Transcript:

Speaker My name is Marty Kaplan and I grew up in Newark, New Jersey, and then in a suburb of Newark called Union, and TV was happening right then when people got a television in the neighborhood, it was something you noticed. And when people got to color television, that was something you noticed. I watched just about every show that was designed to get kids attention. And since it was the New York metro area, there were a lot of stations that had shows like that, like Uncle Sonny Fox, for example. He was a guy who was surrounded by kids and puppets and he'd show little animated stuff. And you would want to get to be in the peanut gallery, as you would for Howdy Doody and Buffalo. Bob, those were the the icons of the day, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, all those shows designed for kids that maybe people remember if they're of a certain vintage, maybe not. But they were the kinds of things that parents wouldn't mind parking their kids in front of because it didn't seem to be dangerous.

Speaker What we're watching right now to this is I'm talking about the 60s in the late 50s and 60s.

Speaker Yes. And adults, at least in my neighborhood, were watching a lot of variety. People like Arthur Godfrey, George Goalball, Ed Sullivan and musical acts of various kinds of quiz shows were very big. Twenty one and the 64000 dollar question, things like that. And I became a series junkie. It was a great era for Westerns. So Gunsmoke and Bonanza, there were shows like Topper that I developed a specialty taste for some weird one offs that gale storm were in, like my little Margie and Zaazou pits. She was a big star in one of these are names to conjure with zaazou pits. Exactly. It not only real, but now you'll remember it forever.

Speaker It's true that in the war, so was it was it an era where did people all talk about what they'd seen the night before was or what did television represent in terms of work for a community?

Speaker It was a water cooler time when people saw something on TV. They would talk about it the next day. And generally the conversations were trivial. You know, did you see that plot about this or that? Or the new season TV Guide would promote the new season, and it would always happen in a certain number of weeks in the fall. And I'd be very excited and really frustrated that I couldn't figure out what I should watch at a given time. I mean, when they counterprogram to Benki against Dr. Kildare, what medical show should you pick? Can't remember if that was the actual choice, but. But quandaries like that came up all the time. Things changed, though, in a big way with the Kennedy assassination. That was a moment unlike any other. And suddenly everyone in my house and every other house was watching television non-stop round the clock. That was a new experience to be focused on one single news event. And then when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald and we actually experienced something like that in real time, that was really powerful. When the space program got going, I remember in school a TV would be wheeled in on high rolling stand and the whole class would get to watch the countdown and the liftoff or the lack of liftoff. So a number of news events became national events that were regarded as as much a part of culture as anything else that we were doing.

Speaker Did you see, because of those events after the Kennedy assassination, did you start seeing real life on the screen more than scripted shows, or is that something that was going to wait for a while longer? Did you see, you know, in hindsight the relationship?

Speaker What I thought was real life on television, of course, wasn't remotely real life. The father knows best. Leave It to Beaver kind of America I saw depicted I was gullible enough to think that this was normal, average, real and true, and that therefore I suffered from some kind of like the family version of body dysmorphia. Why is my family not like that family? Why are we. Always fighting and whining and miserable and, you know, occasionally celebrating and loving and that sort of thing, too, but that's not what we were seeing on television. We saw disputes that always could be mediated in the course of 22 minutes. And we saw people who had no problems expressing only happy and loving emotions toward each other. No one was ever bored. Everyone always had fun. And my reaction to all that was what is wrong with me made you feel kind of like not so good about it. Yeah. And that was the same thing. That was true when I would look at advertising.

Speaker Sure, sure.

Speaker Yeah. I was reading what's cooking, what's going on. I took your shirt in a little bit. Oh that would be the best thing.

Speaker Is the mic in the wrong place or I mean, am I.

Speaker I can see it, I can see you, sure you're seeing some. It sounded great just. Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, let's let's get to a place that we're happy, but we can't we don't want to keep. I mean, the material material, right? I want to give you this anyway, once you're done with this, you could just put it on the floor, but I wanted to show it my release.

Speaker Now, we're going to do this right now because a lot of this for like a.

Speaker And I'll tell you what. All right, let's keep going so that if I found it this morning, I thought it was hell.

Speaker Take a look at it. Oh, now, that is the 1971 1972 television schedule.

Speaker Oh, see, now this is I'm I'm living in England by now and not watching TV at all. I graduated from college. I know it's hard to believe, but I graduated from college in 1971 and so therefore these are the lost years.

Speaker All right. We'll do something to remind you of this, because I believe nineteen seventy one was when all in the family started. Yeah. So tell me a little bit what what was on the television schedule that you're seeing there.

