×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Norman Lear Looks Back on Early Days as TV Comedy Writer

If anyone deserves to write a memoir, it’s Norman Lear, who reinvented television comedy in the 1970s with “All in the Family,” and whose “Even This I Get to Experience,” a how-to book about understanding the TV business, comes out in paperback Oct. 27. Lear was first mentioned in Variety on Nov. 15, 1950, as part of a story about an exodus of L.A. writers moving to New York for TV jobs.

How did you get the New York gig?

Ed Simmons and I had written a routine for Danny Thomas’ nightclub act, which led to New York and Jack Haley’s “Ford Star Review.” Jerry Lewis saw a sketch that he knew he could do better, so he wanted us. MCA handled both shows, so it was easy to move over to Martin & Lewis. Within three weeks, we were writing for “The Colgate Comedy Hour.” Suddenly Simmons & Lear were major comedy writers. All those other writers came out of radio, but we were the TV writers. But the joke of jokes was that we didn’t have any experience.

Did you watch TV?

We didn’t own a set. We used to go to my uncle’s house to watch Milton Berle.

You hadn’t been in L.A. long.

We moved there at the end of ’48. I was a kid of the Depression, and I had one uncle who was a press agent; as the family said, “He was a good provider.” He would slip me a quarter. I wanted to be an uncle who could slip a quarter to his nephew, so I wanted to be a press agent, too. I didn’t even know what that was. I didn’t want to be a star, I wanted to be the guy with the star.

What were cross-country flights like?

I was the only one in the family who had done that. I took a TWA red-eye at 11 p.m., and they had sleepers. I think we arrived at 8 in the morning. And the 747 had an upstairs lounge for first-class. You could go up and smoke a cigar, and they served caviar. Nobody wore sandals, everybody was dressed up for every flight.

Did you have any key teachers?

There were two. Roland Kibbee was head writer on “The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show” (Bud Yorkin was producer-director). I would sometimes do the opening monologue. Roland taught me that even a simple thing like that has to have a throughline — a beginning, middle and end. It had to have a story, and had to be taken seriously. And then Nat Hiken, who later created (“The Phil Silvers Show”).

What did you learn from him?

He taught me funny.

Click image for large preview

More TV

  • Shefali Shah in Delhi Crime

    'Delhi Crime’ Wins Big at Asian Academy Creative Awards

    Richie Mehta’s harrowing Netflix series “Delhi Crime” was the big winner at the 2nd annual Asian Academy Creative Awards in Singapore on Friday. Representing the show, lead actress Shefali Shah was rushed off her feet as she repeatedly had to return to the stage. “Delhi Crime” earned her best actress in a leading role, best [...]

  • KARNAWAL

    ‘Karnawal,’ ‘Restless,’ ‘Summer White,’ ‘Firsts’ Win Big at Ventana Sur

    BUENOS AIRES  — With Ventana Sur now firing on multiple cylinders, featuring pix-in post or project competitions for not only art films but also genre pics and animation – two sectors embraced by young creators in Latin America – “Karnawal,” “Restless,” “Summer White” and  “Firsts” proved big winners among Ventana Sur’s arthouse and animation competitions, [...]

  • Robert Walker Jr.

    'Star Trek' Actor Robert Walker Jr. Dies at 79

    Robert Walker Jr., son of actors Robert Walker and Jennifer Jones, died Thursday, his family confirmed to the official website for the television show “Star Trek.” He was 79. Walker Jr. is best remembered for playing the titular Charlie Evans in the “Star Trek” episode “Charlie X” from the show’s first season in 1966. His [...]

  • Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James, right,

    TV Ratings: Why Is the NBA Shooting Air Balls?

    The NBA’s TV ratings so far this season have been far from all-star level. Viewership across ESPN, TNT and NBA TV is down 15% year-to-year overall, according to Nielsen figures. TNT’s coverage is averaging 1.3 million viewers through 14 telecasts, down 21% versus last year’s comparable coverage, while on ESPN the picture isn’t much prettier. The [...]

  • Claire Danes, Homeland

    TV News Roundup: Showtime Releases 'Homeland' Final Season Trailer

    In today’s TV news roundup, Showtime drops the trailer for the final season of “Homeland,” and National Geographic reveals the first look at Cynthia Erivo as Aretha Franklin in “Genius: Aretha.” FIRST LOOKS Showtime released the trailer for the final season of “Homeland,“ premiering Feb. 9. The eighth and final season, starring Claire Danes and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content