I wrote about Norman Lear’s recently published autobiography for the January issue of Commentary:
Throughout much of the 1970s, Norman Lear was the most powerful TV producer in Hollywood. He created a string of situation comedies so successful that five of them, All in the Family, Good Times, The Jeffersons, Maude, and Sanford and Son, were in the top 10 in the final week of the 1974–75 season. In 1983, he was one of the first seven people to be inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, together with Lucille Ball, Paddy Chayefsky, Milton Berle, Edward R. Murrow, William S. Paley, and David Sarnoff—a sign of how seriously he had come to be taken.
By 1985, though, all of Lear’s series had been canceled, and none of them is shown widely in syndication today. Even Archie Bunker, the working-class anti-hero of All in the Family, whose name was for years synonymous with the blue-collar prejudices that the show was created to satirize, has long since faded from the common stock of American cultural reference.
No species of fame is as fleeting as the sort bestowed by network TV. But Lear fell further, faster, and more fully than most, and it is noteworthy that he has nothing to say about this descent in his newly published autobiography, Even This I Get to Experience, in which he is fairly forthcoming about most other aspects of his long and eventful life (he is 92 years old). One might well come away with the impression that he simply lost interest in television and decided to pursue other interests were it not for the fact that between 1991 and 1994, he created and produced two more sitcoms, both of them flops that were canceled after a half-dozen episodes each.
Such, of course, is the final fate of all TV producers, no matter how successful their series may be. Sooner or later—usually sooner—they lose touch with popular taste. But Lear’s brief period of domination over the airwaves was so complete that it is worth considering why it ended when it did. Did he simply run out of creative steam? Or was American culture changing in ways that he no longer understood?…
Read the whole thing here.