Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The upcoming live ALL IN THE FAMILY/JEFFERSONS episodes

Here’s a Friday Question that became a whole post:

Ben asked:

Ken, what do you think of Jimmy Kimmel producing a live airing of All in the Family and Jeffersons episodes (with Norman Lear's blessing) on May 22? Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei as Archie and Edith, Jamie Foxx and Wanda Sykes as George and Louise.

Well, first of all it’s a ratings stunt, pure and simple. Which is fine if it’s good.

I’m also not sure why it has to be live but that certainly adds a level of suspense and intrigue to the project. Will it come off without a hitch? If there’s a screw up, what will it be? I’m not a NASCAR fan but is that one of its big attractions? Possible crashes? To me the only read advantage of going live is that ALL IN THE FAMILY could be topical up to the moment.

But what’s interesting is this: ALL IN THE FAMILY was a show very much set in its time. Archie Bunker was a bigot and short-sighted, but underneath that was a frightened man who was set in his ways and terrified that the world was changing around him and he couldn’t reconcile it. Will they be doing a vintage script and make ALL IN THE FAMILY a period piece? If not, then I assume Archie just becomes a big Trump supporter and if so I have zero empathy for him. I won’t find him remotely funny. Frankly, I haven’t read enough about the details to know how they plan to tackle this.

To me the one thing they have going for them is that James Burrows is directing it. He’s the best multi-cam director in history, he’s done live shows before (WILL & GRACE), and if anybody can pull this off with flair and intelligence it’s Jimmy. So I’ll be watching (unless Archie dons a MAGA hat).

As for the new casts, remember a huge portion of the audience will be seeing these classic series for the first time. To those of us familiar with these iconic series it seems impossible to think of anyone other than Carroll O’Connor and Sherman Hemsley in the title roles, but who knows? Woody & Jamie are great.  So is Wanda Sykes.  I have my reservations about Marisa Tomei as Edith but willing to give it a shot. 

Currently, I have a one act play in the EST One Act Festival at the Atwater Theatre. It plays this weekend and then closes so come see it. The play is a two-hander. The two actors are sensational and great together. Well, one of the actors has a commitment to do a project back east and has had to leave the play. We knew this going in. So another actor is stepping in and it’s fascinating. He’s very different from the first but equally terrific and it gives the play a little different spin. He brings different qualities to the same script. There’s still great chemistry but it’s a different chemistry.

So a new Archie or a new George Jefferson might be fun. I’m sure there will be many who just can’t get over seeing new actors play these roles, but I’m willing to give ‘em a try.  Also, for me, Woody Harrelson can do no wrong. 

As a result, I go into this endeavor with curiosity. There are lots of questions – how good will the scripts be? If they use vintage scripts will THE JEFFERSONS use the one David Isaacs and I wrote?  Will the new actors pull it off? Will I have to turn it off if Archie defends Kavanaugh? Will it fly on its own or will all the gimmicks like airing live be necessary? What will the ratings be? The irony is it airs on a night I’m in an improv workshop so I won’t be watching it live. But I wish everyone involved good luck and offer that you couldn’t be in better hands than with Jimmy Burrows.


E. Yarber said...

Good point about Bunker being driven more by fear than hate. If it were the latter, there would be nowhere to go with the character. As it was, he went through an arc of gradually breaking through one prejudice after another until moving from a retreat to his home and chair to integrate with a group in the ARCHIE BUNKER'S PLACE stage.

Curt Alliaume said...

Based on a tweet from Marisa Tomei, the script for All in the Family is a remake of a 1973 episode, "Henry's Farewell" (Henry was George Jefferson's brother).

I could see this working as a one-shot thing. And while I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around it, Marisa Tomei is actually six years older now than Jean Stapleton when she started playing Edith Bunker.