Speaker Think you recognize any of this one to start with? I started by they were top ten, but I just thought it was interesting to look at what was on.

Speaker I vividly remember watching Gunsmoke that was always on the list. Lafon was on the list. Of course, Nixon's appearance on laughing and the the catchphrase sock it to me, sweeping the nation was a phenom. Sonny and Cher certainly never watched the Doris Day show. I'm sure there's something right about me because of that.

Speaker Bewitched, loved Bewitched, always loved Bewitched. Agnes Moorehead is someone who never, ever would have been on my radar screen had it not been for that Shirleys world wasn't surely the star from Hazel the the maid God only knows me and the chimp.

Speaker Love the name. Can't remember anything about it.

Speaker The courtship of Eddie's father will you know it followed Bewitched. So they probably wanted me to watch it because in the pre VCR era, the idiocy was that people were never imagined to change the channel. In fact, if you had NBC on at night at the end of the evening, not only would you watch Carson, but it would be cued up the next morning for the Today Show. The notion that anybody would ever own control over their set somehow took a back seat to the idea that the programmers at the networks could get you into a groove and that you'd stay with it. But frankly, I don't think I ever got involved with the courtship of Eddie's father. The Carol Burnett Show was very big. I loved her and in fact, I had a great pleasure. I wrote a movie at Disney and wanted her to star in it, and she did. And so I got to know her some years much later after this. But my first relationship with her was watching this amazing comedian.

Speaker Could you tell me what you're holding that I gave you?

Speaker This is the schedule for the early 70s, prime time, and the most important thing about this schedule is that there are only three networks. Imagine that just choosing among three things and the assumption that if you started with something on a primetime block, you'd actually stay with it because you'd be so mesmerized by the entertainment being provided, you would forget to stand up and sample what else might be on. All in the family is on Saturday night on CBS in this lineup, and I think it's probably fair to say that there was nothing like all in the family that same evening. You had Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, beloved shows about beloved families. But what made those shows wonderful was how fictional they were. They were the artifacts of what great writers and great comedians would put together in an imaginary universe, which was always entertaining, but all in the family was full of rough edges.

Speaker Let's talk about that. Let's put the papers away. Thank you for doing that. I thought that was sort of fun for me to be reminded of what was there. Is that going to be in the now?

Speaker OK, you knew what was on the air then, you already knew, you just pretended that you didn't know when you ask.

Speaker I knew five minutes before you. Oh, my gosh, Marty. No, let's not see the seams here, OK? This is supposed to be magical. So all in the family, how the hell did that get on the schedule? This is what I'm trying to figure out honestly and truly.

Speaker We've been working on this for over six months. I still do not understand how that ever got in. This TV world. Tell me your thoughts about about how it was possible for a show like that to get on the air.

Speaker The rule in network television and the rule in Hollywood has always been the same, but different. Everyone always wants to reproduce a prior hit, assuming that somehow lightning had been put in a bottle and all you had to do was repeat it. But because you get nailed, if you literally repeated it, you'd have to do it slightly different. And all in the family was not the same, but different. It was just different. And I think ultimately it got on the air because what else was on the air like Greenacres was so much the same that the same, but different finally didn't work as a formula. And so the programmers and network heads decided they needed to roll the dice on different and different and all in the family fit that bill.

Speaker And when did you that first brought you out of the country for a bit, when you first come across your.

Speaker When all the family first aired, I didn't see it because I was living in England, but Archie Bunker as a phenomenon was in the news. People talked about it also because there was a British television show that all in the family was loosely descended from. There was a reason for the British press to be covering it. So the idea that there would be somebody on television who was a bigot, who was a member of the silent majority, as Richard Nixon would call them, this was a highly politicized time. When I was in college, there were riots, Kent State shooting my undergraduate years junior and sophomore year, the campus was shut down by student strikes. The election of Nixon reelection, the Vietnam War draft, all of these were raging huge issues. And the idea that there would be somebody on television in a comedy who'd be talking about that stuff but who would be saying those things from a perspective that I would normally revile and instead find very funny, both because the character resembled the bigots that I knew in and around my home address, and also because the context provided the give and take so that what he said was never the last word about everything. It was always about the context. It was about what Rob Reiner's character would say or about what Edith Stapleton's character, Edith Stapleton, sorry. It was about what Rob Reiner's character would say. It was about what Jean Stapleton's character would say. And so the meaning of the show was built up in lots of layers at the end. And I imagine some people would think that Archie's point of view was the right one. And they agreed with and that's what the show was about. But my sense was that he was adding a spice to the mix that had never been part of it before, which made it more lifelike, more intense, more peppery, more real than television had been, at least scripted comedy until that moment.

