Duane Bonifer  |  Published December 06, 2023

Why Norman Lear’s Impact on TV Still Looms Large

Chris Goble: ‘I don’t know if you can find somebody who is much bigger than Norman Lear – someone who had a larger influence on television.’

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Few people did more to revolutionize television than the late Norman Lear, the writer-producer who died Tuesday at the age of 101.

Communication studies faculty member Chris Goble, right, meets with legendary television creator Norman Lear at t... Communication studies faculty member Chris Goble, right, meets with legendary television creator Norman Lear at the 2015 meeting of the National Association of Television Program Executives in Miami.That’s the assessment of Monmouth College media studies scholar Chris Goble, who teaches communication studies courses at the College where Lear’s work is examined.

“I don’t know if you can find somebody who is much bigger than Norman Lear – someone who had a larger influence on television,” said Goble. “He helped Americans change their mindset toward television, from being a place that showed homespun comedies in the 1950s and ’60s to a more socially conscious television in the 1970s, one that pushed the boundaries of what you could do in television. All of his shows did that, and they did it in different ways.”

 

Goble said that Lear’s groundbreaking All in the Family – which premiered on Jan. 12, 1971, on CBS and ran for nine seasons – set the tone and the example for how television comedies could address serious contemporary topics, and do it in a thoughtful and humorous way.

And Goble says that Lear’s work continues to speak to today’s social problems and ills.

For example, Goble shows the All in the Family episode “Sammy’s Visit” – which first aired on Feb. 19, 1972, in the show’s second season – to students in his “Mass Media and Modern Society” class as a way to study how television can address racial issues. In that episode, entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. leaves his briefcase in a cab driven by Archie Bunker, the show’s prejudiced main character, and then visits the Bunker home in Queens, N.Y., to retrieve it.

“It’s an episode we use to talk about how TV can tackle big issues, such as racial issues,” said Goble. “Most of my students have never seen the episode or All in the Family before. In the episode, there are all these different racial stereotypes and slurs in the conversation, which is eye-opening for a lot of the students.”

“His shows showed what I believe a lot of families wanted to see because it reflected the reality of the time.”
– Chris Goble

In addition to race, Lear’s TV shows were among the first to address topics such as abortion, feminism, LGBT issues, antisemitism, menopause and rape.

All in the Family was the first place where anyone talked about a lot of these social issues,” said Goble. “It was the first place where you heard a toilet flush on television. It was a part of an ongoing joke on the show, but before All in the Family you never heard a toilet flush on TV and no one even acknowledged there were bathrooms on TV.”

Although Lear’s shows dealt with controversial social issues that were both current and timeless, Goble points out that many of his shows also focused on the importance and power of the family – which also underwent a transformation in the 1970s and ’80s – to resolve and overcome challenges, both personal and social.

“His shows showed what I believe a lot of families wanted to see because it reflected the reality of the time,” he said. “Yes, the families depicted on his shows were very different, and, yes, they clashed all the time. But all of that didn’t cause them to run away from each other and not be there together as a family. We could still see a family unit functioning, it was just as a different kind of family unit. … At the end of the day, he believed that the family was important.”

Goble met Lear in 2015 at the annual meeting of the National Association of Television Program Executives, where Lear was interviewed by Philip Rosenthal, the creator of the late-20th century TV comedy hit Everybody Loves Raymond.

During a recent visit to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., Goble saw the famous chair where Archie sat during many All in the Family episodes.

“It was like a sojourn for me,” said Goble.

Back to News & Events

Did you know?

  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p><strong>Monmouth College is the birthplace of the women’s fraternity movement. Pi Beta Phi, the first such collegiate women’s organization, was founded at Monmouth in 1867. It was followed three years later by Kappa Kappa Gamma. The two pioneering organizations today boast a total of 275 active chapters nationwide.</strong></p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/student-life/sororities-fraternities/" target="_blank">Sororities & Fraternities</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College offers several international trips each year during 2-week Scots Terms in January and May. Recently students have traveled to Botswana, Greece, Scotland, Japan, and more. </p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_urls"><a href="https://monmouthcollege.edu/offices/global-engagement/" target="_blank">Scots Term</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> 98% of Monmouth graduates were employed or enrolled in graduate school within six months of graduation.</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/wackerle-center/career-services/" target="_blank">Career Preparation</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College is proudly test optional. Applicants may choose whether or to submit SAT or ACT scores for admission and scholarship consideration. </p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/admission/apply/test-optional/" target="_blank">Test Optional</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College has an active Pipe & Drum Band. Each year on Scholar’s Day in April the bagpipers wake students up at 6:00 a.m. by playing in the residence halls!</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/music/pipe-band/" target="_blank">Pipe Band</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> We offer a certified Peace Corps Preparation program that gives Peace Corps bound graduates a leg up in the application process.</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/peace-corps-prep/" target="_blank">Peace Corps Prep</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College covers the cost for all current students to get a U.S. passport. Unlock access to over 198 different countries! We’ll even help with the paperwork :)</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/study-abroad/" target="_blank">Study Abroad</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College offers unique academic minors in Global Public Health and Global Food Security for students who want to use their education to address global challenges. </p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/global-public-health/" target="_blank">Global Public Health</a></li><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/global-food-security/" target="_blank">Global Food Security</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> We’re no stranger to winning. Last year the Fighting Scots won Midwest Conference championships in Football, Women’s Soccer, Women’s Basketball and Men’s Track and Field. </p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_urls"><a href="https://monmouthscots.com/" target="_blank">Fighting Scots</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> 99% of Monmouth students received some type of scholarship or financial assistance.</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/offices/student-financial-planning/types-of-aid/scholarships/" target="_blank">Scholarships</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College has an educational garden and 6.7 acre farm. Students grow and harvest fruits and vegetables to sell at the local farmer’s market. </p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_urls"><a href="https://monmouthcollege.edu/academics/only-at-monmouth/educational-garden-farm/" target="_blank">Garden & Farm</a></li></ul></div></aside>