Every innovative producer benefiting from the creative surge in TV should offer a tip of the pork pie hat to Norman Lear. At 92, the trailblazing producer (All In the Family, The Jeffersons, Maude and many others), entrepreneur and activist looks back on his life and career in the new memoir Even This I Get to Experience (Penguin Press). We had the experience of recently chatting with the TV industry legend.
TV Guide Magazine: The details about your career in this book are impressive. Did you keep a lot of files over the years?
Lear: I must have had a very good person right at the beginning — we used the word secretary then, now it's an assistant or an associate — because somebody started and other people followed. My files are just full and I had nothing to do with that. Others really kept everything. I mentioned appearing in an Arthur Miller show and getting a great review and I can't remember one thing about it to this day.
TV Guide Magazine: Was the writing process cathartic or painful for you? You go to some dark places when talking about your early family life and marriages.
Lear: Yes, I think so. When I write that it's hard to be a human being, I hadn't really thought about it [before]. For some of us it's far more painful than others.
TV Guide Magazine: Your beginnings were rough. Your father went to prison. Life could have gone either way for you.
Lear: I think yes. But given whatever it was — my own reaction to my circumstances — it had to go the way it went.
TV Guide Magazine: It's surprising to learn you turned down a big movie deal to make All In the Family.
Lear: Everybody in my life said 'you're crazy.' There was something so personal about All In the Family. Maybe if I had a story to tell at the time that had to be a film it would have been different. But there I was with that urge to tell a series of stories with [the Bunkers] for which I made three pilots. I knew them so well.
TV Guide Magazine: You've said much of Archie Bunker's character is based on your father. Did the show help you come to terms with your relationship with him?
Lear: It could be so.
TV Guide Magazine: Many people believe we're in a new golden age of television today. Do you agree?
Lear: I think that's absolutely right. Especially the dramas. I am now going nuts for [Amazon's] Transparent. Jeffrey Tambor's performance — oh my God — he walks a line between heartbreak and hilarity that is so extraordinary.
TV Guide Magazine: What other shows have you been enjoying?
Lear: Homeland. Mad Men. Scandal. Breaking Bad — that was fabulous.
TV Guide Magazine: Your life has spanned vaudeville, radio, film and television. Is there any period that's a sentimental favorite for you?
Lear: Well, I talk about the old Howard Theater — the burlesque house in Boston. I loved burlesque I didn't miss a show when I was there. I loved the comedians. I loved the strippers — they had as much to say for me as the comics did. Never was the foolishness of the human condition expressed better than at the old Howard in those days.
TV Guide Magazine: Is there a secret to your longevity?
Lear: It has a lot to do with living in the moment. There are two small words that are important and mostly overlooked — over and next. When something is over it is over. Everything is about what comes next. If there was a hammock in the middle of over and next — that's what they mean by living in the moment.
TV Guide Magazine: What is next for you?
Lear: I want to do a Sunday morning non-denominational service that could be broadcast to tens of thousands of movie theaters — the way they broadcast the opera now. Keep your religion exactly where it wishes to be — in your heart and soul. But in this service, let's celebrate our common humanity. I'm working on it.