Others that will be in the two programs: Ellie Kemper as Gloria Stivic, Anthony Anderson as Henry Jefferson, Jamie Foxx as George Jefferson, Justina Machado as Florence Johnston, Will Ferrell as Tom Willis, Kerry Washington as Helen Willis.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Actually, since ALL IN THE FAMILY is based on the prior British series TIL DEATH US DO PART, and the iconic Carroll O'Connor role was originally played (wonderfully) by the fabulous actor Warren Mitchell, I don't have as much trouble imagining someone else in the part as you do. To be fair, Alf Garnett and Archie Bunker were products of their different nationalities as much as their time, but it's notable that in both countries you can still refer to the character and people know what you mean = talk about iconic.

If you never saw the original, Ken, you might like to take a look:

The biggest difference was the wives. Alf's wife (Dandy Nichols) was capable of puncturing all his bombast with a single word.


McAlvie said...

ALL IN THE FAMILY was a show very much set in its time. Archie Bunker was a bigot and short-sighted, but underneath that was a frightened man who was set in his ways and terrified that the world was changing around him and he couldn’t reconcile it.

Exactly. And as I recall, Michael/Meathead was just as bad, being contemptuous of everyone and everything. And it occurs to me now, seeing it from a distance, that Lear's creation was even more smartly crafted than I realized back then.

It might be interesting if, as you say, Harrelson can strike the right balance and not have Archie be just another angry white guy. But that will be easier than Tomei pulling off Edith in today's culture. But, heck, I'll watch it just for Wanda Sykes.

Anonymous said...

As long as they don't remake the Edith gets raped for laughs episode.

MikeN said...

To really get Ken, they shouldn't do MAGA hat, but instead remake the Jeffersons episode in which Trump made a cameo.

Rory Wohl said...

Hi Ken,

Just read Todd VanDerWerff's piece on "Superstore." (https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/5/21/18627101/superstore-review-recap-watch-nbc-hulu) I don't think it's one of the comedies you've blogged about. Wondering if you had any thoughts?

- Rory

thomas tucker said...

That's interesting- the way you described Archie Bunker also describes Trump supporters- scared , and unhappy with change. So why are you able to sympathize with Archie, but not Trump supporters?

Michael Hagerty said...

Ken: I respect you and we share common views, but---

If you didn't find Carroll O'Connor unwatchable as a Nixon man, you gotta understand a 2019 Archie being a Trump guy. What else would he be? And understanding the math, realizing that Trump couldn't get elected by just racists and Russians, how best to describe the others who voted for Trump than frightened people who were set in their ways and terrified that their world is changing around them and can't reconcile it?

The tragedy of the Boomer generation is that a bunch of us embraced much of what we mocked in the 60s and 70s. We ridiculed our parents land-yacht automobiles and then bought hulking SUVs. We poked fun at their World War II-era nostalgia, then got mired in Classic Rock, believing nothing of any value was recorded after the Beatles broke up.

A decent percentage of Boomers who shook their heads in disbelief at Archie Bunker almost 50 years ago grew up to be him. And I think that's a story Norman Lear would like to tell, as painful as it is.

Frank Beans said...

There cannot be another "Archie Bunker" that makes any sense in 2019. The show was a bit before my time, but nonetheless I'm aware that politics and social issues were often divisive and nasty during the ALL IN FAMILY original run. I mean, who doesn't know that.

I still see the show about creating dialogue, and even respting people you disagreed with, however wrong-headed theirs views were. I think of my grandparents' generation--not bigots themselves (I think), but certainly born and raised in a racist and sexist society. They could be ignorant, but they weren't hateful (I think). They could learn and change.

This dynamic simply couldn't be portrayed today in any good faith. Trump supporters are hateful and bigoted, and there are no redeeming qualities behind this however hard you try to look.

In short: Please don't bring back or reboot or whatever ALL IN THE FAMILY. Frankly, it was heavy-handed and didactic even in the 70s. It's just a non-starter now.

Jahn Ghalt said...

O'Connor and Helmsley are tough acts to follow - and of course so are the writers of the old shows.

A key would be are the writers "veteran" with veteran sensibilities - and with stiff enough spines to igore stupid "notes" with the diplomacy to not get fired from the project.

Archie and George were both old fart bigots - and generally did not "name names" (like Nixon).

