Norman Lear plans to reboot his television classics, ‘All in the Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons’ for a one-time ABC special.
Archie and Edith Bunker will return in an All in the Family reboot along with George and Louise Jefferson in a Jeffersons reboot. The catch is that both reboots are one-time-only events for a special broadcast.
Only recently, I observed that I tend to gravitate toward old shows over what Hollywood is placing on the small screen these days. As classic sitcoms go, All in the Family certainly ranks high on my list of favorites. The Jeffersons doesn’t rank as high because I think that show stayed on a lot longer than it should have.
But both played important roles in television history. And both shows came from the creative mind of Normal Lear, who, at 96, is still active.
In fact, as the story goes, the reboot will happen because someone told Lear that they could never put that kind of program on television these days.
“(We) are here to prove — with two great casts depicting ‘All in the Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons’ — the timelessness of human nature,” Lear said in a statement.
Though both shows originally aired on CBS, the special, set for May, will air on ABC.
‘They couldn’t do that today’ argument isn’t new
All the time I hear people make the claim that what went on the air 30 to 40 years ago could never be done in a new program in 2019.
The right answer to such comments, I think, is often, “They probably wouldn’t need to.”
All in the Family came at the start of the 1970s, just after the nation had “gone crazy” during the 1960s. It was a time when segregation had ended but civil rights were still not entirely in force. It was also a time when women and gay rights were still being debated. Archie Bunker was a bigot desperately trying to cling to the “old ways” that only favored himself. But those issues slapped him in the face daily, thanks in part to his daughter, Gloria, and her ultra-liberal son-in-law, Michael, who lived in the same home.
The Jeffersons, meanwhile, depicted a black family that had “moved on up” from the modest neighborhood in Queens they initially shared with the Bunkers to a high-rise in Manhattan as George Jefferson’s dry cleaning business put the family on easy street. While many seem to consider The Cosby Show to be the first that depicted a black family living a successful life, George and Louise Jefferson beat them to it. Granted, one can argue that in The Jeffersons, Louise was a housewife who volunteered her time at a community help center while on The Cosby Show, Cliff Huxtable was a OB-GYN and his wife Claire was a successful attorney. But in either case, the central characters were black, not white, and that alone made the shows stand out in what had for too long been a lily-white landscape of television.
One can still argue, of course, whether the television landscape of 2019 is as diverse as it should be. But there’s no question at all that it’s more diverse now than it ever thought of being at the time All in the Family premiered in 1971.
Could the special lead to a full reboot?
That’s probably the million-dollar question here.
I hope not.
The selections for the main players are certainly interesting. Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei will play Archie and Edith Bunker. Jamie Foxx and Wanda Sykes will take on the roles of George and Louise Jefferson.
But to me, those characters can only be played by the four original actors, Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford. When you hear their character names, you think of their faces.
Having said that, I’m interested to see how different actors interpret the characters. I don’t mind that for one evening. I would mind it for a regular series.
Some shows are groundbreaking enough that they stand the test of time on their own without need of a “reboot.”
I have the All in the Family series on DVD. (At least, I have the first five seasons, which span the time that the Bunkers and the Stivics lived under the same roof. When Michael and Gloria moved next door, the series lost a great deal of its magic.)
But I can tell you that it’s extraordinary how well the episodes do stand the test of time. Episodes from more than 40 years ago address topics that were mostly taboo then, but that still have had no resolution in today’s society.
That’s a sad commentary on our society, I think, but an important one that I wish more people realized. If they did, some of those issues might have a better chance of finally being resolved.
Lear and Jimmy Kimmel will host the live special from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on May 22 on ABC.