15 of Norman Lear's Essential Works

The esteemed writer and producer — who turns 100 on July 27! — has produced some of the more important TV shows of our time. Here, a look back at 15 of the most major

01 of 15

Colgate Comedy Hour, 1950

NBC COMEDY HOUR, THE -- 01/19/56 -- Pictured: Writers on the set of The NBC Comedy Hour, (2nd from left) Norman Lear (Photo by NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)
NBCU Photo Bank

"Bringing joy to people is what it's all about," prolific writer and producer Norman Lear told PEOPLE days before his 100th birthday on July 27. "My awards and accolades mean a great deal to me, but they don't mean as much as the drive to the stu- dio today. I still explode with joy, excitement, interest and utter delight every time."

That's always been clear in Lear's work, which began in the 1950s with his "big break," as he called it, writing for the Colgate Comedy Hour.

02 of 15

The Martha Raye Show, 1954

NEW YORK - CIRCA 1950: Actress Martha Raye poses with Harpo Marx for the "The Martha Raye Show" in New York, New York.(Photo by Steve Oroz/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Steve Oroz/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

"I adored [Martha Raye]," Lear recalled of the variety show, another of his earliest projects, in an interview with the Television Academy. "She ... could just explode and go off script."

03 of 15

All in the Family, 1971


"It's been incredible to celebrate it every day," Lear told PEOPLE of All in the Family, the 1971 to 1979 sitcom he created starring Rob Reiner, Sally Struthers, Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton. "I don't remember what I saw in my imagination when I wrote it, but when O'Connor sat down and read a page, holy moly." The show scored 22 Emmys, including a 1971 Outstanding Comedy Series win for Lear.

04 of 15

Sanford and Son, 1972

SANFORD AND SON, Demond Wilson, Redd Foxx, 1972-1977

As junkman Fred G. Sanford, "Redd Foxx (right, with Demond Wilson) entertained me in a way that I know added time to my life," said Lear, who developed Sanford and Son, which aired on NBC for six seasons from 1972 to 1977.

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Maude, 1972

(Original Caption) Left to right, Carol (Adrienne Barbeau) joins Maude (Beatrice Arthur), who has launched a "Henry Fonda for President" campaign, in a rousing song, along with Vivian (Rue McClanahan) and Mrs. Naugatuck (Hermione Baddeley) on Maude, Monday, January 12th (9:30-10:00 P.M., ET) on the CBS Television Network.

"It was the start of the women's movement, and casting a strong woman in a leading role seemed like such a fresh and much- needed idea," says Lear, who created Maude (1972 to 1978) with Bud Yorkin. "Bea Arthur brought all of that to life."

06 of 15

Good Times, 1974

John Amos and Esther Rolle Good TImes
John Amos and Esther Rolle in Good Times, 1975. CBS Photo Archive/Getty

The Maude spinoff (1974 to 1980) was TV's first Black two-parent family sitcom and starred Bern Nadette Stanis, Esther Rolle, Jimmie Walker, Ralph Carter, and John Amos. Lear and business partner Brent Miller are working on an animated reboot for Netflix.

07 of 15

One Day at a Time, 1975

one day at a time
Mackenzie Phillips, Valerie Bertinelli and Bonnie Franklin on One Day at a Time. CBS/Getty

The original sitcom aired on CBS from 1975 to 1984 and starred Bonnie Franklin as a divorced mother raising two teenage daughters (Valerie Bertinelli and Mackenzie Phillips). Pat Harrington Jr. played their building superintendent Dwayne Schneider.

08 of 15

The Jeffersons, 1975

Marla Gibbs
Michael Ochs Archives/getty

"While we were creating the show, three members of the Black Panthers came to my office to complain about the 'garbage' they were seeing on TV," recalled Lear. "They were upset about Blacks only being portrayed as poor or as maids. We always wanted my shows to reflect America, like showing a well-off Black family."

09 of 15

Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, 1976

UNITED STATES - APRIL 1976: Norman Lear (C) speaking with series star Louise Lasser (L) and co-star Greg Mullavey (R) on the set of TV show "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" in between takes. (Photo by John Bryson/Getty Images)
John Bryson/Getty

"We made two episodes [as pilots], we financed it ourselves," Lear recalled of the soap opera satire in an interview with the Television Academy. "We couldn't sell it. From something salesmen were telling us, they thought it was too off-the-wall, so I had the notion that if we invited people to see that I'm a sensible, sane person and I've got kids and a family, coming from not some off-the-wall character, they might wish to buy. So we devised an evening and invited the [syndicated station] buyers to a dinner at my home on a warm spring evening. My daughters and my wife were the hostesses. It was a terrific evening. And the next morning they were going to look at another presentation ... Now they were looking at the product of a family guy, and not a lunatic! And [one of the men] stood up and said, 'I want this show.' And that started a bandwagon."

