Not My Job: How Much Does Producer Norman Lear Know About Learjets?
Not My Job: How Much Does Producer Norman Lear Know About Learjets?
Back in the 1970s some of the most-watched TV shows all had one thing in common: They were produced by Norman Lear. This game has nothing to do with any of that. Originally broadcast July 2, 2016.
BILL KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME, the NPR news quiz. Hey there, Cat Stevens. I've got tea for the Billerman (ph). I'm Bill Kurtis. And here's your host at the Chase Bank Auditorium in Chicago, Peter Sagal.
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
Thank you, Bill.
SAGAL: The election is just weeks away. But instead of making jokes about two people whose name I'm not even going to say this week, we're just going to run and hide. We can't take it anymore. We need a break. So we're going to distract ourselves by listening to some of our favorite interviews from the past year.
KURTIS: We'll start with one of the warmest people we've ever talked to, television legend Norman Lear. Peter asked the 93-year-old writer and producer what TV was like back in the early '70s before he changed it forever.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
NORMAN LEAR: You know, it was - you know, "Flying Nun" and "Petticoat Junction" and "Beverly Hillbillies" and so forth. The biggest problem the average family faced might have been that the roast was ruined and the boss was coming to dinner.
LEAR: You know, for a long time, I heard people tell me, hey, pal, if you got a message, there's Western Union. You don't use television.
LEAR: If that's the biggest problem America faces in the shows we mention...
LEAR: ...Then what is that message? The message is, all right, no economic problems. There are no racial issues. Politically, everybody is happy. That was a pretty wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling message.
SAGAL: Right. I know on the other hand, if it were true that the worst problem we had was the roast was burnt and our boss was coming, that would've been great.
LEAR: (Laughter) I just stole that. That was one.
SAGAL: Yeah, I know. I know.
SAGAL: So I grew up on "All In The Family." But for those who didn't, can you describe that briefly? That was your - if I'm not mistaken - your first sort of groundbreaking TV show, right?
LEAR: Yes. It starred a character called Archie Bunker played by a brilliant actor, Carroll O'Connor. And he was afraid of tomorrow. He wasn't a hater. He didn't come a I-hate-you place. He came from a scared place - afraid of progress.
SAGAL: Right. And on his show, he said mean things about minorities and mean things about liberals and war protesters. He didn't treat his wife very well, to put it mildly, who put up with him anyway. And...
LEAR: She didn't put up with him so much as she adored him. She loved him.
SAGAL: Right. Which was...
LEAR: But we always asked ourselves about - when we were thinking about, how would Edith react to anything? We asked ourselves, what would Jesus do?
SAGAL: So the quintessential TV dad was, like, you know, Fred MacMurray on "My Three Sons" or Ozzie and Harriet or all those guys. And you bring in Archie Bunker. And first of all, what did the networks say?
LEAR: The network - well, I'll tell you the biggest problem they had with the very first show.
LEAR: Archie and Edith were at church. It was a Sunday morning. It was their 20th wedding anniversary. Mike and Gloria - that's the young couple - were making a surprise brunch for them. And they came in. But first, before they came back from church, which they left early 'cause Archie hated the sermon, they - the young kids ran upstairs. They had the house alone for the first time. And then Mike persuaded Gloria to run upstairs with him. They were going to make love. As soon as they get upstairs, the door opens. And Archie and Edith walk in. He's carrying on about the minister and so forth. And the kids are gone. But they hear the door. And they come running down the stairs, buttoning up and such. And Archie says, 11:30 on a Sunday morning.
LEAR: And the network said, has to go. Now, we had been through all of his vocabulary and everything else - all of those arguments. But now it's the day that the show is going to go on the air. And they wanted that out.
SAGAL: Yeah, now, what did they want out? The indication...
LEAR: They wanted him - his line, 11:30 on a Sunday morning - it had to come out. Why did it have to come out? Because that was making the audience think of what was going on upstairs.
SAGAL: Really? So they could have the actors coming downstairs buttoning up their clothes, indicating what they were doing. Like, this is the first time sex has ever been had on television. I remember watching Lucy and Ricky in their separate beds. I don't know where that baby came from.
LEAR: Oh, that's right. The first time there was a double bed was "All In The Family."
SAGAL: Is that true?
LEAR: That's absolutely true.
AMY DICKINSON: Yeah.
SAGAL: 'Cause I had heard that was - I thought that was apocryphal that you weren't allowed to show a double bed on television. But that was true until you did it?
LEAR: It was true until then. We did a show called "One Day At A Time."
LEAR: And it was the first time there was a single mother, a divorced women with two children.
SAGAL: Wow. Where did America think babies came from...
SAGAL: ...Prior to "All In The Family?"
LEAR: Well, America knew. The establishment - you know, somebody - I think H.L. Mencken once said, nobody ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American people.
LEAR: And to some extent, the establishment has behaved like that constantly. And they're dead wrong.
SAGAL: Can I ask you a question? 'Cause in addition to the single beds, I also heard that there was a rule in television during the '60s that if you had characters on a bed, they had to have at least - each had one foot on the floor at all times. Did you ever hear that?
LEAR: I don't recall hearing that.
SAGAL: Oh, darn. I was hoping you could - you smashed that one to...
LEAR: Oh, well, let me change my mind. I recall hearing that.
SAGAL: All right. Thank you. So anyway, back to the story. So the network says, all right. You can do all that. You just can't have Archie Bunker say, 11:30 on a Sunday morning. So what did you do?
LEAR: The show was on - or just about to go on in New York. It was three hours earlier in California - when I got a telephone call that said the line will be in. Until that moment, I was saying, take the line out in New York, and I won't be here tomorrow morning.
