‘All in the Family’: The Viewer Advisory CBS Required of the Show
Airing in the 1970s, it’s well-documented that the comedy series All in the Family pushed more than one envelope in its candid confrontation of racism, sexism, and politics.
When the show premiered, its creator Norman Lear, the comedy’s cast, and CBS held their breath as to how viewers and the world at large would receive its jaw-dropping dialogue and incendiary viewpoints.
And so, it was decided that a viewer advisory was absolutely necessary.
Lear wanted to make a ‘fool’ out of Archie Bunker
When Lear came up with the concept of the sitcom about a bigot, his long-suffering wife, daughter, and her husband, his intention was not to exalt racists but to ridicule them.
“It wasn’t that I thought bigotry per se could be funny, but that a fool on any subject can be funny,” Lear wrote in his 2015 book, Even This I Get to Experience. “It was the state of the man’s mind. [Archie] was afraid of tomorrow. He was afraid of anything new, and that came through in the theme song.”
“‘Gee, our old LaSalle ran great, Those were the days.’ [Archie] was lamenting the passing of time, because it’s always easier to stay with what is familiar and not move forward,” Lear continued. “This wasn’t a terrible human being. This was a fearful human being. He was just afraid of change.”
This actor thought Lear would get shot ‘in the streets’
Lear had quite a few actors in mind to play the role of Archie and one of them was Andy Hardy film star Mickey Rooney. When Rooney heard the premise of the series from Lear, he warned him that it would not be warmly welcomed by viewers.
Archie Bunker’s bigoted personality and his objectionable language, Rooney advised, would create enormous controversy: “Norm, they’re going to kill you, shoot you dead in the streets.”
The Hollywood icon was of course wrong and Lear had what turned out to be a hit on his hands.
‘All in the Family’ needed this advisory
Airing the new comedy was exciting for Lear and the network; at the same time, it was an enormous risk considering the topics and language in question.
Lear described watching the first episode air on national television: “I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry, and I was no clearer about that at home three hours later, where a few friends and members of the cast and company who lived nearby were gathered around our TV set with us as the show began in the West.
“Before the fade-up on Carroll and Jean at the piano singing ‘Those Were the Days’ there appeared this advisory: ‘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.”
As Lear noted, half an hour after that advisory was seen, the television-watching population of the United States met Archie Bunker, “and not a single state seceded from the Union.”