Speaker Tell me when you see that in context, what was going on in the country. These conversations, were they were they being had in private and was this the first time that it was being had in public, sort of in a public forum on television?

Speaker Before all in the family, I don't think I'd ever seen conversations in domestic settings that would make me respond. Oh, my God, they've been to my house. They know what we say in private. It's unbelievably embarrassing. And to see it in public, we're not alone. There is a way to make fun of it. And by ventilating the serious part of it, maybe we can come to deal with the substantive part of it through comedy. I've never seen that before. I never seen the kinds of things that my parents and their friends had said about race and people of different religions and of different social classes. I've never seen that on television before. And to see it not only said, but have comedy made out of it, have people respond the way Meathead and Co. responded to it. I kind of wish I had those lines to use when I was around the table.

Speaker I mean, I put those two clips, obviously. I mean, the idea of airing those kind of racial I mean, I cringe, though, maybe because why do I cringe when I hear that?

Speaker How could that be? It still feels wrong to hear those things I said out loud. Is that conditioning? Is that political correctness? Is is there any way that that could have done some damage? Some people felt that it was damaging to hear those sort of things being said on television. Want to talk? Let's talk about that.

Speaker When all the family first aired, the great controversial question was, was it making fun of and eliminating prejudice or was it reinforcing prejudice?

Speaker The famous example of this was the novelist Laura Z. Hopsin writing a front page New York Times story in which she attacked on the family for validating and legitimizing the kind of prejudice that was being watched. And in fact, there were also some studies done in subsequent years by communication scholars on something that became known as the Archie Bunker effect, in which it was alleged to be demonstrated that when people watched Archie say these things, that encouraged and reinforced the prejudices they felt in themselves. My own view is that those studies themselves had samples which were completely unrepresentative. One of them used a bunch of white boys at a Midwestern college, as I recall, and the other a small community in Ontario.

Speaker I'm not sure how much you could learn about the real world from those kinds of small samples. I think that if you were determined to hold on to your prejudices, then hearing Archie Bunker say those words didn't make you more prejudiced than when you went into them. And if you were not prejudiced or if you believe that people who use those words had problems, then you were thrilled to have a context in which the people who did that were made fun of. So the history of this country, I believe, is one of though threw fits and starts. Racial problems have been addressed out loud in public. The law has tried to make a difference. We have all kinds of public events, especially in recent days, that remind us how far we have yet to go. But I think it's fair to say that in terms of race relations, for example, we're in better shape now than we were in 1971 when all in the family first appeared.

Speaker So if Archie Bunker, giving voice to terms of bigotry, made bigots feel more comfortable being bigoted, then there's no obvious evidence of that in the great cultural sweep of history.

Speaker Absolutely true. Are we OK back there? Stewart? Carroll O'Connor. I listened to an interview that he did. Of many years ago with Bob Costas, it's a really interesting little piece, and he said he you know, certain people like Laura Hobbs and Bill Cosby, who today has no credibility, but the credibility had come out against the show for these reasons. And and Bob Costas asked him, do you think you might have made it worse or did you make it better in terms of, you know. Having this conversation out loud, truly and honestly, and and I don't know that we made it better. And I sometimes I wondered if we made it worse by giving voice it by giving. He said, But I know we were doing something so special it was like lightning in a bottle. We knew whatever was happening was was revolutionary. And the fact that it still feels that way today means that we haven't found a way to grapple publicly with these race issues because, I mean, the fact that cringing all these years later means that there's still resonance to those those words and that we still have such a long way to go. So in a way, it's an interesting litmus test. You you can look at some old shows and you think they're so silly the way that, you know, Leave It to Beaver, the housewife, and always bring her slippers to her husband. And I can laugh at these things now as as a woman in twenty fifteen. But the real stuff that when in fact it still doesn't. So it really is an interesting test to see how far we've come on different things.

Speaker Well, for a creative person, it's an interesting question. What is the socially responsible thing to do is depicting the reality that exists in the privacy of our own homes. Is that reckless? Is that socially irresponsible to depict what is actually going on because it risks making it seem normal? Or does it in fact expose it to scrutiny and enable people to say, wait a minute, yes, that was a taboo area that we never saw depicted in popular culture. And now that that line can be crossed, it's a topic we can talk about. I remember when Philip Roth's novels, his early novels came out, there was a great to do about the The QandA, the shame that he brought to the Jewish people because he was depicting things which were unappealing about certain Jewish communities and their attitudes toward race and sex and so on. What was the responsible thing for an artist to do? And I think he made the right choice and I think Norman Lear made the right choice.

