Meathead & Gloria depart the Bunker nest in a cloudburst of real tears
In an emotional scene before their final taping as the All in the Family ensemble, a choked-up Carroll O’Connor introduces Jean Stapleton to the studio audience. The farewell of Rob Reiner and a tearful Sally Struthers ends the historic eight-season reign of the original 1971 cast.
Television ratings do not yet measure such imponderables as national sorrow — but there must have been something like a collective catch in America’s throat last Sunday night. “I feel the way you do after you’ve been to a friend’s funeral,” gulped Sally Struthers, after taping the show. “The weeping has stopped, but you’re not adjusted to the loss. I have to get used to not seeing these people who were my friends — my best friends — the last eight years.”
She was surely speaking as well for a predicted 50 million viewers who had just watched CBS’s extended Bunker family break up after 183 bellowing, bickering, but always tender half hours.
Creator Norman Lear’s landmark All in the Family was succumbing to a very contemporary malady: career mobility. Sally (Gloria Bunker Stivic) Struthers and Rob (son-in-law Meathead) Reiner were taking their tearful leave of the show for their own projects (the scripted reason was a new teaching job for Mike Stivic in Santa Barbara).
Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton have pledged one last season as arch-bigot Archie and the Dingbat. But will it play without the liberal counterbalance of their heirs? Would King Lear have worked without his offspring? Norman, by the way, traces his lineage not to the British monarch but to a vacuum cleaner salesman of Russian origin who told his wife to “stifle yourself.”
Producer Lear’s own kin served as the, well, Archie-types of the series, and even before word was out that Norman was himself deserting TV for movies, no less an arbiter of the national treasure than the Smithsonian Institution formally requested Archie’s and Edith’s chairs for its archives. All in the Family was not only TV’s most popular entertainment series (with an unequaled five straight years as No. 1); it was also the most important…