SAGAL: Really? You threatened to quit.
LEAR: Well, it wasn't as brave as it sounds. United Artists had offered me a three-picture deal to write, produce and direct.
SAGAL: Oh, OK.
SAGAL: So what the heck?
LEAR: What the heck?
SAGAL: Did - I have to ask you something. You are, as we speak, 93 years old.
LEAR: I'll be 94 next month.
SAGAL: Ninety-four next month.
SAGAL: So do you have any tips for those of us who would like to arrive at 93 as spry and as successful and happy as you are?
LEAR: What occurred to me first is two simple words...
LEAR: ...Maybe as simple as any two words in the English language - over and next.
SAGAL: Over and next.
LEAR: And we don't pay enough attention to them. When something is over, it is over.
DICKINSON: Oh, my God, I love that.
LEAR: And we are on to next.
LEAR: And if there were - was to be a hammock in the middle...
LEAR: ...Between over and next, that would be what is meant by living in the moment.
DICKINSON: That's brilliant.
SAGAL: That's pretty good.
DICKINSON: That is brilliant.
LEAR: I live in this moment.
SAGAL: Well, Norman Lear, we have asked you here to play a game we're calling...
KURTIS: What's That, Up In The Sky? It's A $20 Million Toy.
SAGAL: So you're Norman Lear. So we thought we'd ask you about Learjets, the famous private planes that became the must-have accessory for the very rich starting back in the '60s. Answer 2 out of 3 correctly - you'll win our prize for one of our listeners. Bill, who is TV legend Norman Lear playing for?
KURTIS: Kate Vanderzee of Lincoln, Neb.
SAGAL: All right. So you ready to do this?
LEAR: I'm ready.
SAGAL: All right. Here's your first question about Learjets. It is, in fact, about Bill Lear, the inventor of the Learjet. He was an amazing entrepreneur and inventor. He invented a lot of other things besides the jet, including what? A, the single-serve fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt cup...
SAGAL: B, the 8-track tape player, or C, the silicone breast implant?
SAGAL: You're going to say that Norman Lear invented the silicone breast implant.
LEAR: No, William Lear.
SAGAL: Oh, I'm sorry. You're Norman Lear.
SAGAL: I always get you two confused...
SAGAL: ...Which is why my - the television shows I watch are terrible and my plane doesn't fly.
ADAM BURKE: Can we all appreciate that the 93-year-old knows who he was?
SAGAL: I understand.
DICKINSON: Yeah, I love that.
SAGAL: Who's correcting whom? So you're going to say that Bill Lear - William Lear - is the guy who created the silicone breast implant?
SAGAL: No. In fact, it was the 8-track tape player. It's true. It was a follow-up. He invented the first practical car radio.
LEAR: Yeah, that's what I thought. But every time I say it, it comes out breast.
SAGAL: It's funny how that works.
DICKINSON: You still got it. You got it.
SAGAL: Is that what you told the network censors? I meant to say what you wanted. It came out wrong.
SAGAL: All right. You still have two more chances, Norman. Here we go. Mr. Lear was known for his sense of humor, much like you, I guess. And he once demonstrated his sense of humor by doing what? A, naming his daughter Shanda, as in Shanda Lear...
SAGAL: ...B, advertising a plane for his rich customers with windows that were specially treated so you couldn't see the poor far below you, or C, sewing in a whoopee cushion into the pilot seat on each new plane.
LEAR: Shanda Lear.
SAGAL: You're right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL, APPLAUSE)
SAGAL: It's true. He has a daughter - still does. She's still around. Her name is Shanda Lear. Wikipedia says her full name is Crystal Shanda Lear. But I don't believe that.
SAGAL: All right. This is exciting. So if you get this one right, you win our prize. The Learjet became famous in the 1960s because Frank Sinatra bought one and flew all his Rat Pack friends around the world on it. Sinatra loved private jets. He would only fly in them. But he was a little weird about how he traveled. He did which of these? A, he liked to dress as a flight attendant and served drinks, B, he stocked the galley with only canned franks and beans, which he liked to eat cold, or C, he was actually terrified of flying so he had pictures of country roads taped to the windows?
SAGAL: You're going to go for C, that he actually was up in the air but he had pictures of country roads taped to the windows?
SAGAL: You're going to stick with that answer that...
LEAR: That's all I've got.
SAGAL: Sadly, the answer was the canned franks and beans. Apparently, he was known for his simple tastes in food. He didn't want anything fancy. He just would sit there and eat canned food...
DICKINSON: That sounds...
LEAR: I don't believe it for a second.
DICKINSON: That sounds quite nasty, trapped in a plane.
BURKE: Is there anything greater than sitting on a Learjet, eating franks and beans, listening to Frank Sinatra on an 8-track player?
SAGAL: Yeah, nothing better. Bill, how did Norman Lear do on our quiz?
KURTIS: Norman got two wrong, 2 out of 3. But if we factor in his 93-year-old handicap, he's a winner.
SAGAL: Norman Lear is the television legend behind shows like "All In The Family," "The Jeffersons," "Good Times" and many others that you grew up loving. The documentary about Norman Lear's life, "Just Another Version Of You," is out next week. Norman Lear, thank you so much for everything you did...
LEAR: Thank you so much.
SAGAL: ...And for being with us. Bye-bye.
(SOUNDBITE OF COMPOSITION, "THOSE WERE THE DAYS"
SAGAL: When we come back, one of the most beautiful guests we've ever talked to and the head of NASA - maybe it's the same person. Stay tuned to find out.
SAGAL: That's coming up in a minute on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.
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