Television icon Norman Lear is celebrating his 100th birthday on Wednesday with some big news befitting the legend: ABC has revealed plans to celebrate Lear’s centennial with a primetime special this fall. Variety has exclusively learned that ABC will air “Norman Lear: 100 Years of Music and Laughter” on Thursday, Sept. 22 at 9 p.m. ET.
The two-hour special will honor the life and legacy of Lear, including his work as a producer, activist and philanthropist. The list of celebrity guests and musical performances set to appear on the special and pay homage to Lear will be announced at a later date.
The special will come just ten days after the 74th Emmy Awards, which Lear — already the TV Academy’s oldest Emmy nominee and winner ever — plans to attend in person. Lear, who has won two Emmys in recent years for his “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” specials with Jimmy Kimmel on ABC, is nominated again this year for the third edition, which aired last year and re-created “Diff’rent Strokes” and “The Facts of Life.”
“Norman’s illustrious career is revered by so many, and we are honored to be celebrating his legacy with this special night of entertainment,” said Craig Erwich, president, Hulu Originals and ABC Entertainment. “We have been lucky to work with Norman on a number of projects over the years, and it’s only fitting that his centennial birthday be marked by the biggest names in Hollywood raising a glass to toast, and perhaps gently roast, the television icon.”
Done+Dusted — which is coincidentally executive producing the Emmys again this year with Reggie Hudlin (for NBC), is set to produce the Lear special, along with Walt Disney Television Alternative. Executive producers are David Jammy, Brent Miller, Raj Kapoor and Eric Cook.
“I’ve always believed music and laughter have added time to my life,” Lear said in a statement. “I’ve seen a lot throughout my 100 years, but I would’ve never imagined America having a front-row seat to my birthday celebration. Thank you, ABC. Thank you, Done+Dusted. Even this, I get to experience.”
Lear was born in 1922 in New Haven, Conn., and attended Emerson College before serving during World War II and flying 52 combat missions over Europe. His early career in TV included “The Colgate Comedy Hour” and “The Martha Raye Show.” Later, with partner Bud Yorkin, he was behind many of the most iconic shows of the 1970s, staring with “All in the Family.” Later, that included “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons,” “Maude” and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” among others.
As a production mogul, he ran Tandem Prods. with Yorkin, and later T.A.T. and then Embassy Pictures with Jerry Perenchio. Lear went on to produce films such as “The Princess Bride” and “Fried Green Tomatoes.”
In 1980, in response to the rise of the radical religious right, he founded People For The American Way to fight right-wing extremism and defend constitutional values like free expression, religious liberty, equal justice under the law, and the right to meaningfully participate in our democracy. During the 2000s, much of his attention was on advocacy and philanthropic work. He and wife Lyn purchased a rare, original copy of the Declaration of Independence and took it on a road tour for much of the next decade.
Lear sold the document and focused on writing his memoir, “Even This I Get to Experience,” published in 2014. Meanwhile, production began on a documentary about Lear’s life, “Just Another Version of You.” It was then that, with production partner Brent Miller, Lear became active again as an executive producer. His critically acclaimed reimagining of “One Day at a Time,” EPed with Gloria Calderón Kellett and Mike Royce, ran for four seasons on Netflix and then Pop TV. Then came “Live in Front of a Studio Audience,” which won the Emmy for variety special for two consecutive years.
Lear and Miller have been based at Sony Pictures TV, where their Act III Prods. has held a deal right up to his 100th birthday.
Lear is a 2017 Kennedy Center Honoree; a recipient of the National Medal of Arts in 1999 and the Peabody Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016; and part of the inaugural group of inductees to the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1984. He has won six Primetime Emmys and a Golden Globe.