“I’ll tell you, seriously, the most amazing thing is listening to these two shows where we agreed to word for word — we would not change a word, and nothing has been changed, and I can’t believe how relevant it is to this moment,” Norman Lear says of ABC’s star-studded Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons re-creation tonight.
With the seismic social awareness of two of the most influential small-screen offerings of all time still sharp, the 90-minute special fronted by Lear mega-fan Jimmy Kimmel offers a whole new direction for the live TV genre as network musicals of the past few years fade in the abundance of this Peak TV era. Add to that bauble factor a true jewel of a cast with Jamie Foxx and Wanda Sykes as George and Louise Jefferson, plus Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei as Archie and Edith Bunker.
— Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) May 22, 2019
Barreling through 12-hour days and two full dress rehearsals in the lead-up to the live airing, the tributes also star Kerry Washington, Will Ferrell, Ellie Kemper, Anthony Anderson, Stephen Tobolowsky, Jovan Adepo, Ike Barinholtz, Sean Hayes and Amber Stevens West, with some surprises and guest stars promised too.
Filmed on the Sony lot, Live in Front of a Studio Audience airs at 8 PM ET Wednesday, with taped repeats in the Central and Pacific time zones. In the lead-up, I sat down with Lear and his Act III Productions producing partner Brent Miller to discuss why now, what’s next and what’s going on with One Day at a Time coming back from cancellation.
DEADLINE: We know the cast for Live in Front of a Studio Audience but we don’t know what episodes are being re-created live, whether the two shows linked or who the guest stars are — why so much still behind the curtain?
LEAR: I didn’t really think of it as surprises — and by the way, 99% of all decisions in this matter have been made between Brent Miller, my partner, and Jimmy Kimmel. The whole thing was Jimmy’s idea. He came to us, through Brent, with this notion, already having made the deal with ABC.
MILLER: Truthfully, Dominic, our goal in this is with so much on the air right now and people DVRing and people watching shows on their own, we really wanted to create an event that would draw people to watch together. That’s what they were doing back in the ’70s, and these shows are very socially and politically relevant to the times, then and now. We just want to make sure that they’re allowing for discussion with each other. So, the reason for that surprise was simply just to kind of build up excitement to an event.
LEAR: When you write the piece, you can say that I said that (laughter).
DEADLINE: One surprise is, as I said, which episodes of All in the Family and The Jeffersons are we going to see. There’s a lot of speculation that the first one is going to be the Sammy Davis episode from Season 2 in 1972.
LEAR: About three weeks ago, I ran across Sammy in a cab and invited him, I thought he was dead, but …
DEADLINE: Nobody’s dead in television now, Norman, just ask Kit Harington.
LEAR: That’s true, too, but we’re not doing that episode at all. I can tell you truthfully that at this moment, this is a one-shot. There has been no discussion of any kind about anything else with All in the Family or The Jeffersons, but I can’t believe the excitement around it.
DEADLINE: With all the reboots and revivals we’ve seen the past few years, don’t you think maybe this is the time to bring those classics back? Certainly, if ever there was a time that was reminiscent of the Nixon era, it’s the Trump era …
LEAR: I think Dominic is right!
MILLER: (laughs) I agree with you. I think it is, and perhaps that’s what we’ll hear from the network. You know, the reason we chose the title Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons is because we hope to establish a brand here or a franchise and do this again with various classics from TV history.
DEADLINE: Like Good Times or Maude?
MILLER: Well, not only the library of Norman’s, that is quite extensive, but other shows, too. I think it was Woody who came up to me last night — oh no, it was Sean Hayes who came up last night and said we were just talking, Woody and I, and we think you should do Cheers. It’s a lot of fun to pay tribute to this great writing that so many new generations have yet to experience.
DEADLINE: Norman, coming out of living TV in the early part of your career, how has it been watching these shows that have been hailed as some of the best television ever come back to life with this heavyweight cast of Wanda, Mr. Foxx, Anthony, Ellie, Woody, Kerry, Will, and Sean?
LEAR: I’ll tell you, seriously, the most amazing thing is listening to these two shows where we agreed on word for word we — would not change a word, and nothing has been changed, and I can’t believe how relevant it is to this moment. Every f*cking word is relevant to this moment. Also all by itself, there’s nobody else doing it. That’s a shock and it means it’s going to seem brand new to millions of people.
DEADLINE: So what’s next?
LEAR: Well, I still want to make a show starring elderly people. We did a Guess Who Died pilot, that NBC passed on, and I still continue to hope, maybe after the excitement of this show, people are going to say, ‘Well, is there anything you want to do?’ and I’ll trot this pilot out.
DEADLINE: What about One Day at a Time finding a new home after the Netflix cancellation? CBS All Access looked promising but got kiboshed by Netflix because of the fine print. My colleague Nellie Andreeva recently wrote a piece that some kind of CBS triage could be possible…
LEAR: I don’t know. What you think, Brent? Is there still a chance that that could happen?
MILLER: It’s very much in conversation, and we are excited that those conversations continue.