15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘All in the Family’
“The program you are about to see is All in the Family. It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices and concerns. By making them a source of laughter, we hope to show — in a mature fashion — just how absurd they are.”
Such was the disclaimer of the CBS sitcom that ran over the show’s opening credits, informing folks of what they were about to watch on their box TVs that random Tuesday in 1971. It was, indeed, a necessary disclaimer, as Norman Lear’s All in the Family came out during a time when the Vietnam War was causing major socio-political division, and the most popular show was Marcus Welby, M.D., a medical drama that would go on to broadcast its anti-gay sentiments sometime later. It was Nixon’s America, and it was about to be challenged by a show featuring a blue-collar conservative named Archie Bunker, whose bigotry caused discussions around topics not seen on TV screens before — at least, not in such a blunt way.
So let’s jump into some trivia about the show that pushed boundaries and got the people talking…
Everyone Was Nervous About the Pilot Airing
Carroll O’Connor, who played Archie Bunker, was so convinced that the show would tank that he requested a round-trip ticket to return to his home in Rome following the pilot’s production. The network was so anxious about the pilot’s racial and political jabs that they wanted to air the second episode first, causing tension and arguments between Lear and CBS. Lear and his co-producer, Bud Yorkin, threatened to cease any further production if the network didn’t air the original pilot first, with Yorkin telling the network, “We already knew we were going to deal with gays. We were going to deal with Black and white problems. We were going to deal with contemporary problems. We are going to be funny. That was the purpose, to make people laugh. But beyond that, we were going to make them think a bit, and if you don’t see that, then don’t put the show on.”
Richard Nixon Hated the Show
The 37th President of the United States apparently didn’t care for the way All in the Family portrayed the conservative bigot and star of the show, Archie Bunker, who, ironically, was a Nixon fan himself. In Nixon’s White House audiotapes that were publicly released, he can be heard lamenting the show (he at first thought it was a movie) and specifically went off about the sitcom’s inclusion of homosexuals.
The Show Broke The Porcelain Ceiling
The first U.S. television show to feature a toilet on screen was Leave It to Beaver, but the first to actually flush the thing was All in the Family. It didn’t go down without some hesitation, though, as the censors reportedly delayed the event to decide whether it’d be good and proper. They eventually allowed it but dictated that the bowl and seat should be out of view.
Lear Got the Idea from a British Show
Lear said he read about the success of the British sitcom Till Death Us Do Part in TV Guide, learning that the show was about a father and his son-in-law who constantly fought about politics. The idea made Lear think about his relationship with his own father, who “called me the laziest white kid he ever met, and I would scream at him, you know, that he was putting down a whole race of people.”
The TV legend then sat down and wrote around 100 pages of notes that just spilled out of him and came up with his original title, Justice for All, with the idea of naming his main character Archie Justice. (Hey, not every part is perfect out the gate.)
Its Groundbreaking Male Nudity
In 1976, All in the Family became the first prime-time show to feature full-frontal male nudity — in the form of three-week-old baby Joey Stivic. Folks clearly didn’t bat an eye because months later, the Joey Stivic baby doll hit the market.
Lear Wanted Mickey Rooney to Play Archie Bunker
In his autobiography, Even This I Get to Experience, Lear wrote that he had offered Rooney the part of Daddy Bunker. Rooney, however, thought the show was un-American and told him, “Norm, they’re going to kill you, shoot you dead in the streets. You want to do a TV show with the Mick, listen to this: Vietnam vet. Private eye. Short. Blind. Large dog.”
The Studio Threatened to Replace Archie Bunker with Stretch Cunningham
When O’Connor entered into a contract dispute — he once claimed that Tandem Productions owed him around $64,000 — the network retaliated by threatening to cut Archie Bunker out of the show and replace him with his much-talked-about co-worker, Jerome Stretch Cunningham (played by James Cromwell). Cromwell said that O’Connor instead insisted Cunningham be dropped from the show “because I was getting too many laughs. Actually, he did me a great favor because I might have ended up as another Fonzie, an actor totally identified with one character.”
