All in Norman Lear’s family: ABC special honors TV legend at age 100

Performances of famous theme songs are expected

Norman Lear

Norman Lear is a brand name among television-show makers, and he literally has lived to be 100 to see that continue.

That milestone was marked in July by the man behind such classic sitcoms as “All in the Family,” “Maude,” “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times,” “Diff’rent Strokes,” “The Facts of Life,” “One Day at a Time” and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” Two months later, ABC marks the occasion with the two-hour special “Norman Lear: 100 Years of Music and Laughter” Thursday, Sept. 22.

Indeed, the star-filled salute will be heavy on musical performances of the popular theme songs of Lear’s often social-minded series; Anthony Anderson, Kristen Bell, Justina Machado, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams are among the singers. Brent Miller, who has worked with Lear for many years, is an executive producer of the special; he stresses it will be much more a party than a facts-and-figures biography of the honoree.

“We wanted it to be a true celebration of a life well-lived,” Miller explains. “We did not want it to become a clip reel, per se. It really is about taking Norman’s brand, if you will, and dissecting it in a way that helps viewers understand what inspired him and taught him. The No. 1 question Norman gets on a regular basis is, ‘What is the secret to your longevity?’ I don’t know that we’re going to give everybody the answer, but we’re certainly going to try to figure out on our own what may contribute to that.”

Several of Lear’s shows have gotten revivals via ABC’s recurring “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” specials, which he has executive-produced with Jimmy Kimmel (who’s slated to appear on the tribute, as are Jennifer Aniston, Octavia Spencer and Amy Poehler). “(Lear) and his family will be there,” Miller reported of the “100” show before it was taped, “but they don’t know everything we’re doing. I’m trying to keep as much as I can as a surprise for him.” Still, George Clooney, Laverne Cox, Tom Hanks, Rita Moreno, Rob Reiner and comic George Wallace are known to be among other guests.

“This show is inspired by something that Norman always has said to me,” Miller notes, “which is, ‘Music and laughter have added time to my life.’ You can think of this special as taking that approach.”

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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