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Norman Lear: 1st TV for Grownups Honoree

Still making hits at 95, TV innovator has no plans to retire

Norman Lear

Courtesy Everett Collection

Norman Lear says the secret to his long run in TV comedy is simple: "If it's funny, everybody laughs."

Entertainment icon Norman Lear, 95, is AARP's first TV for Grownups honoree. But while his hit-making TV career will be celebrated with an event in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Lear points out his work is far from over. "I have not a plan in the world to retire. Life will retire me at some point," Lear says, chuckling, "but I won’t."

In fact, Lear says, working on One Day at a Time — the reimagined Netflix version of his 1975-84 show, now starring Rita Moreno — feels "every bit as good and wonderful and exciting and interesting as it did 30 years ago, or 40, or 50." 

Moreno, 86, will present Lear with his TV for Grownups honors. They'll be joined by stars such as Dick Van Dyke, Frances Fisher, Marla Gibbs, Bob Saget and Adrienne Barbeau.

Lear may be the most important TV showrunner in history. He's had as many as nine shows dominating the airwaves at once, and he changed the TV landscape with boldly innovative Emmy-magnet series like All in the Family, Maude and The Jeffersons, as well as wildly experimental shows decades ahead of their time, such as Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and Fernwood 2Night. One Day at a Time was TV’s first show about a single mom raising kids; the current version breaks new ground by focusing on a Latino family.

He launched his new hit on Netflix. The web is TV's next big thing, and 50-plus viewers are its fastest-growing audience.

Norman Lear and Rita Moreno on the set of the Netflix series

Netflix/Courtesy: Everett Collection

Norman Lear with star Rita Moreno on the set of the current Netflix hit reboot of "One Day at a Time".

One Day at a Time also boasts a multigenerational cast, challenging the assumptions of an industry that is self-defeatingly focused on viewers under 50; he considers older people "underrepresented" in TV comedy. "I think of comedy only one way," says Lear. "If it’s funny, everybody laughs. It doesn’t make a difference if it’s kids or grownups or elderly people."

He's now pitching his elder-community comedy Guess Who Died? It is, he says, "about people my age or younger. It was daring only in the sense that we haven’t seen it before on TV. We’ve certainly lived it."

Lear has spent his life persuading executives to program shows that scare them at first. "They would make more money if they were less afraid of people over 50," he says. "But they have to make 20 shows with older people before they find four that work." Lear thinks grownup success eventually will break down Hollywood's age prejudice.

When it does, Lear likely will be happily hard at work, still punching people's emotional buttons and enlightening society one day at a time. "I’ve learned there are two small words that are far more important than we have ever believed," he says: "'over' and 'next.' When something is over, it’s over, and we’re all on to 'next.' If there were a hammock in the middle of those two words, that would be the best definition that I know of living in the moment — the hammock between 'over' and 'next!'

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