Norman Lear and Brent Miller inject nostalgia into our TV with: Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons
A few weeks ago, ABC set a new trend, injecting a sense of TV nostalgia as it brought back much-loved comedies to our lives. Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons was a one-off TV special with an all-star cast bringing back Archie Bunker, Edith Bunker and The Jeffersons for the night.
Woody Harrelson, Jamie Foxx, Marisa Tomei and Jennifer Hudson were cast to bring back laughter reminding us of the great comedy that was out there. Norman Lear was on hand for a quick conversation along with executive Producer Brent Miller to talk about why casting was essential to bringing this to TV. And we also get an update on Lear’s One Day At A Time.
Congratulations on Live ‘The Jeffersons,’ ‘All in the Family’ What was your reaction when Jimmy Kimmel proposed this idea of revisiting the show again?
Speaking of Jimmy Kimmel, he’s a wonder. He’s a great guy and a fabulous showman. He came to us with the idea, and it was as exciting of a night I’ve ever spent in my career.
These characters are iconic, and they are part of who we are as a society. What was it like to spend time with them again?
I think the big surprise was how well they played for the time they were being seen. For the moment a few weeks ago, there were pieces from 30 odd years ago, but human nature hasn’t changed and what those characters were dealing with was as human as anything that was recurring in our lives before.
Brent, this has never been done before. Talk about the feat of casting and bringing the family together for 2019.
It started with Norman, Jimmy and I thinking these are huge shoes to fill, who shall we start with? Obviously, the first character that comes to mind is Archie Bunker. Norman came up with the idea of Woody Harrelson after seeing Woody in LBJ at that premiere. After that, he was like, “That is our Archie Bunker.” As soon as Woody took it on, it was a trickle-down effect.
It was a case of who would go well with Woody? Marisa came up. She was the first name that came to Jimmy’s mind. So, Norman and I called her. I think she was on the beach in Miami somewhere. She answered the phone and Norman said, what do you think of playing Edith Bunker? She had a very Marisa reaction. She was overwhelmed with excitement and at the same time, terrified. She said, “I could never say no to doing this. She came on board, and it was one after another of really thoughtfully thinking of who we felt might be right for these roles. There wasn’t an actor that turned us down. If there was someone we went to before going to someone else, it was based on availability.
What was the most important thing to casting? You talked about casting the perfect Archie Bunker, but was there something that was key?
Norman: We wanted an actor who would not be afraid to do his own version of Archie. We wanted someone who wouldn’t try to do Carroll O’ Connor. It took the strength of a Woody Harrelson, and I loved the way he performed.
Brent: Collectively, we had conversations with Jimmy, Norman and I. We talked to Jimmy Burrows, and we wanted him to have his creative freedom. We wanted the cast to have their creative freedom to take on these roles in a way that would make them comfortable. They were big shoes to fill, and we wanted them to have a great time and pay homage to the words that were written 40-45 years ago.
What I love about a Norman Lear show is that I can watch it, I’m in my 40s. I can watch it with teenagers. I can watch it with my in-laws in their 70s. It really is a family experience. What is the secret to that?
Norman: I don’t want you to forget what you said. [laughs] If there is a secret. It’s the understanding that human nature is that we are versions of one another. That does not change over the decades. The topicality changes, but we don’t. It’s understanding that and that would be the secret.
I think there’s going to be a trend with the Live in front of A Studio Audience. What show would you like to see next of yours live?
Probably Good Times or Maude or Mary Hartman. It’s fun to think about that.
What shows make you laugh? Do you watch much TV?
I’m not watching a great deal of TV right now.
And what’s going to happen with One Day At a Time?
Brent: I can tell you we are quite optimistic that we are going to find a new home. You might have read that Mike, Justina, Todd and I were all at the Austin TV Fest last weekend. Mike’s statement is accurate. I think you will know very soon if we can pull it off. We feel very optimistic and excited about it.