Speaker When did you first come across Norman?

Speaker Realize that you are so like minded to tell me your relationship with them and how I first met Norman when I worked in the White House during the Carter administration, I was Vice President Walter Mondale's chief speechwriter, and Norman was an extremely prominent liberal Democrat whose opinions about issues his network of fundraisers in Hollywood were widely desired by anyone in Democratic politics. And so in the course of many trips to California, I would find myself at events that he was at or at his home. And from time to time, there would be some issue or topic that I would call him to ask advice about. And so I got to know him a little bit that way. But it was the the world of the campaign and it wasn't a kind of lasting friendship. That relationship. My relationship with Norman really began on New Year's Eve of 1983, going into 1984. It was at a New Year's Eve party given by mutual friends of ours, Ben Bradlee, the editor of The Washington Post, and his wife, Sally Quinn. And it was the first of what became a long series of storied New Year's Eve parties, black tie. And as midnight approached, it looked as though the only two people who were not part of a couple at the party were Norman and me. Norman had just had a horrific set of events happen in his own personal life. And as he has subsequently written and I didn't quite know it until I read this in his autobiography, he described it as one of the most miserable and lonely evenings of his life. I at this point was going into the 1984 year of presidential primaries and the presidential election. And I was deputy campaign manager and again chief speechwriter to Walter Mondale. And so I had basically changed into a tuxedo at my office and walked down the hill to Ben and Sally's. And the idea of having any relationship at all at this point in my life was completely beyond the pale.

Speaker So as midnight approached, I kind of didn't want to be all by myself and alone. And I caught Norman's eye and he caught my eye. And over the sauerkraut, we kind of sidled up to each other. And when the countdown happened in Auld Lang Syne, all we could figure to do at that moment was to kiss each other. We embraced it was a very loving moment. And then each of us claims that it was the other one who said this. I say it was me. After we embraced, I looked at him deeply in the eye and said, you know, this isn't going to last.

Speaker Norman later said that it was really he who had said that, but from that moment on, we bonded and then I didn't know it at the time. But a year later, I moved to Los Angeles and we instantly became inseparable companions. And ever since 1985, we've been extremely close and lived through all kinds of events in both our lives, both in the professional realm and the personal realm.

Speaker Well, first of all, leave it to Norman thirty. First of all, want to rewrite your first encounter. OK, and number two, I guess I should show you the Sammy Davis kiss.

Speaker Yes, yes, yes, yes.

Speaker That is really, really funny. So but then, of course, you went your separate ways.

Speaker Well, we both lived in Los Angeles and I came to L.A. to be an executive at Disney. I became vice president of motion picture production at Disney Studios, which had a new cast of characters. And I needed an entertainment insider guru to help me figure out what is this species of movie executive that I found myself plopped in the midst of. And so Norman would be the person whom I would turn to to find out what it means to be at that level of of power and as it turns out, of vanity and ignorance and how to cope with all that.

Speaker And then said, sorry, but how did he shed light upon for the species? What did you learn? What did you glean from his wisdom in the new job?

Speaker Norman explained to me that everybody I was surrounded by in the entertainment industry, whether it was people I worked with or people who were colleagues elsewhere in the industry, were basically 15 year old boys and that their raging hormones and their sense of entitlement and their determination never to be exposed as dummies and imposters, that that governing principle was universally true about everybody. And that therefore, as long as I understood that the impressions people were trying to give of themselves were basically the same kinds of impressions that I remembered from sophomore year at Union High, I could always be assured that I would be acting in the right way.

Speaker That is amazing. Advice could give advice today.

Speaker It is.

Speaker I think it's fair to say that the people in the entertainment industry are similar to people of power in politics or in the Fortune 500 that everybody is afraid of, that moment in which it's revealed that they are naked, that they're imposters, that they don't know what they say they know, and that their claims to power and position are just things that they're holding on by their fingernails.

Speaker One of the kind of advice he gave you, did you ever have to deal with issues of censorship or fighting with your colleagues about what was fit to. Be acquired by or produced by Disney, did you ever have those conversations with him about his time dealing with.

