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Norman Lear Talks ‘All in the Family,’ Network Age-ism and Dancing Naked

MIAMI — Norman Lear charmed the crowd at Tuesday’s opening session of the NATPE confab, telling tales of fighting censors on “All in the Family,” struggling to get on the air today and offering his unconventional tips for longevity.

The 92-year-old TV Hall of Famer is on tubthumping tour for his memoir “Even This I Get to Experience.” “Everybody Loves Raymond” creator Phil Rosenthal, a longtime admirer of Lear’s work, led the wide-ranging Q&A session.

Even with all the channels out there today, Lear said he has had no luck trying to set up a show about a group of 60-plus retirees. He’s dubbed it “Guess Who Died?” “They don’t want to hear it,” Lear said of his efforts to sell it to the major nets.

“Let’s just spend the rest of our time complaining about that,” Rosenthal responded, noting he too was stymied in trying to sell a show about two college students who move into a retirement community because the school has run out of dorm space.

Lear and Rosenthal also lamented the fact that sitcoms in the multicamera format like “All in the Family” and “Raymond,” are mostly out of favor on the major nets. Lear reminisced about “Family” star Carroll O’Connor “riding the emotion of an audience” with his performance during a taping, likening it to a zen state. “That wave of emotion is an experience of one-ness in the best way I know,” he said.

Lear told the story of how he made the decision early on not to buckle to network pressure to censor “Family.” When one innocuous line in the pilot script indicating that the Mike and Gloria characters had just had sex was deemed offensive, Lear stood his ground on the “silliness” factor and that set the tone for the rest of the show’s run.

“I told them ‘You take it out and I won’t be there  the next day.’ ” Lear won the battle — thanks in part to the fact that the network knew he had a three-picture deal on the table from an unnamed studio.

As to the secret to his longevity, in TV and in life, Lear joked that he once credited it to his habit when he was younger of washing his hair every day. He also has long had a fondness for dancing naked in front of a full-length mirror.

“Nobody has even proven that dancing naked doesn’t add years to your life,” Lear quipped.

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