A remake is in the works with Emily Hampshire as the star.

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Archie Bunker's Place, 1979

1979: Promotional portrait of actors Carroll O'Connor (1924 - 2001; right), Martin Balsam (1919 - 1996), and Danielle Brisebois in costume and on the set, for the premiere season of the television series 'Archie Bunker's Place'. Briesbois is sitting on O'Connor's lap and is wearing rollerskates. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
CBS Photo Archive/Getty

In a 2016 Sundance Q&A with Lena Dunham, Lear said he actually didn't want to do the All in the Family spinoff, which ran for four seasons on CBS.

"I prevented it from happening for some months," Lear recalled. "The only way it got on was when [network owner William Paley] called me to his office and had four or five pages of names of people who would be out of work if the show didn't go on. And so the show went on."

Lear said it was star Carroll O'Connor, Archie himself, who pushed hard for the series, too, though Lear called him "difficult" despite his acting talents and the fact he "worshipped the ground he walked on."

"He didn't understand the character the way I felt I wished him to be, and he was the character," Lear continued. "God, that's all so interesting and complicated."

11 of 15

The Facts of Life, 1979


The Diff'rent Strokes spinoff centered on Charlotte Rae's Edna Garrett, who runs an all-girls boarding school and handles the ups and downs that come with it, specifically with four students played by Nancy McKeon, Mindy Cohn, Lisa Whelchel and Kim Fields. (Plus the occasional appearance from a young George Clooney!)

"The fact that Charlotte Rae was in our lives, and was as talented and funny as she was, was a big part of creating the show," Lear — whose production company handled both Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life told Vulture in 2021.

12 of 15

Silver Spoons, 1982


The sitcom about a rich businessman who finds out he has a young son ('80s icon Ricky Schroder, right, with Jason Bateman) didn't touch on issues of social justice the way many of Lear's other shows did, though was a commercial success.

13 of 15

227, 1985

Promotional studio portrait of the cast of the television series '227,' circa 1985. L-R: Actors Helen Martin, Curtis Baldwin, Jackee Harry, Hal Williams. (Seated) Alaina Reed Hall, Marla Gibbs. (Front) Kia Goodwin and Regina King. (Photo by Embassy Pictures/Fotos International/Getty Images)
Embassy Pictures/Fotos International/Getty

Writer Christine Houston came to the attention of Lear after she won a play-writing contest in his name with 227, a story of women living together in Chicago in the 1950s. Lear took Houston under his wing and eventually actress Marla Gibbs found the script, starring in a series that moved the story to modern-day Washington, D.C. Lear served as executive producer, and Houston ultimately won an NAACP Image Award.

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America Divided , 2016

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13: America Divided executive producer and correspondent Norman Lear attends America Divided EPIX & Ford Foundation Event With Norman Lear & Peter Sarsgaard at Ford Foundation on September 13, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for EPIX)
Monica Schipper/Getty

In 2016, Lear teamed up with Shonda Rhimes and Common to produce the EPIX Original docu-series, America Divided, which examined "narratives around inequality in education, housing, healthcare, labor, criminal justice and the political system," according to the series' website.

In his 2021 interview with Vulture, Lear said, "the country needs a lot of help. I'm not worried about it where I am concerned, at my age, but when I think about my kids and grandkids and their kids to come?"

He continued, "We need leadership that helps the American people understand what's at stake and what is possible and how tender our democracy is. There's nothing more important than helping the American people understand how important their vote is."

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One Day at a Time (Reboot), 2017

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JULY 29: (L-R) Brent Miller, Marcel Ruiz, Gloria Calderon Kellett, Mike Royce, Isabella Gomez, Rita Moreno, Stephen Tobolowsky, Normal Lear, and Justina Machado of Netflix's 'One Day at a Time' pose for a portrait during the 2018 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 29, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Robby Klein/Getty Images)
Robby Klein/Getty

"We brought to the screen real loving families living the same lives as millions of others," Lear said of the original and the reboot, which centered on a Latino family and ran for four seasons on Netflix, from 2017 to 2020.

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