What's Lear Complaining About?
by L. Brent Bozell III
Norman Lear, the megasuccessful television
producer in the 1970s and a sugar daddy for liberal causes in the '80s and
'90s, has a hit series again. Actually, it's his breakthrough, "All in
the Family," which Nickelodeon and its sister cable channel, TV Land,
splashily revived earlier this month. Lear is making the promotional rounds to
gin up interest in his old show, and that means he's out there also giving his
leftist views on the issues of the day.
Nickelodeon's "All in the Family"
minimarathons (eight episodes each night) during the week of October 12 were
preceded by a spoken message that they were "intended for mature
viewers." Lear called the warning "unnecessary, maybe even
foolish." That wasn't surprising, since he opposes even the
parental-guidance ratings that appear in the upper-left corner of the screen
at the beginning of programs, remarking that they look "a little nutty.
It's hard to believe people pay any attention to" them.
Lear is a civil libertarian, and sometimes that
means having no standards. And there's no doubt that "All in the
Family" liberalized television subject matter and language. But this
doesn't mean that Lear had no standards for "All in the Family."
Quite the contrary: his artistic standards demanded real quality, and real
humor in his comedy.
Sure, Lear pushed the envelope for liberal
causes in the process. He had something to say, and regardless of your opinion
on the matter, at the very least, it was interesting.
Compare the Lear product with today's
"hit" sitcoms, like "The Drew Carey Show" and
"Friends." They are to art what Congress is to principle, and they
will bore you to death with their stupid, even infantile, attempts at vulgar
Lear should not be blamed for the '90s plague
of prime-time smut. But it is lamentable that he will not denounce the
artistic decomposition overtaking his industry; he has even defended it on
occasion. He's a fan of Comedy Central's garbage heap "South Park,"
and, on Howard Stern's slimy radio program, he and the host recently slighted
someone who's trying to clean up airwave pollution: comedy colossus Steve
Allen, the original host of the "Tonight Show."
Allen is the spokesman for a Parents Television
Council campaign against television's sleaze (full disclosure: I'm the PTC's
chairman). A PTC advertisement, published in the New York Times the day before
Lear's appearance on Stern's show, caused Stern to call Allen a
"loudmouth" and Lear to dismiss the PTC as "far-right."
Allen, for the record, is politically about as
"far-left" as I am "far-right," so Lear's slam was rather
silly. But what had Allen done to upset Mr. Lear and Mr. Stern so? In an ABC
interview, Allen had described "All in the Family" as
"brilliant," but added that while "we should always worry about
how far censorship would go... we [also] have to worry about how far freedom
Lear, especially when wearing his People for
the American Way hat, has been hyperobsessed with supposed threats to free
speech (Eek! It's Jerry Falwell!). Nonetheless, in many ways America has
become more "tolerant" and "open," as he would put it.
True, liberal politics aren't especially popular, but liberalism had started
to decline even before "All in the Family" went on the air, and
continued to do so after it departed.
Socially and culturally, however, it's a
different story. Abortion, which Lear championed on his sitcom
"Maude," is legal throughout the land, and his views on other social
issues, such as homosexuality, are advanced frequently on prime time. Perhaps
most notably, when Ellen DeGeneres came out of the closet, she walked a trail
Norman Lear blazed when DeGeneres was in junior high school: a first-season
episode of "All in the Family" centered on Archie's drinking buddy,
a burly ex-football player, admitting he was gay.
Indeed, the cultural left is in such control of
the entertainment industry that, say some, its political correctness has
inadvertently caused television's pervasive sexual permissiveness. Brian Lowry
wrote in the October 13 Los Angeles Times that "there's room to ask
whether the headaches associated with tackling 'issues'... have [yielded]
sitcoms that revel in sex jokes and innuendo at least in part because such
humor, however tedious, doesn't risk alienating any particular political
Some just don't care to do anything about this
awful state of affairs; some simply just don't care, period. But a few, like
Steve Allen, are fighting for television's redemption, trying to remind their
peers not to confuse liberty and license.
Voice Your Opinion!
Write to Brent Bozell
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