A veteran (like you, Ken) would get that (right?) Plus, much of their characters did not depend on bigotry to be funny or "edgy".

All depends on those writers.

J Lee said...

As one-shot would be different from a series, and then the question would be what traits to you put in your new Archie Bunker? If you go back at look at the earliest episodes of the original series, Archie has little about him to like ... until you get to Episode 6, "Gloria's Pregnancy", where Archie tries to comfort her after she miscarriages with her baby.

It was a humanizing of O'Connor's character outside of the political field (albeit the show had a political theme in Mike wondering whether it was right to bring another child into the world). But Archie was still a Nixon supporter, and still didn't like the idea of the Jeffersons moving in next door. Updating him to a Trump supporter, but avoiding any stories that would risk making him sympathetic outside of the context of pure left/right politics would give you a character who'd probably be similar to Dabney Coleman's Bill Bittinger on "Buffalo Bill" a decade later -- a character with no redeeming social qualities (at least if you're not a Trump supporter).

That would seem to be a tough series to write, because viewers are supposed to like the characters they're asked to be with 30 minutes per week, if when they're annoying in the Sheldon Cooper mold. So it's probably better this is just a one-off, using a script from 47 years ago.

Mike Doran said...

What nobody seems to remember (a continuing reminder):

Much of Trump's "base" (God, how I hate that word!) was mainly moved by a personal dislike (at the very least) of Hilary Clinton.
Of course, we'll never really know how another Democrat would have done in the dead-heat states, but those disproportionate Electoral winner-take-alls were what made the difference, canceling out a nearly three-million Popular vote plurality.

As to All In The Family2.0.et al.:
In '71, Nixon had only won the presidency by a photo finish; many of us back then still saw him as having lucked out that time (and more that a few of us blamed the farLeft for tilting a lot of centrists away from Humphrey).
Trump is a slightly different case: another thing that no one remembers is that Donald Of Orange was a major financial contributor to both Clinton campaigns in the '90s.
He wasn't a Democrat then, and he isn't a Republican now.
In '74, it was old-guard Republicans who went to Nixon and told him he had to go -
- and Nixon, being a real Republican, had to go along.
Trump, being a megalomaniac first and foremost, and being surrounded by easily cowed GOP newbies, obviously won't go along with rules that he doesn't believe in anyway.
As for Archie Bunker, Trump would appeal to him on the most basic level: his anti-political public persona. An updated AITF would in all likelihood not work for this reason.
As for just restaging the old scripts, ABC, Kimmel, and Lear would have to put out a libretto/glossary, explaining the many differences that have cropped up in the years since Lear made his original pitch of Justice For All to ABC in 1968 (nobody remembers that either …).
I don't doubt that the assembled company will give their collective all to this; that's why I'll be watching.
But the old saw holds true:
A Bad Idea - no matter how well you do it - is still A BAD IDEA.

By Ken Levine said...

thomas tucker,

Because now they've had two years to see what a fraud he is. They've had two years to realize he's not their answer. He's a criminal only out for himself. And if after that they STILL believe that asshole then my sympathy for them is gone.

Yes, I can sympathize for why they voted for him in the first place. But if they're still wearing MAGA hats then fuck them. And by the way, he most surely will.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I wish them all well, yet I won't be watching regardless. Wednesday night is "Nova" on PBS. But seriously, I think Marisa Tomei is the best, i.e. the most appropriate casting choice of all the actors. I also think Kevin Hart would be a better George than Jamie Foxx.

I saw Ken's play this past weekend. I highly recommend it. Go see it if you live in or near Los Angeles.

Good point, Michael Hagerty.

Off topic: Regarding yesterday's blog, CBS reran the "Big Bang Theory" series finale last night. I liked it much better the second time. As for the numbers, I agree that over the years people have developed a finale burn out. And as for TBBT itself, the series has been running out of steam for awhile now, so there was no real impetus to watch the last episode.
The main question I have about "Game of Thrones" ratings is do people watch that show because they actually enjoy it?! Or simply because they want to be part of a pop-culture fad?

