NORMAN LEAR Biography - Producers, publishers & editors


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Name: Norman Milton Lear                                                                     
Born: 27 July 1922 New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.                                             
Norman Milton Lear (born July 27, 1922 in New Haven, Connecticut) is an American             
television writer and producer who produced such popular sitcoms as All in the               
Family, Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons, Good Times and Maude.           
Norman Lear was born in New Haven, Connecticut and went to high school in                   
Hartford, Connecticut. He attended Emerson College in Boston, but dropped out in             
1942 to join the United States Army Air Forces. During World War II, he served               
as a radio operator on a Boeing B17 Flying Fortress bomber with the 772nd                   
Bombardment Squadron, 463rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) of the Fifteenth Air Force.           
He flew 52 combat missions, receiving the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters             
for his wartime accomplishments before leaving the military in 1945. Lear and               
fellow crew-members during WWII are featured in the book "Crew Umbriago" by                 
Daniel P.Carroll (tailgunner) and also in another book, 772nd Bomb Squadron: The             
Men, The Memories by Turner Publishing Company.                                             
In 1959, Lear created the first television series starring Henry Fonda, a half-hour         
western for Revue called The Deputy. Starting out as a comedy writer, then a                 
film director (he wrote and produced the 1967 film Divorce, American Style and               
directed the 1971 film Cold Turkey, both starring Dick Van Dyke), Lear tried to             
sell a concept for a sitcom about a blue-collar American family to ABC. They                 
rejected the show after two pilots were filmed. After a third pilot was shot,               
CBS picked up the show, known as All in the Family. It premiered January 12,                 
1971 to disappointing ratings, but it took home several Emmy Awards that year,               
including Outstanding Comedy Series. The show did very well in summer reruns,               
and it flourished in the 1971-1972 season, becoming the top-rated show on TV for             
the next five years. After falling from the #1 spot, All in the Family still                 
remained in the top ten, well after it transitioned into Archie Bunker's Place.             
The show was based on the British sitcom Til Death Us Do Part, about an                     
irascible working-class Tory and his Socialist son-in-law.                                   
Lear's second big TV hit was also based on a British sitcom, Steptoe and Son,               
about a West London junk dealer and his son. Lear changed the setting to the                 
Watts section of Los Angeles and the characters to African-Americans, and the               
NBC show Sanford and Son was an instant hit. Numerous hit shows followed                     
thereafter, including Maude (the lead character of which was reportedly based on             
Lear's then-wife Frances), The Jeffersons (both spinoffs of All in the Family),             
and One Day at a Time.                                                                       
What most of the Lear sitcoms had in common was that they were character-driven,             
had sets that more resembled stage plays than common sitcom sets, were shot on               
cheaper videotape in place of film, and most importantly dealt with the social               
and political issues of the day. Ironically, although Lear's shows are often                 
considered somewhat autobiographical and closely identified with his personal               
experiences, his early hits were actually all adapted from someone else's                   
creations: the two aforementioned British adaptations and Maude, while reputedly             
based on Lear's wife, was actually the brainchild of series producer Charlie                 
Lear's longtime producing partner was Bud Yorkin, who served as executive                   
producer of Sanford and Son, split with Lear in 1983. He started a production               
company with writer/producers Saul Turteltaub and Bernie Orenstein, but they had             
only one show that ran more than a year: What's Happening!!. The Lear/Yorkin                 
company was known as Tandem Productions. Lear and talent agent Jerry Perenchio               
founded T.A.T. Communications (T.A.T. stood for "Tuchus Affen Tisch", which is               
Yiddish for "Putting one's butt on the line") in 1974, which co-existed with                 
Tandem Productions and was often referred to in periodicals as Tandem/T.A.T. The             
Lear organization was one of the most successful independent TV producers of the             
Lear himself stepped down as production supervisor on his shows in 1978 to work             
on a film dealing with his concerns about the growing influence of radical right-wing       
evangelists. The film was never fully developed, but the process stimulated his             
long engagement in political activism.                                                       
In 1982, the company bought out Avco Embassy Pictures from Avco Financial                   
Corporation, and the Avco part of its name was dropped. Embassy Pictures was led             
by (current Warner Bros. President) Alan Horn and Martin Schaeffer, later co-founders       
of Castle Rock Entertainment with Rob Reiner. In 1985, Lear sold all his film               
and television production holdings to Columbia Pictures (then owned by the Coca-Cola         
Company) which acquired Embassy's film and television division (which included               
Embassy's in-house television productions and the television rights to the                   
Embassy theatrical library) for $465 million in shares of The Coca-Cola Company.             
Lear and his longtime partner Jerry Perenchio split the net proceeds (about $250mm).         
Coke later sold the film division to Dino De Laurentiis and the home video arm               
to Nelson entertainment (led by Barry Spikings).                                             
The brand Tandem Productions was abandoned in 1986 with the cancellation of Diff'rent       
Strokes, and Embassy ceased to exist as a single entity in late 1987, having                 
been split into different components owned by different entities. The Embassy TV             
division became ELP Communications in 1988, but shows originally produced by                 
Embassy were now under the Columbia Pictures Television banner from 1988-1994               
and the Columbia TriStar Television banner from 1994-1998.                                   
Lear attempted to return to TV production in the 1990s with the shows Sunday                 
Dinner, The Powers That Be, and 704 Hauser, the last one putting a different                 
family in the house from All in the Family. None of the series proved successful,           
despite critical acclaim.                                                                   
However, Lear was successful as a businessman, especially with his leveraged                 
acquisition vehicle Act III Communications, founded in 1986 and led initially by             
Tom McGrath (who met Lear while negotiating on behalf of Coca-Cola the                       
acquisition of Lear's old company) and later by Hal Gaba, a former Embassy                   
executive. This included: Act III Theatres, sold to KKR in 1997 at what is to               
this day considered a record premium; Act III Broadcasting, sold to Abry                     
Communications; and Act III Publishing, sold to PriMedia. Lear is also the owner             
of Concord Records and in 2005 consummated a 50% interest in the film library               
and production assets of Village Roadshow Productions Pty.                                   
Lear is unofficially credited with giving Rob Reiner, son of Carl Reiner (and a             
star of All in the Family) his start as a director by financing the mockumentary             
This is Spinal Tap. Lear's Act III Communications, founded in 1986 with Tom                 
McGrath as President, produced several notable films, including Rob Reiner's                 
next two films: Stand By Me, and The Princess Bride as well as Fried Green                   
Lear helped finance his then wife's magazine, Lear's Magazine, started by                   
Frances Lear in the late 1980's. The magazine ceased publication in 1994.                   
In 2003, Lear made an uncredited appearance on South Park during the I'm a                   
Little Bit Country episode, providing the voice of Benjamin Franklin. He also               
served as a creative consultant on the episode.