Rob Reiner Said There Was No Acting in His Final Scene
In the episode “The Stiviks Go West,” Mike (Reiner) and Gloria (Sally Struthers) say goodbye to Ma and Pa Bunker before heading off to California to go and start a new life. Reiner said that the shooting of his character’s final episode was pretty emotional and that the goodbye scene was very real. “That was a very emotional time for all of us,” Reiner has remembered. “We’d been together for eight years, and you spend more time with your TV family than with your real family. And so you get very, very close to them, and it’s very emotional. The scene where we say goodbye to each other, there was no acting. There was just no acting. You didn’t have to act. I mean, I looked at Carroll… I’ll never forget it because it was one of those times when you don’t act because all of your emotions just come out.”
Lear Wanted the Show to End with Mike and Gloria’s Departure
The creator thought that the final episode of Season Eight would be a good place to end the show, but O’Connor and CBS wanted the sitcom to see another year, and so it was.
It Took Three Pilots Before the Show Was Picked Up
When asked why so many pilots had to be made before CBS finally came on board to greenlight it, Lear said, “The gods wanted me to come across Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers. The first pilot we made was terrific, and it was word-for-word, the same as the second and third pilot. I had Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton, but I had different young people. It was the third time we were asked to make it that I cast Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers, and bless the fact that nobody picked up the show before we found them. Because the chemistry of those four people in every direction was magic.”
Reiner Thinks Archie Bunker Would’ve Seen Things Differently Today
Although Bunker was a right-winger at heart, Reiner thinks that the famous hard-hat TV Dad would’ve been none too proud of what happened at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. “I do think that Archie would have been really upset to see cops beaten by insurgents,” Reiner told CNN. “And then to find out as time goes by that Trump was at the hub of all this, and it was Trump’s operation altogether, I think he would have gone the way of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger,” Reiner claimed, referring to the two Republicans who formed part of the investigation into Trump’s involvement.
Struthers Wanted More for Her Character
The actress who played Gloria said that she wished her character was more than just the line, “That you, Mike?” Struthers discussed Gloria’s story with the writers and often pitched them her ideas. “I’m not a writer, but I like the idea of Gloria getting a job to help out,” she said of her character in a 1972 interview. “A lot of funny things could happen with that premise.” The writers didn’t budge, but they did like her suggestion of Gloria getting pregnant.
The Show Was, Shockingly, Well-Received
Expecting viewers to be outraged, CBS had hired extra phone operators on the night the show first aired. Struthers told the New York Post that the director of the pilot, John Rich, warned his cast that they might be out of a job the next day. “When we came in the next morning, (Rich) told us that, yes, the affiliates received more phone calls than they’d ever received before,” Struthers explained. “But that the majority of (the calls) were gleeful and exciting, with people asking, ‘What was that?’ ‘Is it coming back?’”
Struthers Saw O’Connor As a Real Father Figure
“My own father died two years before I got All in the Family, and Carroll became my dad, off-screen as well as on-screen,” the actress has said. “He and his wife, Nancy, took me everywhere with them and even introduced me to my husband. Carroll protected me, loved me, socialized with me, joked with me. He was a dad to me.”
The Bunkers’ Chairs Are Displayed in the Smithsonian
Following the penultimate season, the show gave its thrift-store chairs to the Smithsonian and made replicas to replace them for the final season of the show. “This was the first television acquisition that we made, so it was a big deal,” the museum’s curator, Ryan Linterlman, said. “It was a watershed moment in the history of the Smithsonian to take this really seriously and put these alongside the military and political history of this nation. We’re not just collecting things that were popular or were nostalgic, but the fact that entertainment actually shapes the conversations that we have in the moment. So this show that was tackling race and culture and society and all these issues that were happening in politics at that moment, brought those to people’s living rooms in a new way, through entertainment.”