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Week of 12.1.06

Norman Lear on Minding our Media

Public opinion polls unanimously show that trust in mainstream media—the institution most responsible for keeping us informed and aware—is at an all-time low. How did we get here, and more importantly, how can we repair the damage?

This week, NOW poses those questions to legendary television producer and People for the American Way founder Norman Lear.

"If a cat is up a tree, or if someone is slaughtered at the Boy Scout den, that (coverage) will be wall-to-wall, every day, every night, and will always drive out the kind of informative programming that people are desperate to get and should have, in order to have a robust democracy," Lear told NOW.

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We also talk to Martin Kaplan, associate dean of USC's Annenberg School of Communication. Is mainstream media serving public or corporate interests? Issues and answers from people who've spent their lives minding the media. This week on NOW.

» NOW on the controversy behind media consolidation: Clearing the Air

About Norman Lear

Norman Lear has enjoyed a long and legendary career in television and film, but also using his stature as a political and social activist and philanthropist.

Slideshow: The Vision of Norman Learn
Slideshow: The Vision of Norman Lear
Lear's television work has placed a mirror on some of the most divisive issues in our society, including racism, economic disparity, alcoholism, and abortion, most in the context of comedy. His producing and writing credits include "All in the Family," "Sanford & Son," "Maude," "Good Times," "The Jeffersons," "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," "Fernwood 2Nite" and the dramatic series "Palmerstown U.S.A." His motion picture credits include "Cold Turkey," "Divorce American Style," "Fried Green Tomatoes," "Stand By Me" and "The Princess Bride." In 1982, he produced the two-hour special, "I Love Liberty," for ABC.

In 1999, President Clinton bestowed the National Medal of Arts on Lear for changing the way we look at American society. The recipient of four consecutive Emmy awards (1970-1973), Lear has the distinction of being among the first seven television pioneers inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1984. He also received a Peabody Award in 1977 for "All in the Family," as well as awards and accolades from many other professional and civic organizations.

Beyond the entertainment world, Lear has brought his distinctive vision to politics, academia and business by founding several nonprofit organizations including People For the American Way, the Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, and the Business Enterprise Trust, an educational program that used annual awards, business school case studies, and videos to cast a spotlight on exemplary social innovations in American business.

In 2000, Norman and his wife Lyn, along with a friend, bought one of the few surviving original prints of the Declaration of Independence. The Lears are now the sole owners of this document, which is one of only 25 original copies of the Declaration of Independence left in the world. This version of the document—the "Dunlap broadside"—was printed on the night of July 4th, 1776. From 2001 until the presidential election of 2004, the document toured the country as the centerpiece of the Declaration of Independence Road Trip, and its spin-off project, the Declare Yourself young voter activism project. Through its aggressive outreach to young and first-time voters, the Declare Yourself project resulted in the registration of over one million new voters in the 2004 general election.

Lear's business career began in 1959 with his co-founding of Tandem Productions, Inc. In 1974, he and his partners created T.A.T. Communications, later known as Embassy Communications. He is currently chairman of Act III Communications, a multimedia holding with interests in the recording, motion picture, broadcasting and publishing industries.

Lear is married to Lyn Davis Lear and resides in Los Angeles, California. He has six children.

* Biography from The Norman Lear Center

About Martin Kaplan

Martin Kaplan Martin Kaplan, director of The Norman Lear Center, is associate dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication. He has been a White House speechwriter, a Washington journalist, a deputy presidential campaign manager, a Disney studio executive, a motion picture and television producer and screenwriter, and a radio

Kaplan graduated with a degree in molecular biology from Harvard, , where he was president of the Harvard Lampoon, president of the Signet Society, and on the editorial boards of the Harvard Crimson and Harvard Advocate. As a Marshall Scholar, he studied English from Cambridge University in England. As a Danforth Fellow, he received a Ph.D. in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University.

A former chief speechwriter to then Vice President Walter Mondale, Kaplan also served as deputy op-ed editor and columnist for the Washington Star, visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution, and a regular commentator on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" and "The CBS Morning News." As deputy campaign manager of the Mondale Presidential race in 1984, he was in charge of policy, speechwriting, issues, and research. He also worked at Disney for 12 years, both as a studio vice president in live-action feature films, and as a writer-producer under exclusive contract.

Kaplan's credits include writing and executive producing "The Distinguished Gentleman," starring Eddie Murphy; and adapting "Noises Off," directed by Peter Bogdanovich. He has hosted "So What Else Is News?" a nationally-syndicated program on Air America Radio. He has also been a regular commentator on the business of entertainment on the public radio program "Marketplace." Kaplan is editor of "The Harvard Lampoon Centennial Celebration. 1876-1973"; co-author of "Educating for Survival"; and editor of "The Monday Morning Imagination", and "What Is An Educated Person?"

* Biography from The Norman Lear Center

Related Links:

» NOW Transcript: Bill Moyers talks to Norman Lear

» The Norman Lear Center at USC

» Declare Yourself

» People for the American Way

» Norman Lear talks to a kid reporter about the Declaration of Independence

» The Museum of Broadcast Communications: All in the Family, Good Times, The Jeffersons, Maude