Speaker By the time I got to Disney, censorship was really not much of an issue. The the the religion was making money and anything in the way of that was easy to to knock down. The kind of advice Norman gave me when I went into the entertainment industry that was most valuable was not when I was an executive, but when I became a writer and producer, a screenwriter. And what he said to me after I showed him the very first screenplay I wrote stuck with me. He said, it's superficial. It doesn't take any risks. It doesn't dig deep. It's just like other movies. It's just like what you see on television. And in retrospect, I love the brutal honesty that he was willing to unleash on me a dear friend, because I took it quite to heart. And I think everything that I wrote after that was better, in part because he encouraged me to take those risks. And one of the happiest moments of my life in that role came the morning that feature that I wrote had its nation. My happiest moment was when a feature that I wrote for Disney called The Distinguished Gentleman starring Eddie Murphy was released. And on that morning it was reviewed in the L.A. Times and in The New York Times. And both papers loved it. And the fact that Norman was the first person to call me that morning and to say you did it, look at that score coast to coast. Congratulations. The distance between that and the way he had dumped on my first screenplay is Distance. I was thrilled to have traveled. And it's a really precious moment for me.

Speaker I'd love to at some point talk to you about how you went from.

Speaker Disney executive to screenwriter, I mean, you've got a very interesting vast don't or don't you want to ask me about how I went from molecular biology to speechwriter?

Speaker Please tell me that. Did you start with you really?

Speaker Yes. I have a bachelor's degree, summa cum laude from Harvard in molecular biology.

Speaker You got a big ass brain there, Mr. Kaplan. You have to tell you that. Excuse me, but wow. No, it's really amazing. But I want to ask you about. OK, so getting that call from Norman.

Speaker If I still hear people referencing Norman shows younger people and creative people is still sort of the standard for storytelling, do people still go and seek out Norman's advice or study those shows in some way? And if so, what is that?

Speaker What is it that he mastered that we still continue to master storytellers?

Speaker People do seek Mormon's advice for many reasons. One is because they think that he has found the mysterious formula that transmutes coal into gold and they just want him to share it with them also because he managed somehow to be stronger than the networks that at every moment in which there was a confrontation, he always said, if you don't like it, fine, I'll go somewhere else. We don't need to do this. His strength and security and his lack of dependence on money or whatever a momentary reputation might be about whether he's difficult or not in the industry, never mattered to him as much as what he thought was good entertainment.

Speaker And I think people like to rub up against that and get a kind of contagion of moral strength from him.

Speaker He also figured out what to do to capture the zeitgeist. The the thing about that moment in history, which was most telling about being alive that no one else was depicting. And so that commodity is rare and I think it's still highly desirable in any form of entertainment. And so just talking to Norman about what's going on in the world, what he's noticing, what what he sees, what he thinks is a way of having your eye turned towards something that you might see for the first time. Norman's a great believer in mindfulness, in paying attention and seeing something with fresh eyes and to have a conversation with him, which usually begins. Did you see this is a great moment. One of my favorite things about Norman is that I can count on hearing from him many mornings in which he will call and it's often quite early.

Speaker And he'll say to me, Did you see this? And what he's talking about is some story in the newspaper which outraged him or fascinated or intrigued him. And among other things, it made sure that I always get up early to be able to read the paper before he does. So that I don't have to say like a dummy. No, I didn't tell me what's in the newspaper and instead be able to say, yes, I did. I'm so glad you saw that. And we talk about it and we sort of get each other more and more enthused about the topic or more outraged or give each other ideas about ways to go after it. These days, the ways that I go after it have to do with my life in the university. I run the Norman Lear Center and one of the things that we do is try to look at some of the most important issues in the world of media and entertainment. So when Norman notices something happening in journalism, for example, or in entertainment and society, he will point something out and he will often say something like, doesn't this deserve a conversation?

Speaker Isn't this something that people ought to be wrestling with that they're not? And ninety nine times out of 100, he's right. He's not a meddling donor telling someone who should be across the line what to do. He is a fountain of great ideas. And I am thrilled always to have him as a partner when he tells me about stuff to pay attention to because it's thought provoking. And then subsequent conversations really show us different facets of that diamond.

Speaker I want to hear about the beginning of the Norman Lear Center and how how that sort of how you gave birth to that. But before I ask that, I want so many celebrities and well know extremely wealthy and powerful people in entertainment.

Speaker They try to make that journey into a political life and to political activism with really varying results. I think there's some resistance from the public about being lectured to, etc. by people. Having the very, very easy life, et cetera, but but somehow Norman seems to have very gracefully moved and I know it's been many years that he's been in the mix from moving into serious political activism.

Speaker How does he make that journey? How do you how did you observe that journey? Why was that so successful? What about that move that he made worked and where others have failed?

