70s sitcom adapted by Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin from the proto-Britcom 'Til Death Do Us Part. Controversial, with unflinching looks at the Vietnam War, rape, politics, labor unions, race, and any number of topics then-unknown to television comedy. And it was comedy, still funny now, due to the quality of the writing and the ensemble, which included Carroll O'Connor (Archie Bunker), Rob Reiner, and Jean Stapleton. Begat spinoffs: Maude, The Jeffersons.

The program you are about to see is All in the Family. It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices and concerns. By making them a source of laughter, we hope to show, in a mature fashion, just how absurd they are.
- Disclaimer aired prior to the first episode of All in the Family

All in the Family
Created by Norman Lear

All in the Family was a politically charged sitcom that aired on the CBS television network from 1971 to 1979. The show's primary focus was on Archie Bunker, a blue collar worker in Queens, New York, and his relationship with his wife, Edith, and his son-in-law, Mike (who Archie called Meathead), as well as with society in general. The topical aspects of the show (race, politics, rape, the Vietnam War, unions, socialism, and so on) and the frankness with which they were dealt with (see the quotes sprinkled throughout this writeup for examples) made All in the Family one of the true programming landmarks in television history.

o   r   i   g   i   n   s

Well, I'll tell you one thing about President Nixon. He keeps Pat home. Which was where Roosevelt should have kept Eleanor. Instead he let her run around loose until one day she discovered the colored. We never knew they were there. She told them they were gettin' the short end of the stick and we been having trouble ever since.
- Archie Bunker

In 1965, a landmark sitcom appeared on the BBC entitled Till Death Us Do Part. The series focused on Alf Garnett, a bigoted docker from East London; his wife, Else; and his son-in-law Mike Rawlins. The BBC was (and still is) committed to airing programming that would provide a voice that would not be heard in a strictly commercial environment, this being due to the television licensing system in the United Kingdom which financed the BBC.

This series is considered a landmark not for the plots, but for the characters and spirited discussions. Alf Garnett was a staunchly conservative bigot, which put him at great political odds with his liberal son-in-law, Mike; their discussions and arguments often provided the minimal storyline for the show. The series pushed the barrier with this, allowing Alf to express some rather coarse viewpoints about race, gender, the monarchy, and so on and so forth. The result? A massively popular program and one that gave the BBC all sorts of complaints and public relations headaches.

Norman Lear, an American television producer, saw the first series of Till Death Us Do Part in late 1965 and quickly realized that an Americanized version of the series would not only be comedic gold, but would serve as a method for promoting his liberal political viewpoints. By placing the liberal perspective in the young and well-spoken son-in-law character and placing the conservative perspective in the older, bigoted character, Norman felt that such a series would both entertain people and spread liberal causes in America.

Norman's first attempt at the series, entitled Justice For All, was written in 1968. It featured a primary character named "Archie Justice" and was very similar to Till Death Us Do Part in that the pilot mostly focused on conversation between the primary characters without any sort of strong plot. Lear shopped this script to the television networks, but none of them were interested enough to pick up the sitcom.

Lear went back to the workbench and rewrote the pilot, retitling it "Those Were The Days," based on a song he had selected for the theme song of the nascent series. The rewrite was somewhat more plot oriented, using a surprise anniversary party as an instigator for an argument between Archie and his son-in-law. He then shopped this script around the networks, and both CBS and ABC were quite interested. ABC made a strong offer to include the show in their fall 1970 television lineup, but the network backed out at the last minute. CBS remained interested in the program, and after some minor tuning, the addition of the very talented Bud Yorkin as director, and a retitling to All in the Family, the show debuted on January 12, 1971, starting off with the disclaimer seen at the top of this writeup.

c   h   a   r   a   c   t   e   r   s

Archie Bunker: Now wait a minute, Meathead, I never said your black beauties was lazy. You don't believe me, look it up.
Gloria Stivic: He's prejudiced, there's no hope for him at all.
Archie Bunker: I ain't prejudiced, any man deserves my respect and he's gonna get it regardless of his color.
Mike Stivic: Then why are you calling them black beauties?
Archie Bunker: Now that's where I got you, wise guy, there's a black guy who works down at the building with me, he's got a bumper sticker on his car that says 'Black is Beautiful' so what's the matter with black beauties?
Edith Bunker: It's nicer than when he called them coons.

The show focused on four characters in a rather simple domestic setup.

Archie Bunker (played by Carroll O'Connor) was clearly the central figure of the series. Archie was a blue collar factory worker in Queens, New York who held what could be best described as strongly conservative political stances, and he was not afraid to voice them. He was racist, sexist, and he made no qualms about it.

What made Archie work, however, was the astounding acting job of Carroll O'Connor. The entire premise of the show was built against Archie; every argument he had with anyone exposed him as being sexist, bigoted, or otherwise small minded. Yet O'Connor managed to gracefully add lovability to the character: underneath the gruffness, he deeply loved his wife and his daughter, and cared for his son-in-law as well. It was this duality of the gruff exterior with occasional glimpses at the sensitive human underneath that led many people to call Archie a "lovable bigot."

