All in the Family’ is 50 years old…how it changed TV

All in the Family’ is 50 years old…how it changed TV

It would seem unthinkable by today’s standards: the most popular character on television was a blue-collar bigot from Queens, New York — who, despite his prejudices, was often considered lovable at the same time.

But that was the case for much of the 1970s with the character Archie Bunker on All in the Family, which debuted in 1971. For five years, it was the most-watched show on television.

The show was groundbreaking for openly talking about serious issues of the day. While other shows featured surface-level plots, All in the Family‘s storylines often involved deeper discussions of racism, women’s rights, the Vietnam War, homosexuality, rape and more.

“I had a father who was a bit of an Archie Bunker,” says Norman Lear, who created the show. Lear says his father would use racist terms for Chinese people and Black people. “He was, in my mind, a long way to what became Archie Bunker.”

Actor Carroll O’Connor played Bunker for 13 seasons, the first nine on All in the Family and then another four years in the spinoff, Archie Bunker’s Place.

Lear tells Morning Edition that dozens of actors interviewed for the part. When O’Connor walked in, “we sit at this little table and he reads. You know I wish I could express — my entire body felt, ‘Oh my god. This is Archie.’ ”

Writer Jim Colucci put together the new book All in the Family: The Show that Changed Television, which features interviews with cast and crew members, including Lear’s memories of certain episodes.

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