Speaker I think if you ask Norman, he would not say that his move into politics and political issues has worked. I think what Norman says, I've heard him say it, is that there has never been a single politician who has ever taken any advice he has ever given them. I've been in many, many of these meetings, both when I was in politics and when I've been at political events that he and Lynne hosted at their home or that we're at with other politicians. And generally the politicians would ask questions like you people are the masters of messaging. You have your finger on the pulse of America. What do you think I should be saying in order to connect with the American people? What are the themes that are most important right now that people are passionate about that will help us coalesce and move this country in a good direction? And Norman always had an answer for that. He was always articulate, based in what he saw at that exact moment in American culture. And as he testified, no politician ever took any advice he ever offered on that front. I don't think it's because Norman gave bad advice. I think it's because politicians are complete blowhards and actors. And when they come to Hollywood, they are desperately looking for a way to start up the request for money as a request for advice about important issues and about communication. In fact, what they're doing is following the great tradition of coming to California to dig for gold, saying, yes, that is so true.

Speaker Yeah. Wow. So why keep trying?

Speaker I mean, that you're putting a different spin on this, that he's. Is he making an impact?

Speaker Are you making it back together? What kind of impact are you aiming for?

Speaker We're all trying to make impact. Norman tried through his shows and he tries through the money he gives to different causes. I would argue, for example, that people for the American Way and the Business Enterprise Trust and the Norman Lear Center have all made a difference in the way the country talks about issues and analyzes things and occasionally does things. It's very hard in a complex society to attribute impact and influence.

Speaker To one thing in particular, everything is, as the sociologists say, overdetermined. But I think that if you look at what, for example, people for has done in its watching of extreme radical fringe groups and of explaining who those people really are and what their agendas are and of getting them on the radar screen of law enforcement and of political candidates, that that has paid a public service.

Speaker I think that what we've done at the Lear Center, explaining the content of media, the impact of media, our attempts to improve media, for example, in the area of local television news, that these things have made a difference and that they wouldn't be doing so were it not for his generosity.

Speaker And how did this come about, the Norman Lear Center? And what and what was the initial aim as opposed to what you're doing now?

Speaker I was associate dean of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California after I worked at Disney. And Norman was my friend and he was also a friend of the deans, Jeff Cowan.

Speaker And so we had some interest in what we were doing at Annenberg. And one of the things that I was doing was empirical studies on media. What was actually the content, for example, of television news? Because I believe then and now that what is on the news has an impact on public opinion, on how people vote and what public policy becomes. And I did a study of the 1998 election for governor of California and replicated a study that had been done in generation earlier, which was scandalous because it revealed how little attention was paid to the gubernatorial race. And so I measured that attention in 1998. And I discovered that however small it was a generation earlier, it was even half of that now that zero point four, five percent of the local news. Less than half a percent of the local news in the state of California was devoted to covering the gubernatorial election. And when Mormons saw that, he said this wants to be bigger. So where he often puts things, this wants to be this wants to be more important. This wants to be done on a bigger stage and about more things. And so he gave me and the school a small amount of money. And so I did some more studies like that. And he said this wants to be bigger still. And with each new study about some area in popular culture, he kept increasing the amount of support he was giving me. And at a certain point I said, Norman, if you want to give me the gift that you just mentioned, I can't take it unless you let us name the research center after you. And he said, no, no, no, I've never given my name for anything. The TV Academy has asked me the Motion Picture Academy. I've never let my name be used on a building, let alone on a cloakroom. And I said, well, Norman, in that case, we can't do it because I want not only to honor you for your philanthropy, but I want the work that we do to be associated with your values, your belief that entertainment is a powerful weapon in the wrong hands that can do great damage and in responsible hands that can do great, good for society. I want your values and your career and your commitment to that to be what people think of when they think about this research center. And he considered it.

Speaker And finally, the thing that turned it was he saw the brochure that I designed and he loved the brochure so much that he said, OK, I'll let my name be on. And so that's how the Norman Lear Center began. And as a consequence, the contribution that he made to its work was three and four times over of following.

Speaker As a consequence, the money that Norman gave was matched to in three and four times over by foundations and government agencies and contracts and private philanthropy who recognize that the kind of research we were doing was important.

Speaker So this this this is a contribution he's making is really a big part of his legacy. The.

