Listen)

Twenty minutes before “All in the Family” was to debut on the East Coast, Norman Lear was threatening to walk out in protest over CBS censors’ threats to remove one line from the show. On the latest episode of Variety’s “PopPolitics,” airing Thursdays on SiriusXM, Lear explains why it was so important to stand up to the network from the start.

“It was a little battle, but I knew that I just simply had to win that or I would lose from then on,” Lear told host Ted Johnson. That night in 1970, the show aired with the line, and “as I am fond of saying, not one state seceded from the union.” Lear’s memoir, “Even This I Get to Experience,” was recently published.

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Lear also talked about the similarities between the character Archie Bunker and his own father, who he said was a “rascal.”

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Richard Nixon disliked “All in the Family,” but the wife of his successor, Betty Ford, was a big fan of “Maude.” Lear used to send he tapes to keep up with the episodes. She even helped him convince stations to buy the controversial sitcom when it came time to sell the show into syndication. Although the religious right targeted Lear by the end of the 1970s, he had fans in Ronald and Nancy Reagan, and has remained friends with the former first lady.

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As edgy as today’s shows are, Lear says that topics like abortion are still largely off limits to sitcom writers, particularly on broadcast TV — unlike the 1970s when CBS aired a two-part episode in which Maude ends her pregnancy. “There’s a small part of the far right that goes crazy” when such topics are aired in priemtime, he says.

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On PopPolitics’ The Mix segment, Variety’s David Cohen and U.S. News’ Nikki Schwab talk about “Rival Survival,” the Discovery reality series in which Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) spend a week on a desolate island and have to learn how to work together. Is the show a genuine effort to promote bipartisanship or a stunt to boost their own profiles?

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Laura Poitras, director of the Edward Snowden documentary “Citizenfour,” talks about the sense of danger she felt in pursuing the project that thrust her into the limelight as she chronicled the government contractor’s release of classified material showing massive government surveillance on Americans. Clips from her interview are here.

Variety’s “PopPolitics” airs at 11 a.m. PT  Thursdays on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS. It is rebroadcast throughout the weekend and available on demand. Guests this week include Garry Trudeau, the creator of Amazon Studios’ “Alpha House” and longtime creator of Doonesbury. The show also will feature part two of an interview with Norman Lear, in which he talks about today’s political landscape, his friendship with the Clintons and how he handled threatening messages from those who opposed his views.

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