Maher emphasized, “I couldn’t do my show if it weren’t for what he did.”
The host went on to lament that, while Lear opened a lot of doors, “a lot of those doors have shut.”
He then said, “TV is not what it was in the ’70s.”
CNN’s Laura Coates, a guest on the show, replied, “Some of the most controversial shows…I don’t know that — as much as we’ve evolved as a society — we would have the ability to do those shows [now] without it ending up on the cutting room floor…Someone would be afraid that too many folks would clutch their pearls.”
Maher’s other guest, novelist Walter Kirn observed, “The great thing about that show is you never knew who the hero and the villain was. I had an uncle who thought Archie Bunker was the hero of the show. And for a while, I thought so too. I mean, he really held his own…The show gave a round portrayal of people of all kinds. And you kind of got a begrudging education of Archie over time. I think it gave more credit to the kind of characters that are now just dismissed. That wouldn’t be possible now.”
Coates said that, while Archie Bunker may not be allowed on TV, he is still well represented among the country’s actual population.
“Archie Bunker is not really in the rear view mirror. Archie Bunker is the bit for the drunk uncle today. We’re talking about Donald Trump. We’re talking about people who feel left behind.”
Maher seemed surprised.
“You don’t feel there are less Archie Bunkers in America today?” he asked.
“We still have a lot of Archie Bunkers in this country,” Coates said.
Shuffling back to TV, to prove his “those were the days” point about All in the Family, Maher offered up a Deadline report about a recent controversy.
“Just to give you an idea of how far we’ve come,” he said, “there’s a show called Station 19. It’s a Shonda Rhimes show. It’s very successful.”
Maher then related an incident involving the depiction of racism on the page that left the writing team of the Grey’s Anatomy spinoff reeling. According to sources, it had to do with a writer’s recent draft of an outline that included numerous uses of a racial slur by a racist character. The script was assigned to a white writer, and the word in question was b—-r, a derogatory reference to a person of Latino descent. The outline was met with shock and disbelief, and tensions grew to a point where the virtual room had to be put on pause.
“It’s a show where they were trying to depict a racist character,” and incredulous Maher said. “They shut down the show. They brought in an organizational psychologist.”
Maher then wondered, “Is this ever going to go back to where it was?” The panel had no answer for that one.