All In The Family was one of the most popular shows in TV history. While the show was a comedy at its heart, it was also known for taking an unflinching look at American society. The show regularly took on topics considered taboo for any TV show (much less a comedy) like racism, homosexuality, women’s lib, rape, breast cancer and impotence. Although just about everyone has seen the show at least once, there’s a lot you might not know about it:
– It was supposed to be filmed in black and white! Norman Lear, the show’s creator, originally wanted to film All In The Family in black and white to make it more “gritty”. CBS had only recently upgraded to 100% color broadcasts, so they vetoed the idea immediately. Lear opted instead to decorate the set in drab, washed-out colors as a substitute, so that’s why the Bunker’s house looks so “dreary”.
– The furniture cost thousands of dollars. Sort of. Archie’s famous chair (and the rest of the Bunker’s furniture) originally came from a Los Angeles area Goodwill store. Late in the show’s run – after All In The Family had become an American icon – the Smithsonian came calling, wanting Archie’s and Edith’s chairs for their American history museum. Lear donated the items, but then the show had to spend thousands of dollars creating exact duplicates to use in the show.
– The theme sequence was a compromise! The opening sequence of the show, which featured Archie and Edith singing a song together at the Bunker’s living room piano, is one of the most famous (and most parodied) in TV history. But the truth is that after filming the show’s pilot, there was simply not enough money left in the budget to put together a splashy introduction. So Lear came up with the idea of Archie and Edith simply singing at the piano. Several versions of the introduction were used over the years; one version even had an extra verse! But two continuing trends of the updated intros were Stapleton singing her famous line “and you knew who you were THHHHEENNN” in an ever louder and “screechier” voice, and both O’Connor and Stapleton carefully enunciating the last line of the song (“Gee our old LaSalle ran great”) ever more clearly, as viewers complained that they couldn’t understand that line.
– The show was the king of spin-offs. Sort of. “Spin-offs” are new TV shows based on popular characters in existing shows. For example, Kelsey Grammar’s popular doctor Frasier Crane was “spun-off” of Cheers into a new show called Frasier. All In The Family spun-off several shows, and if you include spin-offs of the spin-offs, it reigns supreme as the show with the most spin-offs in TV history. All In The Family itself spun-off Maude, The Jeffersons, 704 Hauser, Gloria and Archie Bunker’s Place. Further spin-offs include Checking In (a spin-off of The Jeffersons) and Good Times (a spin off of Maude).
– It was a show of firsts. All In The Family has a long line of “firsts” under its belt: the show was the first to be videotaped before a live audience (as opposed to filmed), it was the first sitcom to rank #1 in the ratings for five consecutive seasons (only The Cosby Show has matched that feat), it was the first show to feature the sound of a flushing toilet, the first show to use words like “spade” and “nigger” on a regular basis, and was also the first show in which all of the cast – Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Sally Struthers and Rob Reiner – won Emmy awards for their work.