June 2, 2009

Home Media Magazine

TV Stars Honor Norman Lear at DVD Event

By Chris Tribbey


When TV and film producer Norman Lear first saw the special features included in the June 9 release of The Norman Lear Collection, he cursed under his breath.

He was watching actors and actresses from his iconic TV shows extol his virtues and talk about Lear’s impact on American society, all while soft, almost sad music played in the background.

“The music makes it sound like he’s dead,” joked “Everybody Loves Raymond” creator Phil Rosenthal, during a Sony Pictures press event May 28.

The massive DVD collection, containing the first seasons of seven Emmy Award-winning shows and six hours of newly produced interviews and featurettes, is more celebration than memorial, especially for a man still executive producing at age 86. More than four years in the making, the release is among Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s finest, according to SPHE president David Bishop, who praised the packaging and the collaboration between Sony’s television and home entertainment divisions.

“It’s heavy too, so you can feel good about the money you’re spending,” said “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane. “You couldn’t do [“All in the Family”] now. Not because people would reject it, but because the networks couldn’t accept it.”

At a release party June 1 in Beverly Hills, stars from “All in the Family,” “Good Times,” “Maude,” “One Day at a Time,” and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” joined Lear to talk about the shows and how they’ve influenced the TV landscape.

“Norman made a huge difference in the thinking in this country,” said Bonnie Franklin from “One Day at a Time.” “I don’t think he knows how huge an affect he’s had on our culture.”

The character-driven shows in The Norman Lear Collection tackled (mostly in a comedic way) issues of sexuality, abortion, feminism, racism, bigotry, divorce and other topics most TV shows in the 1970s wouldn’t touch.

“I plan on getting at least four copies,” said Jimmie Walker of “Good Times” fame. “Norman and I may have disagreed on some things, but everything he made was golden.”

Greg Mullavey from “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” said every single actor who got their big break with Lear — such as director Rob Reiner — would line up to buy the DVD collection.

“He’s genius. He hires very, very good people that he connects with, and he gives license to create and run with it,” he said. “What he’s done has been copied a lot, but never duplicated. He thrives on controversy.”

Mary Kay Place from “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” said it was “mind blowing” that Lear was “still as prolific as he’s ever been.” Lear most recently was the executive producer of the musical comedy El Superstar: The Unlikely Rise of Juan Frances.

“He’s never retired, or sat back and said ‘I’m going traveling,’” Place said. “He’s never stopped.”

Bernadette Stanis from “Good Times” said she’ll be watching “Maude” first when she buys her set, while Ed Begley Jr., who appeared in both “Maude” and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” said “Norman supported us for so many years, of course I’m getting a copy. He was such a pioneer. He went after issues that were groundbreaking for TV.”

Lear downplayed the influence and impact his shows may have had (“There’s nothing we ever did that you couldn’t hear on any school yard,” he said) but heaped praise on SPHE for the work that went into the collection. “I couldn’t be more grateful to Sony for memorializing this in such grand fashion,” he said, adding there’s a reason he’s still going strong today. “The reason I look so good is because I laughed so much.

“Nobody in America, nobody, laughed harder than I did.”

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