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TV pioneer Norman Lear finds joy in creative stress

May 4, 2017 at 6:15 PM EDT
Legendary writer and producer Norman Lear was responsible for some of America’s most popular and groundbreaking sitcoms, like “All in the Family,” “Maude” and “The Jeffersons.” Lear, 94, gives his Brief but Spectacular take on what it means to live a joyfully stressful life.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Now to another in our Brief But Spectacular series where we ask people about their passions. Tonight, we hear from legendary television producer Norman Lear, who’s responsible for some of America’s most popular and groundbreaking sitcoms.

At 94, Lear shows no sign of slowing down. This week, he began hosting a new podcast, “All of the Above.”

INTERVIEWER: Mr. Lear, how do people treat you as you get older?

NORMAN LEAR, Television Writer, Producer: Yes, as I get older, people who consider me wiser, and that too is bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

I was a kid of the Depression. My dad, his brothers, everyone, they all went belly up. Everybody was broke.

The great aunts and grandparents, always had an expression that when somebody was making a buck he was a good provider. “A good provider,” that was a sound I heard a lot, and all I ever wanted to be was a good provider.

I’d seen Carroll O’Connor in a Blake Edwards comedy called “What Did You Do in the War Daddy? ” And I never forgot his face. He walked in and read and he didn’t finish the page before I knew that was Archie Bunker. I wrote those lines, he gave it his soul.

The thing I love about Archie and Edith is they were they both talked a lot of bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED). They didn’t really know what they are talking about, but they had strong points of view. That’s what most of America is about.

I love doing plays because they are plays in front of a live audience. It develops chemistry between the individual players and the audience.

MAN: How does she communicate with people?

MAN: You see, Robin thinks words are a waste of time, so she speaks with her eyes.

MAN: Oooh! Well, open up wide and let’s hear the Gettysburg address.

(LAUGHTER)

NORMAN LEAR: On the air at one time, there was “All in the Family” and “Maude,” “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times,” “One Day at a Time,” “The Facts of Life,” “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” “Fernwood Tonigh.” People used to ask, wow, you’re under a lot of stress. There is stress and there is joyful. The stress I was under was altogether joyful.

It ended with 240 live people sitting in an audience laughing. Go beat that. It all added time to my life.

Hi. I’m Norman Lear, and this is my brief but spectacular take on all the things that made me wind up with the life I’ve led.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You can watch more brief but spectacular videos online at pbs.org/newshour/briefs.

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