Norman Lear's Keynote Complaint: Nobody Wants His Show Idea About Senior Citizens

Art Streiber
Norman Lear

The legendary 93-year-old producer laments that the networks focus too much on the adults 18-49 demographic.

Norman Lear, 93, isn't retired by choice. He has a show he would like to put on a network, but he can't get anyone to even take a meeting with him.

Why? "Because the show I want to do is about your parents," said Lear during his keynote conversation on Tuesday at NATPE/Content First.

The title of the show, said Lear, is Guess Who Died?

"And it's funny," added Lear. "Here is how long I have been trying to do it. If the show had been on the air when Charlie Sheen was in trouble and in the news all the time, he would now have an aunt or uncle in the retirement show."

Phil Rosenthal, who was executive producer of Everybody Loves Raymond, asked Lear questions about his life, career and his new book, Even This I Get to Experience.

Rosenthal said he pitched a show to the networks about a college where they ran out of dorm space so they housed students in a nearby retirement home. He said when he mentioned it the first thing the network exec's told him was to "lose the old people."

Lear said there is a growing number of senior citizens who are consumers in our society but the networks are still focused on those 18-49 viewers. Rosenthal agreed.

Lear shrugged it off, though. "I've never really been bitter about it," he said.

Lear recalled a fight he had with the standards and practices department of CBS when his seminal show All in the Family first went on the air in 1968, which he recounts in his book.

In the episode, it's Archie and Edith Bunker's first anniversary. They go to church and while out, their daughter Gloria and son-in-law Michael are preparing a surprise celebration. While they have the house to themselves, the couple goes upstairs to get busy before the Bunkers return.

Instead, Archie and Edith come back early because he hated the sermon by the pastor. Gloria and Michael (aka Meathead) come rushing down the stairs and it is obvious what they have been doing.

Archie looks at them and with raised eyebrow says, "11:10 on a Sunday morning?!"

The network standards and practices insisted Archie's line had to be deleted, recalled Lear, because people would know what he was making reference to.

"Well, yes," Lear told them, "but they are married."

The network said, " 'It's too specific,' " recalled Lear. " 'It has to come out.' "

"I knew if I gave in to '11:10 on Sunday morning,' I would lose argument after argument," recalled Lear. "Silly arguments after silly arguments for the rest of my life on All in the Family"

"They threatened to take it out in New York [after the tape was sent from Los Angeles for broadcast]," said Lear. "I said, 'Well, take it out and I won't be there the next day.' So they left it in."

"I've gotten a lot of credit for standing up," added Lear, "but wasn't so much standing up as not being silly."

"They went on the air," concluded Lear, "Archie said the line and to their disbelief, not one state seceded from the union."

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