A sharp 93-year-old Norman Lear graced the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour Saturday, when he talked everything from politics (“You will not fuck with my Bill of Rights”), potential reboots of his classic shows, to PBS, which is honoring the TV icon via an upcoming “American Masters.”
Lear updated reporters on his plans to remake an English-language all-Latino version of “One Day at a Time,” a reboot that was first reported in January. Lear told reporters on Saturday that he’d like the single mother to have a son and a daughter this time as opposed to two daughters, which the original version featured in Valerie Bertinelli and Mackenzie Phillips.
Lear also wants a grandmother on the show “so there will be three generations of women,” he said Saturday. “I love the idea because I don’t see enough of that on the air any place … and I think it’s a rich idea.”
While Lear couldn’t or wouldn’t share any casting details, he said: “It is a possibility and in a couple weeks I will let you know if it’s happening.”
During the weekend panel, a brave journalist asked Lear about an April New York Times op-ed the “All in the Family” creator penned, which was critical of the public broadcasting channel. The timing was interesting if not ironic, as Lear was only in attendance because of PBS’ fawning documentary.
Still, Lear elaborated on the point-of-view expressed in “Is PBS Neglecting Its Mission?” and simultaneously brought his patriotism back into play.
“If you follow me clearly, you’ll find me critical of my country — a lot,” Lear (pictured above) told reporters at the Beverly Hilton. “And if you follow me even more closely, you’ll find out how much I love my country. And it’s because I love it that I take the moment of time — of thought — to deal with it when I think it’s wrong.”
“Same is true of PBS,” he continued on Saturday. “I love what it means for my children and grandchildren. And I love it well enough to criticize it when it’s wrong.”
A few months back, Lear had panned PBS’ move away from documentaries and towards a bit of a ratings chase.
“Unfortunately, PBS is now threatening, for the second time in four years, to downgrade documentaries, which are at the heart of its public mission,” Lear wrote, referring to the launch of “Wolf Hall” behind the success of “Downton Abbey.” “As it chases ratings, PBS risks neglecting the core of its public mission and mandate.”
“It could devastate independent documentary filmmaking,” Lear penned of recent PBS scheduling changes.
His piece concluded: “Diversity, community and accountability are cornerstones of its founding charter. PBS should keep those principles in mind and keep independent documentary films where they belong: in primetime.”
While Lear did generally praise modern television as being in a “Golden Age,” he spoke to one definite lacking that he sees: a dearth of topical TV series. Lear’s many series, which also includes “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times” and “Sanford and Son,” were known for tackling social issues head on.
“My guess is that they’re fully capable of doing it, they just don’t elect to,” Lear said of broadcast channels these days. “Or the … networks you’re talking about don’t elect to have them elect to.”
“They’re doing very well,” he acknowledged. “I love ‘Modern Family.’ It has a lot to say about a lot of situations.”
But again, “It doesn’t talk about some of the things that we dealt with, and I think it’s because they don’t elect to.”