Last year, Norman Lear became the oldest Emmy winner in history when his special, Live in Front of a Studio Audience: All in the Family and The Jeffersons, won for Outstanding Variety Special – Live. Jimmy Kimmel, another executive producer on the show, came to Lear with the idea of redoing selected episodes from his classic ’70s comedies with a whole new cast — and doing it live.
It was such a hit that now, at 98, Lear is breaking his own record and is the oldest Emmy nominee ever for its follow-up. The holiday-themed Live in Front of a Studio Audience: All in the Family and Good Times is nominated for four Emmys including again for Outstanding Variety Special – Live. I talked with Lear during Deadline’s all-day The Contenders: The Nominees event, where we were joined by his fellow executive producers Brent Miller and Kerry Washington, the latter of whom played Helen in last year’s The Jeffersons and returned this year as part of the producing team.
As to his Emmy records, Lear laughed and said, “I am pretty much the oldest everywhere I go, in every category.” As for the appeal of seeing these shows again half a century later with new casts, he said: “People are people. Humanity is humanity. The times change, but people don’t really, and what we did back then was focus on the people more than the times.”
Miller spoke of how Kimmel approached him and Lear after hearing over and over again people asking “Do you think you could do that today, like what they got away with in the ’70s and early ’80s? He wanted to take a chance and thought they could get away with it and let’s honor these shows as they should and not change a single word in the script and see how people react.”
Lear took exception with the “getting away with it” terminology. “We didn’t get away with anything,” he said. “I think we depicted humanity as we saw humanity. I think we had actors who rose to the challenge and delivered more than what was written on the page. We didn’t get away with anything. We just broke a few barriers that should not have existed in the first place.”
Miller also gave a behind-the-scenes account of how this year’s live special went head-to-head with the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
As for getting these sterling casts including Viola Davis, Andre Braugher, Kevin Bacon, Marisa Tomei, Woody Harrelson and on and on, Washington said it was easy.
“When you see Norman Lear, people leap because the material is so rich and so inspiring,” she said. “You go back and see these shows and the way they resonate today, and it’s a no-brainer for so many people. They were thrilled to work with each other in the name of Norman Lear.”
Will there be more Live installments? “If we have anything, Brent and I, to say about it, we are going to, yes,” Lear said.
Check out the video above, and click here to watch all of Sunday’s Contenders TV panels.
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