Speaker I mean, going forward, yes, Norman's view that entertainment matters, that it has consequences for society, which is something that's clear in the entertainment product, terrible word that he worked on during his career. But it's also true more broadly since entertainment has pretty much taken over every other domain of modern life. If you look at journalism or politics or sports or fashion or you name it, there is a way in which those have all become branches of the entertainment industry. And so to look at that, to understand the good and the ill, that can be done about that, that way of thinking about entertainment, which is what we do with the Lear Center and can only do because Norman helped us launch that. I think that's now embedded in the culture and is very much part of Norman's legacy.

Speaker How would you measure how is the entertainment industry? Right now, and there's a lot more entertainment, as you point out. In terms of brave, intelligent. Risky topical material in. Let's take it out of the news. How do you think we're doing compared to.

Speaker Norman calls this time in television a new golden age, and I think he's right. I think that especially not on the networks, but in all the other platforms that television is being made, there are amazing people doing incredible work. And he's a fan. I'm a fan. And it's thrilling to see so much great comedy and drama being done in terms of the impact of television on society. I think it's the best of times and the worst of times, depending on what you look like. It's the best of times and the worst of times, depending on on what you look at one of the areas, for example, that we at the Lear Center work on is what happens when public health topics are mentioned in entertainment television in a in a soap opera, in a primetime drama or comedy, when a doctor says something to a patient to diagnose a symptom. What happens to the audience when that happens? And it turns out we've done a great deal of research on this. People believe that what they see on television is true, is real, and it's especially the case in less educated and lower income families, so that when in lots of primetime medical dramas, but also all the forensic shows and even in shows that aren't really about medicine or public health, when something is said about how you prevent something, how you catch something, whether climate change is real, how you get health insurance, people, whether they realize it or not, really do think that this is actionable information and that they should go see the doctor if they have a given symptom. And so it's important that the people who are making these shows understand that they are wielding that power. People who make shows are doing it to entertain people and make money, but to raise their consciousness, to help them understand that they are also informing and educating and shaping people's attitudes towards very important things in society. That's a responsibility that we've taken on and that, I'm glad to say the industry at large has been very happy to assume so. In that regard, I would say that by and large, the accuracy of the depiction of important things like public health in television has dramatically increased. Norman was one of the first supporters of a project about the depiction of alcohol and tobacco in television and in movies. We all know now how. Kids watching shows emulate stars and things they see and stories to raise the consciousness of Hollywood to say if you have somebody drinking or smoking, you better be aware of what you're doing and take responsibility for it. That's the kind of work that Norman supported years before the Lear Center. And I'm thrilled that we've been able to to do that as well.

Speaker You mentioned that the research about the mentions of public health in television shows, I was very captivated by the show, Maude and of course, the abortion the double abortion episode. Have you done any studies about how often abortions? Women go through with abortions on network television. Have you ever done that in comparison? Because it seems like it's one of those stigma conversations, it's not really being had very often, which makes the modern situation. More astonishing. Look at that.

Speaker We've done analysis of the top primetime shows for almost the last 15 years in which we look at anything involving a health issue. I wish off the top of my head I knew the answer to the frequency of abortion in primetime shows, but we do know the answer to that and about issues involving nutrition or dental care, you name it. And the reason that we're tracking that is because Norman enabled us to have a center to do that. We have tracked, in many cases, the impact of specific episodes of shows.

Speaker For example, there was a story arc in the show, nine oh to one show about the breast cancer Gene Broca, and it was about a young woman who discovered that she had that gene and her family got tested and then had to deal with the issue of what should she do about it? Should she get a mastectomy or not. And what we did was we did an investigation of how audiences responded to that show before, during, after, and much after those episodes aired to see whether they did anything, whether their knowledge changed, whether their attitudes changed. And indeed, we did discover that there was a difference. People did talk to their parents about this gene. They went to their doctors and discussed it. They inform themselves about something that they would not otherwise have done had they not been watching in this case, a primetime soap opera.

Speaker That's so great. That to say, I think my my boy Norman is a feminist to discuss.

Speaker See, if I'm going to tell me about is his approach to women, especially when it comes. Now and then.

Speaker Norman loves women and warm and loves kittens, too, but Norman has always had a soft spot for the kinds of issues that women in particular have to face in society, whether it's unequal pay or reproductive rights or all the other things that happen in families that traditionally were dominated by men.

Speaker And so Norman, in depicting those women, was giving women different models to look at different ways of dealing with reality that they may not have seen in popular culture. I think also, like others, Norman has in his creative work, also worked out things in his own past involving his women and in particular his mother. When I read Norman's autobiography, I realized for the first time something which is actually not well known. Norman and I have the same mother.

