by Tony Schwab
It is widely acknowledged that Norman Lear revolutionized realistic television with his hit 70s TV shows “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons.” On October 14th, Lear was interviewed at the Clive Davis Institute by Reggie “Combat Jack” Ossé and NYU professor Dan Charnas about his influence, not widely acknowledged until now, on the development of hip hop.
Ossé was a lawyer for many hip hop artists including Jay Z before creating “The Combat Jack Show,” where he discusses hip hop culture. Dan Charnas is the author of “The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip Hop” and is currently an associate arts professor at Tisch.
This influence of Lear on hip hop may not be evident to most, but it is visible to Charnas who grew up on Lear’s shows. They credited Lear’s shows for opening up mainstream American culture to frank discussions of race.
Lear, now 93, talked about the television of the 1960s that he would later react against. He noted that shows like “Green Acres” and “The Beverly Hillbillies” were devoted to escapism instead of realism. When he began making “All in the Family” some were angered that his show expressed views on society, especially because it condemned racism. For Lear, these views were very personal.
He recounted his early life, which he wrote about for his memoir “This I Get To Experience.” Growing up in New Haven, Conn., Lear experienced anti-semitism, which made him very sensitive to others who encountered discrimination. Lear was shocked at the racism he encountered when serving in the Air Force. This helped motivate him to make the shows that would become so famous.
The event was not all serious. A clip from “All in the Family” showed that the show was very much a comedy, with the audience laughing hard at the 40 year-old show. There were lots of entertaining stories about making TV. Lear talked about the episodes of his shows that he was the most proud of. One was an episode of his show “Good Times” that dealt with teenage sexuality with a frankness that was shocking for its time. Another was an “All in the Family” that dealt with the main character Archie Bunker’s memories of his abusive father.
Near the end of the program, Lear was asked about current entertainment that he admires. He spoke a little about his favorite dramas, Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” and “Saving Private Ryan.” He also spoke in favor of comedians who deal with politics, singling out “South Park” as a great example. He called Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s musical “The Book of Mormon” a gift to sanity.
Tony Schwab is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org