When All in the Family (1971-1979) was originally broadcast in the 1970s, it was considered as a groundbreaking event in the history of American TV. It bravely tackled certain topics that were once considered as taboo – bigotry, racism and homophobia, even sensitive issues like rape and sexual abuse.
Although All in the Family wasn’t the first TV series to take such hot-button topics, it was the first sitcom to do so – that is, it took these sensitive issues and turned them into a goldmine for comedy.
After a slow start, All in the Family became a big hit. It kept audiences entertained (and enlightened) during its nine-season run. It has earned a lofty place as one of the greatest American TV shows of all time.
Here are some of the facts of All in the Family that you will surely find interesting and intriguing:
1. All in the Family was based on a British sitcom
Producer Norman Lear credited the BBC1 sitcom Till Death Do Us Part (1965-1975) as the reason behind All in the Family. Till Death Do Us Part‘s main character, the controversial working-class bigot Alf Garnett, was the inspiration for Archie Bunker.
2. Mickey Rooney was actually the first choice to play Archie Bunker
But the former child actor turned the role down, saying the show had a strong potential for controversy and thought that it was doomed to fail. The part later went to Carroll O’Connor.
3. The character Archie Bunker was based on Norman Lear’s father (well, much of it)
Much of Archie Bunker was patterned after Lear’s own father Herman, and much of the series portrayed a relationship just like the one between him and his dad. Herman would call his wife (Lear’s mother) as “dingbat” and tell her to “stifle herself,” while he would often call his son “Meathead.”
4. The series featured a full-frontal male nudity
All in the Family shattered another taboo… And this time, it featured a full-frontal male nudity with the appearance of a 3-week-old baby Joey Stivic, the son of Archie Bunker’s daughter Gloria Stivic and her husband Michael Stivic.
5. Penny Marshall almost became Mrs. Stivic
Penny Marshall, the then-wife of Rob Reiner (who played as Archie Bunker’s liberal son-in-law Michael Stivic), was considered for the role of Gloria Stivic. However, producers chose actress Sally Struthers because of her close resemblance to O’Connor, her on-screen dad.
6. The expected backlash from the viewers never happened
Because of the controversial nature of the series, it is understandable that CBS was preparing itself for the worst. So before airing the show’s first episode, the network issued a disclaimer:
‘‘The program you are about to see is All in the Family. It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices, and concerns. By making them a source of laughter, we hope to show—in a mature fashion—just how absurd they are.’’
CBS even hired several operators who were tasked to receive and handle a barrage of outraged phone calls that the network was sure were bound to happen. But much to CBS’ surprise, only a handful of offended viewers called in to express their dismay. Even more surprising is that the majority of audiences seemed to love Archie Bunker’s character, rather than be turned off by him.
7. The series did receive a lot of calls and mails… but they were about the theme song, though
During All in the Family‘s first two seasons, many viewers phoned in and sent letters to the show asking about the same thing – the last line of the opening theme song. Audiences struggled to find out the meaning behind the line, “Gee; our LaSalle ran great.”
O’Connor and Jean Stapleton (who played as Mrs. Edith Bunker) re-recorded the song prior to season 3 and this time, they articulated the lyrics a bit more clearly. The “LaSalle” they were referring to was actually a General Motors luxury car whose production ran from 1927 to 1940.
8. The original title of the show
In Lear’s original pilot script, All in the Family was called Justice for All, and Archie Bunker was originally named as Archie Justice.
The success of All in the Family has led to several spin-off shows, the first being Maude (which in turn was “spun off” by another show Good Times). Then it was followed by other spin-offs The Jeffersons, Gloria, Archie Bunker’s Place and 704 Hauser.