The Television Academy hosted An Evening with Norman Lear on Wednesday at the Montalban Theatre to celebrate the 92-year-old TV writer and producer of such classic ’70s sitcoms as “All in the Family,” “Sanford and Son,” “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times.” The discussion highlighted the parallels between TV, music and hip-hop culture, much to Lear’s delight.
“I hope, I trust, that’s why they’re here,” noted the guest of honor. “Hip-hop, television… we were all reflecting American life. That’s why we’re together tonight, to further reflection.”
Touré of MSNBC’s “The Cycle” moderated the live broadcasted conversation, in which activist and recording artist Common, Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons, “Black-ish” co-creator Kenya Barris, comedian Baratunde Thurston, author Steve Stoute and DJ D-Nice took part. The night ended with special appearances by Marla Gibbs (“The Jeffersons”) and Regina King.
Common, who took home a Golden Globe for his music on Oscar-nominated “Selma,” told Variety that Lear’s shows greatly impacted his upbringing and the hip-hop community.
“It helps shape our mentality and perspective, especially if you’re a kid and you’re watching ‘Good Times’ and ‘Different Strokes’ and ‘All in the Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons,'” said the recording artist, who particularly relied on Chicago-based “Good Times” (1974-1979) while growing up in the Cabrini-Green housing projects. “These characters felt like people we know.”
The character of George Jefferson — father figure in the “All in the Family” (1971-79) spinoff “The Jeffersons” (1975-85) — was a popular talking point during the panel.
“You saw very iconic, powerful black characters with great dignity, and that influenced what folks thought about themselves and what they thought about their world,” Touré said. “You think about George Jefferson in particular — very much a pop figure before reported hip-hop was even out there, in terms of (his) swagger, being entrepreneurial and not really caring about what white people think. That’s very much what hip-hop is.”
Panelists also commended Lear for his ability to appeal to audiences across America, regardless of race; the iconic producer, who at one point had five different family sitcoms airing at one time, responded by recalling an equality-promoting quote on his bumper sticker: “Just another version of you.”
“That’s the way I feel,” Lear said. “It doesn’t make any difference, my being white, you’re black. We are all just other versions of each other.”
(Pictured: Norman Lear, Touré, Russell Simmons and D-Nice)