Matt said...


This is odd. During the opening credits of MASH, the "T" in McLean Stevenson's name isn't stenciled, although the rest of the letters in his name are stenciled. Any speculation as to why this might've happened?

Jeff Boice said...

I don't get this at all. If they're remakes of two episodes- why bother? I can see the originals on Youtube. And I have no interest in watching a reboot.

There are on youtube two episodes of Lucille Ball's radio show My Favorite Husband where the audio was set to Flash Animation. And the Batman 66 Comic Book had one issue that was an adaptation of a Harlen Ellison story outline for an episode that would have featured Two-Face. Those I found interesting.

thomas tucker said...

@Michael Hagerty: great observations about the (my) Boomer Generation. Maybe we all grow up to be our parents, in one way or another.
@Ken: they're still scared, and afraid of change. And in some of them, there's definitely a stupidity, and even a malevolence. True, I get that. But not in all, or even most. The harshness of your judgment is jarring. But I'll leave it at that; don't want to hijack comments.

Janet said...

Which is funny because Carroll O'Connor and Rob Reiner were best friends off-camera.

O'Connor was not politically like Archie in real life.

therealshell said...

There was a reboot in 2016 that flopped https://youtu.be/4-11ONNnh8U

Andrew said...

I was a pre-teen in the 70's. So when I watched All in the Family, the politics and social issues were way over my head. But I remember having a much more negative reaction to Michael than I did to Archie. Michael seemed so insufferable and self-righteous. Again, I was just a kid, so I didn't understand the bigger issues. But Archie was human and sympathetic to me, and I could kind of see through his bluster. I instinctively wanted Archie to win his arguments against Michael. I think that O'Connor's brilliance as an actor had a lot to do with that. I'm not sure who else could have pulled it off. Maybe Harrelson can.

I have members in my family just like Michael: very liberal on all sorts of issues, but jerks to the people around them.

Buttermilk Sky said...

This sounds like an exercise in nostalgia for the good old days of Watergate and the Vietnam War. Archie was a racist but I can't imagine him marching with Nazis, just as I can't imagine Nixon demanding that "his" Justice Department find a reason to prosecute Hubert Humphrey (to cite only one of Benedict Donald's offenses against decency). We COULD use a man like Herbert Hoover again. He was a lousy president but he wasn't a sociopath.

Frank Beans said...

Archie Bunker did refer at one time to "Richard E. Nixon" (an obvious MAD magazine reference). I can't complain since I make my share of tpyos all the time...

Anonymous said...

I recall seeing an interview with Norman Lear a few years back where he was asked what Archie would have thought of Barack Obama. Would Archie be a "birther", or one of those other right-wingers who questioned his presidency's "legitimacy" in some way?
And Lear, being Lear had the perfect answer: Archie would never question the legitimacy of anyone elected Presidency, because that would be questioning The System itself, and Archie believed in The System.
But he WOULD question whether Obama was really BLACK.

Mike Barer said...

If it doesn't work, it'll be forgotten, so there doesn't seem to be much risk.

Todd Everett said...

I fear a slippery slope: next thing you know, they'll be rebooting Shakespeare and Neil Simon with contemporary actors.

Loosehead said...

Ironic that you won't watch a program about a...trying to avoid saying "bigot" here...if he has the wrong political views. Just sayin'.

DBA said...

I'd rather see Margo Martindale as Edith than Tomei.

Anonymous said...

Much as I admire Ms. Tomei I wonder how they can make her as "frumpy" as Ms. Stapleton played Edith.

As evil as nixon was he at least understood government and had some "respect" for the system. Not to mention he did enlist in WW II.

demented has no understanding of government doesn't care and probably, like James Caan's character in the godfather, feels that only suckers go into the military and only little people pay taxes.
Granted tricky dicks crimes le to addled ronnie, perjurer poppa, the twit and now the dmented one.
If we were not on a down hill slope with thuglicans before tricky dick sure gave us that push headed down the slope straight into the sewer.
Greatest damage done by tricky dick was not only his lack of shame, but his acolytes complete lack of shame or honor, plus the thuglicans deciding that reporting the crimes were worst then the crimes so they dedicated the last decades to either buying the media and trashing it.
Nixon could be laughed at because we had faith in the system and that some of the thuglicans actually took their oath of office seriously not just a irrelevent ceremonial formality.

