Starring Carroll O’Connor (Archie Bunker), Jean Stapleton (Edith Bunker), Rob Reiner (Michael Stivic/”Meathead”) and Sally Struthers (Gloria Bunker), “All in the Family” aired on CBS from January 12, 1971 to April 8, 1979, and was number 1 in the Nielsen ratings from 1971 to 1976.
“All in the Family” was also notable in that it was the first major American series to be videotaped (rather than filmed) — and the performances were done in front of a live studio audience.
All in the Family setting records among TV shows (1971)
by Lawrence Laurent
”All in the Family” slipped quietly into the CBS-TV schedule last January, an admitted steal from a BBC- TV series “Till Death Do Us Part,” and openly an experimental series for the second season.
“Archie Bunker is a buffoon. He is the object of all the jokes, proving just how ridiculous bigotry and prejudice can be.”
“Archie Bunker is the only guy on television who speaks the truth. They put him down, all right, but you’ll notice that he’s back, week after week.”
CBS-TV President Robert D. Wood had sent storm signals to his organization, warning that Archie Bunker’s denunciation of “kikes,” “polacks” and “wops” might bring a huge wave of protests.
The staff braced, but the reaction was small. Did this mean the show was a failure? No, it meant quite the opposite.
The series became the hit of the second season. Ratings were good, with the show quickly moving into the top ten. When the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences met in the spring, three Emmy awards went to “All in the Family.”
Executive Producer Norman Lear picked up golden statuettes for having offered the public the “outstanding comedy series” and the ”outstanding new series.”
Actress Jean Stapleton. who plays Edith Bunker, won an award as the best actress in a leading role in a comedy series.
Second season successes have lamentably poor records for succeeding in the autumn and, worse, CBS-TV announced it was moving “All in the Family” from its Tuesday slot to Monday.
What would happen to Archie Bunker, scheduled opposite to Monday Night Football (ABC) and the ”Monday Night Movie” (NBC)? The question was never answered, simply because a third home was found for “All in the Family” — Saturdays.
The move wrecked the programs scheduled opposite “All in the Family.”
NBC had a sure winner, it thought, in “Partners,” starring Don Adams. “Partners” has been discontinued. ABC had high hopes for “Getting Together,” a youth-oriented program starring Bobby Sherman. It has also been discontinued.
A hugely popular TV show
In its new time period, “All in the Family” began the year by drawing 40 percent of those watching TV ‘share’ of viewers at 8 P.M. Saturdays. By mid-November. “All in the Family” had a 51 percent share, and ever since has had at least half the audience in its time period.
To put it another way, Nielsen ratings for Sept. 13 put ”All in the Family” in 12th place in popularity. It went to first place the following week, and has never ranked lower than fourth since. In the most recent polls. it has been in first place.
At this peak. slightly more than 20 million TV homes were tuning in the adventures of Archie Bunker.
Two distinct groups of viewers
Such popularity must be deserved, but “All in the Family” was achieving its ratings by appealing to two separate, distinct audiences.
One of those audiences cheered Archie Bunker’s every denunciation of minorities, applauded his tunnel vision of liberal dissent, and approved his stereotyped, hard hat interpretation of modern morality. That audience didn’t mind Archie’s being the butt of the jokes in the show.
The second, distinct, audience doesn’t take Archie Bunker for real. To this group, he is an overblown comedic character, an object for derision and a person who deserved every put down inflicted upon him by his son-in-law, wife, daughter and visiting performers.
The two-audience program has appeared before, but rarely. For example, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” was attracting two kinds of viewers: one took the spy adventures for real; the other saw the show as a parody of the adventures of super-spy James Bond.
A few complained that ”All in the Family” is a one-joke show. Others found it a ”series that pokes fun at prejudice and bigotry in America through the medium of innovative and irreverent comedy.”
In truth, it is both. In this, the worst television season in a decade, any change is likely to be hailed as “innovative.” But, since progress in television is measured in fractions of inches, “All in the Family”‘ is something new.
Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker
The series did create a small problem for actor Carroll O’Connor. He is a sensitive, professional actor who holds degrees from the National University of Ireland and the University of Montana. He trained at the Dublin Gate Theatre in Dublin, worked in London, Paris, Edinburgh and New York before going to the film industry in California.
He had appeared in 27 movies and in at least 50 TV dramatic shows, cast nearly always as a villain.
O’Connor has a home in Rome and a home in Los Angeles. He grew up in New York City, the carefully sheltered son of a physician. His only connection with the Archie Bunkers, who live in row houses in the Bronx, came by passing through their neighborhood in an automobile.
“All in the Family” has other dual elements and internal contradictions. Archie is put down by wife Edith several times a show. But she obviously loves her husband, and is always interested, first, in his comfort and well being.
Sally Struthers, who plays daughter Gloria, may disagree with her father, but she cares deeply for him.
This leaves “The Meathead” — Mike Stivic, the son-in-law (Rob Reiner). He argues with Archie, needles him, and usually wins. Stivic is young, liberal and the friend of minorities. he stands up to Archie.
“But, ah ha,” says the rooters for Archie, “you’ll notice that the meathead lives in Archie’s home and eats Archie’s food.”
It provides the kind of small controversy, so dear to the packagers of television entertainment. Arguments go on and the ratings are absolutely tremendous.
The final element of success in television lies in whether the program is imitated on a rival network.
That element arrived in December when NBC-TV announced it had a new series, ready for Jan. 14. This will be “Sanford and Son,” and like “All in the Family,” it is based on a hit and controversial) BBC-TV series, “Steptoe and Son.”
In the new NBC series, veteran comedian Redd Fox plays the conservative and biased junk dealer, whose son (Demond Wilson) wants to break away from the business.
Imitation resolves all doubts. Archie Bunker and “All in the Family” are television successes.
“All in the Family” opening credits/theme song (1975)
“All in the Family” theme song: Those were the Days – lyrics