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WATCH: Norman Lear's "Bunkerverse" Turns 50 Years Old Today

  • The night of January 12th, 1971 marked the first time TV audiences would see (and hear) the now-iconic opening credits for Norman Lear's groundbreaking CBS sitcom All in the Family, launching what would become a sitcom empire the likes of which TV had never seen before (and will likely never see again).

    Carroll O'Connor starred as Archie Bunker, a cantankerous, perennially exasperated bigot, while Jean Stapleton played his doting, daffy wife Edith. The show tackled issues of the day in an era of tumultuous social change, often featuring Archie's specious arguments with his liberal daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers) and son-in-law Michael (Rob Reiner), whom Archie called "Meathead." 

    Although few watched the show's 13-episode first season when it originally aired in the winter of 1971, viewers caught on during summer rerun season, and the show returned in September a bonifide hit, ranking #1 on the Neilsen charts for five seasons straight. It still ranked in the top ten in 1979 when Stapleton and Lear decided to end the show while it was still on top, but CBS persuaded O'Connor to stick with it, and it was spun off as Archie Bunker's Place, which kept going until 1983 by focusing on Archie's bar crowd rather than his home life.

    Archie Bunker's Place was just one spin-off of many. All In The Family was also responsible for Maude, starring Bea Arthur as Edith's cousin Maude Findlay, which in turn spawned Good Times, as Florida Evans (Esther Rolle) started as Maude's maid. Sally Struthers got her own spin-off for a year in 1982, simply called Gloria, and in 1994, CBS attempted a show called 704 Hauser, which featured a new family living in the Bunkers' old home (shot on the show's original set, which had been in storage for fifteen years). Of course, the most successful spin-off was The Jeffersons, focusing on Archie and Edith's former neighbors George and Louise "Weezy" Jefferson, and that too had brief spin-off called Checking In, starring the Jefferson's maid Florence (Marla Gibbs). 

    With 860 episodes between eight shows, All in the Family remains the most spun-off TV sitcom of all time, and its influence is still felt today. In 2019, Jimmy Kimmel worked with Lear to produce Live in Front of a Studio Audience, featuring a star-studded re-staging of All in the Family, with Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei as Archie and Edith, and Jamie Foxx and Wanda Sykes as George and Weezy. He did it again later that year, this time following it up with an episode of Good Times, featuring Viola Davis as Florida. The goal was to illustrate, for better or for worse, that the topical debates of social issues in the '70s are still relevant in our current political climate, a full 50 years later. 

    Andy Hunsaker has a head full of sitcom gags and nerd-genre lore, and can be followed @AndyHunsaker if you're into that sort of thing.

    TOPICS: All in the Family, 704 Hauser, Checking In, Gloria, Good Times, The Jeffersons, Maude, Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton, Norman Lear, Rob Reiner, Sally Struthers