All in the Family, An American Classic
This was a show that broke all the rules and taught America how to discuss controversial topics out in the open. It discussed all the taboos and shone the light of day on such topics as rape, religion, abortion, racism, homosexuality, the Vietnam War, and even menopause.
All in the Family originally broadcast on the CBS television network from 1971 to 1979. Afterwards, Archie Bunker’s Place, which featured the main character in a bar he purchased, ran for four more seasons. Archie is bothered by a changing country and makes vast, incorrect assumptions about anyone who doesn’t think, act and feel the way he does on every topic. His views are hard to take as a viewer.
As minorities make social progress, Archie views “Spades,” “Spics” and “Hebes” (Blacks, Hispanics and Jews), he is convinced they would ruin the chances of lower class whites. As a polar opposite, the show pits Archie against his son-in-law Mike whose “Meathead” liberal views and sensitivity for minorities and the oppressed, causes heated conflicts between the two characters on every show.
All in the Family was produced by the legendary Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin, and it starred Carroll O’Connor, Sally Struthers, Jean Stapleton and Rob Reiner. The show centers around a working-class bigot and his extended family. By using comedy to tackle important issues, the series became television’s most influential comedic program, arguably of all time. All in the Family used the comfortable sitcom format to ease into realistic and topical conflicts.
All in the Family also addressed how women in traditional roles handled women’s lib and other dynamic movements of the time. We get to see the characters expand. Archie’s quiet daughter becomes vocal and assured and his adoring, obedient wife begins to question Archie’s narrow-minded view.
The show is widely regarded in the U.S. as one of the most important TV shows of all time. The public of the time certainly loved it, since the show ranked number one in the Nielsen ratings every year from 1971 to 1976. It was the first television series to achieve that long-term victory.
There were frequent cameos by famous guest stars. The most remembered one was Sammy Davis, Jr. He appeared in “Sammy’s Visit” which was listed as number 13 on TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time listed the show fourth. Bravo called Archie Bunker TV’s greatest character of all time. In 2013, All in the Family was recognized by the Writers Guild of America as the fourth-best written TV series ever.
All in the Family’s impact on the evolution of American television is undeniable. It showed that comedy could deal with complex issues and throw out the light plotlines of TV’s early years. Its influence on programming is still felt in populating primetime shows many decades later. In any case, it caused a generation to look reflectively on political and social assumptions that no longer fit the needs of a diverse citizenry.