The television powerhouse Norman Lear looks back on his illustrious life and work in his star-studded birthday special Norman Lear: 100 Years of Music and Laughter. He is credited with some of the most iconic sitcom moments, including the contentious two-part Maude episode in 1972. Lear claims that CBS wasn’t the only one opposed to the plot; one of his daughters “disagrees with every piece of that.”
Lear is joined by Jimmy Kimmel, Amy Poehler, Octavia Spencer, and Jennifer Aniston at a dining table with cocktails and glasses of wine in hand. Snippets from season 1’s “Maude’s Dilemma,” in which Bea Arthur’s obstinate Maude and husband Walter (Bill Macy) decide against continuing with a pregnancy, are playing on a screen in front of Lear. In the scenario, Macy’s Walter states, “For you, Maude, for me, in the privacy of our own lives, we’re doing the right thing.”
Lear informs Kimmel and company after the scene goes dark “My beautiful daughter disagrees with every word of that. Although there are countless areas in which this young lady excels, she will vehemently disagree.” Poehler replies, “Well, that’s what was so wonderful about your work, Norman. We watched it in our living rooms with folks who were traveling in quite different directions than we were, and we all watched it together. In agreement, Aniston says, “it created a conversation—a good one.”
Lear claims that despite CBS’s ferocious opposition, he never wavered and even made a few exit threats. Kimmel mentions that he was also the focus of religious organizations at the time. He was referred to as “America’s number one adversary” by the late pastor Jerry Falwell. Kimmel is asked by Lear, “How could you not be proud of that?” Better than No. 2, as Poehler puts it. Lear adds, later adding, “That’s not the American way,” “I was really disturbed with Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, [who] were multiplying on the tube and radio and so forth, [saying] you were a good or a bad Christian depending on your political stance.”
As peers repeatedly point out throughout the show, Lear’s commitment to telling human tales has motivated many people who have come after him. Kenya Barris said in the special that “[Lear] threatened to quit multiple jobs because in the end, it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about telling meaningful stories no matter what it’s about.” “About taking on issues that everyone is talking about or is hesitant to discuss.”
Rita Moreno, Rob Reiner, and Tom Hanks all pay tribute in the program, and Tony Danza, Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Kristen Bell all sing musical numbers. Norman Lear: 100 Years of Music and Laughter will be shown on Hulu on Friday for anyone who can’t attend the celebrations on Thursday night. and even made a couple times of quitting threats. Additionally, as Kimmel points out, he was the focus of religious organizations at the time. He was referred to as the “No. 1 adversary of America” by the late evangelist Jerry Falwell. How could you not be proud of that? Lear asks Kimmel. “Better than No. 2,” asserts Poehler.