Edith Bunker (played by Jean Stapleton) was Archie's wife. Edith was often portrayed as being not too bright, yet quite often she made the most sense of anyone on the show, finding a happy center between Mike's left and Archie's right. As the series wore on, it became clear that Edith was the glue that held everyone together: she showed unconditional love for everyone else in the house, even in the face of intense conflict.

Mike Stivic (played by Rob Reiner) played Archie's son-in-law, and was the yin to Archie's yang. The two were as politically opposed as possible; "Meathead" (Mike's less-than-flattering nickname provided by his father-in-law) was a university-educated liberal. Mike's primary function on the show was to introduce a liberal perspective into a household dominated by Archie's conservativism, and quite often he was able to out-argue Archie on the issues due to the liberal slant of the writing of the show. It worked because both sides were presented in the argument, and Archie had great appeal to the working class viewers of the show could identify with Archie. He was also often written with the least depth of any of the major characters; it was clear from day one that he was a liberal young man, and other aspects of him were rarely explored.

Gloria Bunker-Stivic (played by Sally Struthers) is much like her mother in a lot of ways, something of a "liberated" version of Edith. She quite often came across as a moderator between Mike and Archie, and often leaned towards Mike's perspective while still showing love and respect for her father.

Most noteworthy additional characters were soon rewarded with their own spinoff show.

s   p   i   n   o   f   f   s

Don't tell me my father was wrong. Let me tell you something, a father who made you is wrong? A father, the breadwinner of the house there? The man who goes out and busts his butt to keep a roof over your head and clothes on your back, you call him wrong? Father, that's the man that comes home, bringing you candy. Father is the first guy to throw a baseball to you. And take you for walks in the park holding you by the hand? My father held me by the hand, hey, my father had a hand on him though I tell you. He busted that hand once, and he busted the other on me to teach me to do good. My father, he shoved me in a closet for seven hours to teach me to do good, 'cause he loved me. Don't be looking at me. Let me tell you something, you're supposed to love your father 'cause your father loves you. How can any man who loves you tell you anything that's wrong?
- Archie Bunker

All in the Family spawned five spinoff series, two of which met with strong success; each of these spinoffs spawned an additional spinoff, one of which was successful. So, here is the family tree of series spawned from All in the Family.

Maude (1972 to 1978) was the first spinoff series, starring Bea Arthur as Edith Bunker's cousin, Maude. She was the anti-Archie Bunker, liberal to the point of almost being a caricature; the series saw Maude have an abortion and experiment with drugs, which was absolutely amazing for the central character of a 1970s sitcom.

Good Times (1974 to 1979) was a spinoff of Maude, which followed the life of Maude's maid Florida Evans. The show became quite popular due to the character J.J. Evans (played by Jimmie Walker), Florida's son, who became something of a breakout star because of his humourous behavior and use of a catchphrase, "DY-NO-MITE!," which I can still remember being shouted quite loudly from the television speakers as a child.

The Jeffersons (1975 to 1985) was probably the most popular spinoff of all time. The show chronicled the lives of George and Louise Jefferson (played by Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford, respectively) as a successful African American couple. The show was connected to All in the Family by the fact that George and Louise lived near the Bunkers prior to moving to "a deluxe apartment in the sky." George was something of an African American Archie Bunker, spouting his own set of prejudices; to say that George and Archie got along like water and vinegar is appropriate. It was usually Lionel Jefferson, the son of George and Louise, that interacted with Archie; Lionel was a college friend of Mike's and thus often visited the Bunker household.

Checking In (1981) was a short-lived spinoff of The Jeffersons focusing on their maid, Florence Johnson (played by Marla Gibbs). The series was funny, but rather nondescript.

Archie Bunker's Place (1979 - 1983) was more of a continuation of All in the Family rather than a spinoff, per se. After the end of All in the Family, with Mike and Gloria moving out of the house for good and Archie retired, Archie used his savings to purchase a tavern in the neighborhood, and this show focuses on that. Early in this series, Edith dies in her sleep, and thus for most of this series' run, Archie was alone in a bar. Without others to play off of, Archie Bunker's Place was only a moderate success.

Gloria (1982 - 1983) focused on the life of Gloria Stivic after her divorce from Mike, showing her as a single mother. Without the dual forces of Mike and Archie to play off of, this show was very flat and only lasted for one season.

704 Hauser Street (1994) is probably one of the weirdest conceptual spinoffs of all time. The connection to All in the Family is through the house; that's all. The house is the old Bunker house from the original series. This time, however, you had a mirror image of the Bunkers living in the house; Ernie and Rose Cumberbach were a black liberal couple with a very conservative son married to a Jewish woman. This series was very, very good, but it was basically not advertised by CBS and scheduled poorly, and thus it was cancelled after five episodes.

f   i   n   a   l      n   o   t   e   s

This show is a television landmark because of the frankness and humor expressed in dealing with sensitive issues like rape, abortion, war, politics, and so on. The show managed to be funny because of two key aspects: the stellar writing and stellar acting, particularly by Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker. Few series since have even attempted to take on such serious social issues in such a way, and even fewer have been successful.

Would All in the Family work on modern television? It's hard to say. Shows like this are only successful if they're allowed to build an audience, and in modern television, it doesn't matter whether the show is good or not, it matters whether or not it will quickly find an audience. All in the Family would likely air today, but on a cable network, not on a broadcast network, where the stations can afford to take more chances.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.