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Norman Lear, from TV to Activism

Feb 14, 2008 (Morning Edition)

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Norman Lear went from producing hit TV shows like All in the Family to political activism, including efforts to get young people to vote. The 85-year-old Lear says both involve a lifelong passion.

"To start with, it takes a passion and a devotion to the subject," Lear tells Steve Inskeep. "And it's a desire to pass that passion on — thinking of it as a lot of dry grass that's just waiting for the spark — I think that's as good a definition, as I've thought of anyway, as what showmanship is all about."

Lear is our latest guest on The Long View, a series of conversations with people of long experience. His experience includes the production of very political TV shows like All in the Family, the 1970s hit starring Carroll O'Connor as a bigoted New Yorker named Archie Bunker.

Lear explains what made the often-controversial show so popular.

"The more you get people to care when they laugh, they will laugh more," he says. "If you got them concerned or involved ... then you're funny."

"We were writing a show and enjoying the taping," Lear says. "Standing behind an audience of 240 people and watching an audience come out of its seat and go down and come back up again on a big laugh was a spiritual experience."

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