At 98, producer Norman Lear is the oldest person ever nominated for or to win an Emmy Award – milestones made sweeter by the fact that this year his wife, Lyn Davis Lear, is a fellow nominee.
“We thought maybe we were a record as a couple,” Norman Lear said, which they technically are, edging the tandem of Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, who received acting nominations as octogenarians for a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie in 1994. (Cronyn was nominated again a few years after Tandy’s death.)
Lear collected Emmys in the 1970s when his landmark sitcom “All in the Family” won three times as best comedy series. He was inducted into the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame in 1984.
A quarter-century passed, however, before a recent flurry of projects brought him back into the TV awards circle, winning an Emmy last year for the ABC special “Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s ‘All In The Family’ And ‘The Jeffersons,’” and nominated again in that category for a follow-up presentation in December.
Lear also participated in the reboot of “One Day at a Time” featuring a Cuban-American family. The interest in his decades-old sitcoms underscores the continuing relevance of the politically conscious comedy he pioneered, and how such programming remains in short supply on broadcast television.
Indeed, Hulu recently made available a 2017 episode of “Black-ish” that dealt with the Trump administration, which ABC had balked at airing. At a tribute to Lear a few years ago, “Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris recalled that he originally pitched the show by saying, “Let’s do Norman Lear today.”
In an interview with CNN, Lear – whose boundary-pushing shows dealt with everything from racism and gay rights to abortion in a controversial “Maude” episode – said he isn’t surprised that networks are still skittish about dealing with hot-button issues. “It’s a new set of executives, [but] the same old buildings,” he quipped. “They are reincarnated.”
The Lears are nevertheless quite pleased to be included in this year’s Emmys, if a little disappointed the ceremony will be presented virtually. As is, their nominations will play out on separate nights prior to the main event – hers as a producer of the Netflix documentary “The Great Hack,” a look at big data and the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal that surrounded the 2016 election.
“We’ll have our own little party,” Lyn Lear said.
In addition to his TV career, Lear became a force in progressive politics, founding the group People for the America Way, whose recent work includes an ad sounding alarms about Trump administration changes to the US Postal Service.
In 2000, he purchased a signed copy of the Declaration of Independence, orchestrating a 50-state road trip of the document to spur civic activism.
For her part, Lyn Lear has similarly championed causes as a producer, including the recent documentary “The Fight,” about the American Civil Liberties Union’s battles with the Trump administration; and “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” Another project she helped produce, the nine-part HBO docuseries “The Vow,” premieres this weekend.
Regarding the nomination for “The Great Hack,” Lyn Lear said her main hope is that it will inspire people to see the film, given the subject matter’s timeliness heading into another election and concerns about voting.
Norman Lear said he’s not necessarily surprised that his decades-old work still resonates today, while crediting the writers of “One Day at a Time” with breathing new life into that series. “I’m there to help,” he said. “But they’re carrying the weight.”
But Lear – who has questioned whether a show like “All in the Family” would find a home in the current network landscape – did take issue with the description of his shows as “edgy,” either then or now.
“Edgy is what others wrote about it, but I never thought it was edgy,” he said. “We were simply dealing with the problems that existed in our culture.”