YEKIMI said...

Facebook member of I Loved A.M. Radio and THIS was posted sometime yesterday: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2170630199695771&set=a.432832323475576&type=3&theater&ifg=1 What's the story behind this and do you remember it at all?

Unknown said...

Who should do the remake of Cheers? Colbert? Fallon? Or make it a musical and have James Corden do it?

Coram_Loci said...

"Bigoted - having or revealing an obstinate belief in the superiority of one's own opinions and a prejudiced intolerance of the opinions of others."

Clearly many people in this thread are up for the role of the new Archie

Edward said...

The problem as I see it is that a reboot would be Trump-centric rather than issue-centric. Presidents Nixon/Ford/Carter who held office during the AITF years were not the focus or even mentioned in every episode. This is where the modern day writers would screw up. Viewers would watch a character that has certain beliefs but would tune out a show that is a non-stop Trump rally.

Caleb Martin said...

It turns out Marisa Tomei as Edith Bunker was a revelation. Who knew?

MikeN said...

Looking at these comments, are you all aware that the show has already aired?

Douglas Trapasso said...

Rolling Stone just posted it's review of the special. Ken I, strongly advise you not to eat a hearty meal before reading the last paragraph:


Douglas Trapasso said...

@buttermilkspy - The producers did actually come close to that line in a two parter around season six or seven where Archie was recruited by what turned out to be the KKK. That went too far even for Archie.

Stephen Robinson said...

The series AMERICAN DAD was overtly political when it began: The father was the Bush-loving Republican and his daughter was strawman feminist hippie. His son was a Junior Republican. They later veered more toward personality conflict than political conflict. Conservative dad vs. liberal daughter can have conflicts in *how* they view the world and react to situations. (They also just made the son character an apolitical nerd.)

ALL IN THE FAMILY was definitely not saddled with pop culture and political references -- the sort of thing that plagued MURPHY BROWN. It was much broader. I think the same thing happened with FAMILY TIES. Yes, Alex was a Republican but the conflict with his liberal Boomer parents was based more in his "greed is good" 80s consumerism.

I remember commenting once online that the Hecks from The Middle were probably Trump voters (if they voted at all), and fans were irate. They *liked* the Frankie and Mike so couldn't believe they were like the 60% of Indiana residents who voted for Trump.

Mike said...

I didn’t like the special. Most of the actors were doing bad imitations of the original actors, and didn’t have the wonderful timing that distinguished the old cast. What was the point of doing the same script on the same sets and imitating the old actors? And Jimmy Kimmel, who hosted, is increasingly insufferable.

“All in the Family” was a wonderful show. It was not flawless. But as a character study, it was great. I liked Archie and Edith’s story arc. He was a bigot with few redeeming qualities at first. And she seemed stupid. But gradually, the writers turned Edith into deeply principled woman who wasn’t afraid to stand up to Archie. And she was responsible for pulling him back from where his worst instincts would lead him.

I remember a great episode where Edith’s cousin passed away, and Edith expected to reclaim the silver family tea set from her. But the cousin’s female “roommate” turned out to be her partner, and she wanted to keep the tea set for sentimental reasons. Archie planned to drag her into court to get the silver, and the woman said she could not go to court because she would lose her job as a schoolteacher if she were outed. Edith pulled Archie aside and explained to him that this woman is her cousin’s next of kin and that Archie shouldn’t get her fired over the tea set. “I can’t believe you’d do something that mean,” she said. You see a closeup of Archie’s face as he realizes that he is wrong and his wife is right, and then he makes peace with the woman. It’s a beautiful, uplifting moment, and a great example of how this man is slowly becoming a little bit more enlightened.

And honestly, have there ever been better character actors than Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton on TV?