TV and the Evolution of American Culture with Norman Lear

Credit: © National Geographic Channel. All rights reserved.

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About This Episode

Neil deGrasse Tyson looks at the relationship between television and American culture, with the help of writer and producer Norman Lear, author Saul Austerlitz, and co-host Chuck Nice. The 92-year-old Lear, dubbed “The King of the Sitcom” for his work on All in the Family, Maude, The Jeffersons, Good Times, and more, talks about the role of personal tragedy in comedy, and how he and his peers used the social issues of the day to change television’s role in our lives. You’ll hear about Edith Bunker dealing with breast cancer, Maude’s dilemma over whether or not to get an abortion, and of course, Archie, the ultimate bigot, sharing a beer with Sammy Davis Jr. You’ll also learn about Lear’s influence on South Park, and why The Big Bang Theory may be just as reflective of today’s society as M*A*S*H* or Lear’s comedies were of theirs. Neil and Lear discuss Isaac Newton, the impact of the lunar landing, religion’s place in society, and why Lear founded People for the American Way. Plus, Bill Nye remembers All in the Family and how it was able to grapple with subjects like racism using humor.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: TV and the Evolution of American Culture with Norman Lear.

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  • Taxil Necrobane

    Guys, This isn’t science at all, just History, politics and social issues. I’m disappointed with this episode and the trend of where these pod casts are going lately. When it comes to Sit-coms, most people don’t name any of Lear’s work they think of. They point out Friends, Seinfeld or the Simpsons as the best.

  • I liked this because it wasn’t science-based. The big picture is well–big and I’m glad for a glimpse of it via Mr. Lear. Gonna buy his book. And Bill Nye was a delight. Bravo, gents! paz, ; J

  • Dennis

    Hello all, In this episode, Neil asked the question if Norman had ever produced a show which hit on sensitive religious issues and all thought NO he had not…. But, not the case, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman hit on quite a few issues with priests sleeping with nuns and others and so on…. Don’t remember what episode but shocking to see such stuff in the 70’s….

    • Great reminder, Dennis. Haven’t thought about that show in years… talk about a show that dealt with uncomfortable, unpopular issues.

      • Dennis

        Yes, I remember really liking the show when it first aired then after a while they got into those previously mentioned issues with Priests and Nuns and, being the good Catholic I was at the time, I stopped watching the show…. What a hoot these days, LOL….

  • TimR

    We’ve yet to see the next Norman Lear. The next Norman will merge all the media types and avenues and stretch a shows content over space and time. In his 90s, Norman doesn’t have the boundless energy as he did in the 1970s but could he or someone of his stature, use tech of the modern era to create a cyber-human built within cyber space made of software and young human minds driven with a nonagenarian mind at its core? Someone build the cyber Ironman suit for Norm.

    • Taxil Necrobane

      I think the next Norman Lear is a ready here, just most people don’t know of him yet.

  • J. Lee Paul

    Is Startalk still a science-themed thing, or is it shifting to Hollywood stars now?
    Sorry Mr Lear, you’re a good guy, but if they wiped my mind of all the memories of all those dumb sitcoms from the old days I would not feel cheated.

    • J., StarTalk has always been about the intersection of science, comedy and pop culture. From our very first season, Neil has interviewed celebrities of all kinds to find out how science has influenced their lives. StarTalk has always had a double meaning, stars (astronomy) and stars (celebrity).

      • J. Lee Paul

        Thanks for the response.
        If this is the show’s format, I might suggest – respectfully – that the strategy might be worth revisiting. Keeping things light and entertaining is certainly a good idea, but the demographic that tends to consume pop culture isn’t likely to have much interest in the more serious scientific discussions, and the reverse is true for those that really dig hearing Bill Nye’s thoughts on GMOs.

        • We appreciate the suggestion, J. Lee, but, equally respectfully, our format has worked for 6 seasons, with a growing audience, increasing popularity, and, recently, an Emmy nomination. And in fact, the whole point of the show is to increase science literacy among everyone. That said, we believe that even serious scientists can find something to enjoy about our show – and we hear back from enough of them that we know this is the case, too. But we also know that StarTalk isn’t for everyone. There is a universe of great science programming to choose from, especially with access to back catalogs on Netflix, Hulu or On Demand.
          Again, thank you for your comments and your interest, and we do hope you continue to watch/listen.

  • Upside the hayd

    Big Bang Theory gets way too much for being a show about science on network TV. Futurama was doing it for years, and it was smarter and funnier.

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