Speaker The term sado narcissist comes to mind to describe their particular way of dealing with the world and to discover Norman's stories about how that was inflicted on him, and swap those stories with my such stories and to discover that, in fact, the two of us are not alone, that those characters exist in lots of families.

Speaker And when they're depicted on stage and screen, they give a kind of chill of recognition that many of us would probably prefer not to deal with. But by shining a spotlight on it, Norman enables us to understand how the important women and men in our early lives have left these marks on us on our side.

Speaker This is my new favorite word I what about his dad? Did you know all the stories about his dad?

Speaker I knew that Norman's dad had been arrested and I knew that he was a problematic figure in Norman's life because Norman both admired him and was a victim of what others thought was the kind of rogue or cad or cavalier, glamorous figure. But to a kid was not that it was something much more serious, something that I didn't know until I read Norman's autobiography in manuscript. And Norman told me that he himself didn't realize until he was actually writing it was that Norman's father tried to commit suicide and that when he did so, he did so without ever first having said goodbye to Norman. And so not only was it tragic and sad that a man could come to the point where he would believe that taking his life was the right thing to do, but for a child to realize that such a person could do that without at least implicitly giving his child a last generous moment with him, that tore my heart apart. And I think Norman's as well.

Speaker And he seems to have found a way to play the father role to.

Speaker Well, Norman divides the world between people who are wet and people who are dry. Some people might call that feminine and masculine. I'm not sure that quite maps that, but I think Norman has both of those in him. Norman is, as he always is, happy to admit, a very wet person. He will always hug and kiss and find the emotion and experience, the emotion in the moment. But Norman is also a very strong man with principles. And to the degree that there's anything to be said about the differences between masculine and feminine in a feminist or post-feminist era, I think Norman also embodies those kinds of strengths in a way to compensate for the deficits that he wishes his father had possessed.

Speaker Wow, so much else that Rachel. Anything I do so much we didn't cover, but I want to jump in with anything for the 16 seconds you're going to use.

Speaker You've got plenty.

Speaker Are you trying to run away? No, no, I'm.

Speaker I'm happy.

Speaker I'm happy. It's just. There's so much. I was actually.

Speaker That kind of provocative detail.

Speaker Um, pop culture, because there was no notion of.

Speaker Isn't that something that's evolved over time, like now where there's much more? To become more involved.

Speaker I guess it was what Heidi was aiming for in this. Meeting today, was it almost we were so that's a good question.

Speaker Could the shows that we're on that we're discussing be made today? It's I know it's a simplistic question, but I'd love to hear your your take on that because many people say, no, I don't know if that's true. Norman says yes, but.

Speaker If you look at South Park, you will see a show which takes on every shibboleth and taboo that there is, and as long as you're stick to cable or streaming and maybe the penumbra of network television, you can see some of that risk taking going on. I think political correctness is a strange and interesting concept. Of course, it at one point didn't exist as an idea.

Speaker What there were were taboos. People couldn't talk about various things and then people began talking about them. I think the term political correctness was concocted by reactionaries as a way of pushing back at the nailing of the prejudices that we have, that when someone calls something in a neutral way rather than a putdown, that political correctness makes it sound as though you're doing something inappropriate. You shouldn't be dealing with something neutrally.

Speaker And I think that is a pushback to persuade people not to nail prejudice when they see it. And so in some ways, when PC is invoked, it's a way of repressing the kind of honesty which Norman's shows first in television, demonstrating a way for the right to sweep under the rug.

Speaker Inconvenient conversations.

Speaker Yeah, it's a it's a way for the right to label as something wrong what in fact, is something triumphant, the ability to see things for what they are, to call them what they are, and to not disparage people as groups for having traits of individuals or for stereotypes in the realm of so-called political correctness. Doing so is an error. And I think getting people to believe that that's the case is a minor, unheralded triumph of the right.

Speaker That makes a lot of sense. I mean, there's nothing really in it for the right wing for us to discuss racism, sexism, unequal pay and other things that are really.

Speaker Inconvenient topics for the far right, and if you if you can name something that's inconvenient for the right political correctness and if that can seem like a derogatory term, it's a victory for the people who want to suppress that conversation. That's a really good point.

Marty Kaplan
Interview Date:
2015-02-05
Runtime:
1:01:53
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
N/A
MLA CITATIONS:
"Marty Kaplan, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 05 Feb. 2015, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1046
APA CITATIONS:
(2015, February 05). Marty Kaplan, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1046
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Marty Kaplan, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). February 05, 2015. Accessed January 23, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1046

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