×

Norman Lear Reflects on His ‘All in the Family’ Emmy Wins

the early 1970s was one of the most transitional eras in TV history, and the transition was in full swing by the time the 1971 Emmy Awards took place. Nowhere was this more evident than in the comedy categories, with Ed Asner and Valerie Harper nominated for their supporting roles in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” alongside Gale Gordon for “Here’s Lucy” and Agnes Moorehead for “Bewitched.” If anyone had any question as to which direction the tide was turning, though, it was answered when “All in the Family” was named not only for new series but also best comedy. Series creator Norman Lear — who, at age 95, remains as busy as ever, serving as an executive producer on the Netflix reboot of his classic ’70s series “One Day at a Time” — reflects on winning his first and second Emmy.

For the 1971 Emmy Awards, Johnny Carson personally suggested the idea of having the show open with the Bunkers preparing to watch the ceremony.

That’s true, and it came at the right time, because we hadn’t yet picked up the kind of numbers that would result in a [second season] pickup. But after his having done that, the ratings picked up, and that’s what resulted in a larger audience. Two shows later, they picked us up.

When looking at the footage of you taking the stage to accept your Emmy, what stands out first and foremost is the magnificent mustache you were sporting at the time.

You know, there’s a secret behind that mustache. I was suffering from sores all over my lips and inner cheeks. And I was flying into Sloan Kettering every other week because they were the people who knew the most about it. And they beat it. But the mustache at the time covered everything.

You mentioned during your acceptance speech that it took you a few seconds to walk up to the stage, but it took three years to get to the table in the first place.

If I was saying it now I would say that it took me 51 years, some months, weeks, and days to get to that second. Because that’s the way I think of it now.

You made a point of sharing your award with Bob Wood, the president of CBS at the time, who was responsible for “All in the Family” getting on the air at all.

Bob Wood was the one who made the decision. When he initially made the decision, it was to do 13 episodes, and then he asked if he would just do a pilot first. We’d already done two pilots at that point. I said, “I can’t do another pilot. This just has to go on the air.”

Going into the evening, had you been excited about the possibility of winning an Emmy? Did Emmys mean anything to you at the time?

I don’t think I was really thinking about it. We were working our a—s off to make a buck. We were a bunch of guys who were all married with kids, and nobody was at the peak of any career, so we were all hard-working writers. That’s what was on our minds — succeeding at that level and continuing to draw down some money! Everything that happened, happened. But it wasn’t preconceived at all.

Did it feel like a triumph once you actually won the award?

I was thrilled and excited. But it was a triumph I’d never thought of.

More TV

  • Kevin BarnettFOX 'Rel' TV show panel,

    Comedian Kevin Barnett Dies in Mexico at 32

    Kevin Barnett, the comedian behind Fox comedy series “Rel,” has died while on vacation in Mexico of unknown causes. He was 32. Barnett’s New York City-based comedy career was just taking off at the time of his death, having recently executive produced and co-created Fox TV series “Rel” alongside comedians Lil Rel Howery and Josh [...]

  • Can't We Talk About Something More

    Roz Chast Memoir ‘Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?’ to Be Adapted Into TV Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Famed New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast is taking her sardonic wit to a television screen near you. Her best-selling graphic memoir “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” is being adapted into a half-hour television series by Shivani Rawat’s ShivHans Pictures and Ken Kwapis’ In Cahoots, Variety has learned. Emmy-winning writer Sheila R. Lawrence (“The [...]

  • Jesse Redniss Variety Entertainment & Technology

    WarnerMedia Debuts Content Innovation Lab Fueled by AT&T Tech

    WarnerMedia is launching an incubator meant to “combine emerging technologies with content from across its operating units to create new and innovative consumer experiences and businesses,” the company announced Tuesday. Led by Jesse Redniss, Turner’s executive VP of data strategy and product innovation, the WarnerMedia Innovation Lab is looking to integrate its intellectual property and talent [...]

  • Ilha de Ferro - Dante (

    NATPE: 5 Takes on Brazil’s Globo and Its 2019 Lineup

    MIAMI  — In hallowed tradition, Brazilian TV giant Globo unveiled its NATPE line-up on the first day of the Miami trade fair. With scripted and non-scripted promos playing to a thundering soundtrack Jerry Bruckheimer would have been proud of, this was, as ever for Globo, a polished and powerful presentation. But it also said much [...]

  • Live+7 Ratings for Week of Dec.

    Live+7 Ratings for Week of Dec. 31: 'Masked Singer' Premiere Grows by 40 Percent

    The series premiere of “The Masked Singer” continued to pay dividends to Fox in the delayed viewing numbers. In Live+7 for the week of Dec. 31, “The Masked Singer”–which already had the biggest Live+3 gain of any unscripted premiere ever–rose 40% from its Live+Same Day haul in adults 18-49 to a 4.2 rating. In total viewers, [...]

  • Paula Kaplan

    Viacom Digital Studios' Paula Kaplan Expands Role to Oversee Talent for Nickelodeon

    Paula Kaplan, the executive vice president of talent and development at Viacom Digital Studios, is expanding her role to new include overseeing talent for Nickelodeon. Kaplan’s new title will be executive vice president of talent and development for Viacom Digital Studios and EVP of talent for Nickelodeon. Kaplan will report to both Brian Robbins, president [...]

  • THE MAGICIANS -- Pictured: (l-r) Trevo

    'The Magicians' Renewed for Season 5 at Syfy, Adds New Co-Showrunner

    Syfy has renewed “The Magicians” for a fifth season just ahead of the fourth season premiere. The show has also promoted Henry Alonso Myers to co-showrunner for the fifth season. “‘The Magicians’ raised the bar at Syfy and has gained momentum season after season, attracting a new audience to the channel. We are proud of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content