Monday, May 20, 2013

Classic TV: All In The Family (1971)

All Norman Lear wanted to do was push the envelope. Did he ever.

All In The Family was a midseason replacement series when it launched on CBS in January 1971, and would go on to achieve iconic status, as well as birth a few spinoffs. Set in Queens, Family was built around blue collar worker Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor), at the time an unrepentant bigot who had insults for every minority in reach. All Archie wanted was to settle down at home after a hard day at work, but conflict, it seemed, was dogging his trail, be it at home in domestic spats with wife Edith (Jean Stapleton), daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers), or son-in-law Mike (Rob Reiner), or getting into arguments at the neighborhood bar. As time wore on, however, Archie would mellow with age and become more tolerant.

The easy explanation for that would be that the early targets of his xenophobic tirades had moved on. There was Maude (Beatrice Arthur), Edith's cousin, who was spun into her own series as Family began its 3rd season. Archie also sparred with the Jefferson brothers, first Henry (Mel Stewart), and later, the more iconic George (Sherman Hemsley), who was practically the player on the other side. If Archie had so much hate toward African-Americans, George was venting against the whites. The Jeffersons was granted its own series in 1975, and lasted longer than Family did.

The ensemble cast was often changing. Stewart, presumably, left when he landed a role on a short-lived CBS military sitcom, Roll Out!, opening the door for Hemsley. Sitcom vet Allan Melvin, by this time a regular on The Brady Bunch, added Family to his workload as Barney, Archie's best buddy. Bob Hastings (ex-McHale's Navy) resurfaced as bar owner Tommy Kelsey, appearing periodically, such that he had time to try his hand as a game show host (Dealer's Choice) before leaving the series for good and eventually shifting to daytime and General Hospital. Near the end of the series, Archie bought the bar, which was later renamed Archie Bunker's Place as the franchise continued with a new look in 1979. Jean Stapleton was written out of the show shortly after Place launched, as Edith was killed off.

Place ran for four seasons, and Archie went through three business partners. Bartender Harry Snowden (Jason Wingreen) was the original, but sold his share to a businessman (Martin Balsam) whose liberal viewpoints were in tune with Mike's, amazingly. Balsam left halfway, and Barry Gordon (ex-Fish and for many years the voice of the Nesquik Bunny) took his place.

Thefamilyalbum uploaded the familiar open of Archie & Edith at the piano, dueting on "Those Were The Days", followed by the open for Archie Bunker's Place:

Carroll O'Connor also co-wrote the show's instrumental closing theme, "Remembering You". If you've ever wondered if there were ever lyrics to "Remembering", well, wonder no more. Videoholic50s60s70s found this item, taken from The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, complete with intro by Sonny Bono:

Ray Conniff rearranged both themes for Place, giving it a Dixieland sound, though that seemed a little inappropriate, considering the series was still set in New York. Atlantic Records released an album of selected bits from Family, which included a guest appearance by future soap icon Anthony Geary (a few years before hitting it big on General Hospital). Unfortunately, the album isn't yet available on CD and may be just out of print. Hmmmmmm. Betty Garrett (Irene Lorenzo) left the show to take a recurring gig on Laverne & Shirley, remaining with that series up to its end, which, like Place, was in 1983.


All In The Family: B+.
Archie Bunker's Place: A.

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