Jimmy Kimmel joins legendary producer to preside over ABC special
“Those were the days,” indeed … when Archie Bunker and George Jefferson’s politically incorrect views largely were embraced by viewers.
Jimmy Kimmel and television producing icon Norman Lear are banking on a similar response as they partner as executive producers and hosts to deploy a fresh but familiar cast – and restage scripts from two CBS classic sitcoms — in “Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s ‘All in the Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons,’ ” an ABC special airing Wednesday, May 22.
To many fans, those shows’ characters always will live on through the images of the actors who first played them, but notable names have been recruited to bring new life to the parts. Woody Harrelson and Oscar winner Marisa Tomei succeed “All in the Family’s” Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton, who both won multiple Emmys as Archie and Edith Bunker, with Ellie Kemper (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) assuming Sally Struthers’ former slot as their daughter Gloria and Ike Barinholtz as her husband Mike (first played by Rob Reiner). Sean Hayes will appear as Frank Lorenzo.
On the “Jeffersons” side, Jamie Foxx and Wanda Sykes pick up the George and Louise Jefferson roles that Sherman Hemsley and Emmy recipient Isabel Sanford originated. Housekeeper Florence, previously represented by Marla Gibbs, is now Justina Machado – who already has experience in Lear-show revivals from Netflix’s recent take on “One Day at a Time” – and Will Ferrell, also an executive producer of the special, tackles Franklin Cover’s former part as neighbor Tom Willis.
As added insurance, the makers of the special have hired one of the kings of TV comedy as the special’s director: James Burrows, who has spent most of his time lately back on NBC’s “Will & Grace” in its revival, but who never directed either “All in the Family” (1971-79) or its spinoff “The Jeffersons” (1975-85) during their original runs.
“Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s ‘All in the Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons’ ” is intended as a one-time effort … but in an era when so much of TV’s past has become part of its present, never say “never” about it possibly being tried again, especially if it’s a critical and ratings success.