Television history research topic: Television producer Norman Lear

Legendary television producer Norman Lear is the subject of a new documentary, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You. Responsible for many successful television sitcoms during the 1970s and 1980s, the 93-year-old has been called the most influential producer in the history of television.

Learn more about television history and Norman Lear. (Credit: ABC News)

Learn more about television history and Norman Lear. (Credit: ABC News)

His “All in the Family” episodes often dealt with controversial subjects of the time. His success and subject matter has influenced recent television producers, such as Shonda Rhimes. Here are some interesting research paper topics on Norman Lear.

Ground-breaking television

A good term paper topic is to discuss the groundbreaking issues that Norman Lear’s television shows presented. Before Lear, television in the 1970s was safe, corny and rarely controversial. Shows like “Father Knows Best” idealized the wise father figure. Then along came Lear’s “All in the Family” (1971-1979) centering on bigot Archie Bunker who said what a lot of Americans were thinking at the time, afraid of the societal and cultural changes happening around him. The show discussed controversial social issues like race relations, civil rights, birth control, women’s lib, and Vietnam War protests. Lear consistently had to fight with censors to allow frank and real-life discussions on current topics.

Lear’s other shows broke all kinds of barriers and addressed formerly taboo subjects. He produced “Good Times” (1974-1979), one of the first sitcoms on American television focusing on a black family. Another show, “The Jeffersons” (1975-1985), broke stereotypes by showing an upper middle class black family, and also featured an interracial married couple. In “Maude” (1972-1978), the titular character is a liberal, decisive, many-married woman, and in one episode, she had an abortion. “One Day at a Time” (1975-1984) was about a divorced single mother raising teenage girls.

A new age of television

A research paper topic could be to discuss how television reflects real life. Sitcoms before Lear rarely addressed real life issues and were mostly light entertainment. In “‘Just Another Version Of You’ Celebrates Norman Lear’s TV Legacy,” by Robert Siegel, July 11, 2016, on NPR’s All Things Considered, Lear describes the saccharin storylines of television at the time, “The problems they were facing in those years … all those shows – “Petticoat Junction,” “Beverly Hillbillies” and so forth – if the roast was ruined and the boss was coming to dinner, that was one of the biggest problems in the history of human families.”

Lear wanted to discuss the issues real Americans were facing. In the documentary film, Lear said, “I chose to entertain with what I consider real people,” but he added “human beings are just a little foolish … that knits us all together,” reported in “Norman Lear Is Enjoying Newfound Fame at 93,” by Adam Howard on July 21, 2016.

Lear’s influence on today’s producers

An excellent term paper topic is exploring how Lear has influenced many television and movie makers in the decades since his popular TV shows were aired. For example, television powerhouse Shonda Rhimes received the Norman Lear Achievement Award in Television from the Producers Guild of America in 2016. Rhimes has produced numerous popular shows, including “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” “Private Practice,” and “How to Get Away with Murder.” She is credited with focusing on strong women’s roles in television and diversity.

Upon receiving the award, Rhimes said, “I truly worshipped Norman Lear when I was growing up,” in “The Future of the Producer,” by Paul Gaita and Dave McNary in Variety, January 19, 2016. Rhimes added, “I’m most proud of the creativity and cohesiveness at [her production company] ShondaLand and about getting it done.” Like Lear, Rhimes felt the need to test conventional rules and push the envelope in her shows. “My key role as a producer is really just making sure that it happens… I’m not afraid of being in a room and saying, ‘This isn’t going to work.’”

For more information, check out Questia’s library on Television Sitcoms and Television History.

How else do you think Norman Lear has influenced popular culture?

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