In The Family changed the
course of television comedy. It brought a sense of harsh
reality to a TV world which previously had been populated largely by homogenized, inoffensive
characters and stories that seemed to have been laundered before they ever got
on the air.
It's chief character, Archie
Bunker, was anything but bland. A typical working-class Joe, he was uneducated, prejudiced, and blatantly
outspoken. He was constantly lambasting virtually every minority group in
existence. His view on blacks (or, as he often called them, "jungle bunnies" or
"spades"), Puerto Ricans ("spics"), Chinese ("chinks"), and any other racial or
religious group not his own, were clear and consistent. Archie believed in every
negative racial and ethnic stereotype he had ever heard.
he could never get away from the people he despised. Archie was a dock
foreman for the Prendergast Tool & Die Company, and he had to work
with a racially mixed group of people. Next door to his house at 704 Houser
Street, in the Corona section of Queens, New York, lived a black family, the Jefferson's. His daughter, Gloria, had married a "Pole". On top of
it all, Archie, the bigoted arch-conservative, even had to share is house with
his egghead liberal son-in-law, Mike Stivic. (Mike was studying for his degree
in sociology, and so was unemployed). Completing the Bunker household was
Archie's slow-witted but honest and unprejudiced wife was Edith.
The Jefferson family next door
consisted of Louise, one of Edith's closest friends, her husband George, who ran
a small dry-cleaning store, and their son Lionel, a close friend of Mike's.
Lionel loved to come to the Bunker house to tease Archie about his prejudices,
while George Jefferson's brother Henry, who was as opinionated from the black
point of view as Archie was from the white, also provided conflict.
changes took place. Edith's cousin, Maude Findlay, played by Bea Arthur,
appeared in several episodes, provoking Archie with her loud, liberal opinions.
She got her own show,
Maude, in 1972. The
Jefferson's moved away to Manhattan and into their own show,
early in 1975, whereupon Mike, who had finally graduated from college, moved into their old
house. This allowed Mike to continue to torment Archie, but as a next-door
neighbor. Then Gloria became pregnant; the baby, Joey, was born in December,
1975. The Lorenzo's, an Italian couple, moved in as neighbors for a while.
Frank Lorenzo loved to clean and cook (woman's work according to Archie) while his
wife Irene was an accomplished fixer of anything mechanical. Irene also
sarcastic wit, with which she put down Archie regularly. When Archie
was temporarily laid off from his job in October 1976, the Bunkers were forced
to take in a Puerto Rican boarder, Teresa Betancourt, which provided still another
source of irritation.
The 1977-1978 season
brought a major change to
In The Family. In the opening three-part
Archie gave up his job to pursue the American dream of owning his own business.
Along with Harry the bartender, he purchased Kelsey's Bar from an ailing
Tommy Kelsey and reopened it as Archie's Place. This season included episodes
with some very adult themes, including one in which an intruder
attempted to rape Edith. Then at the end of the season, Rob Reiner and Sally
Struthers announced they were leaving
In The Family
ventures of their own. The final episode of the season saw Mike, Gloria &
little Joey moving to California where
Mike was going to take a teaching position. The episode was a tearful and
leaving Archie and Edith with an "empty nest". Temporarily, as it turned out,
for in the fall of 1978, Archie and Edith were
joined by little Stephanie Mills, a niece who had been abandoned by her father.
During the 1979-1980 season, the
program grew even further away from the original format, as the action shifted
to Archie's bar. Edith was seen
only infrequently - Jean Stapleton, feeling that she had exhausted the potential of her character,
wished to be phased out of the series. New regulars were introduced at the
bar, as Archie expanded it to include a short-order restaurant and took on a Jewish
partner named Murray Klein. Murray's liberal intellectual
background was a sharp contrast to, and sometimes in sharp conflict with, Archie's views. The ethnic mix at
included Veronica, the sardonic Irish cook; Jose, the Puerto Rican busboy and a
wide variety of customers. Coincident with these changes, in the fall of 1979,
the name of the series was changed to
Archie Bunker's Place.
Then came a development which in
the early days of the series would have seemed unthinkable. Edith died suddenly, of a
stroke. This was not treated directly; rather, in the premiere episode of the
1980-1981 season, Archie and Stephanie - whom the Bunkers had adopted - were seen grieving over Edith's unexpected
death. Life did go on, however, and Archie hired a black housekeeper, Ellen Canby, to help
look after his niece. Mrs. Canby was the sister-in-law of one of his neighbors,
Polly Swanson. With Edith gone, Archie gingerly moved into the dating scene, for the first time in
more than 25 years.
the spring of 1981, Archie took over sole operation of the bar when Murray
moved to San Francisco with his new wife (Martin Balsam had grown tired of his
limited role in the series and wanted to bow out). That fall, without the business expertise of his
Archie got financial help from young lawyer/business manager Gary Rabinowitz.
Gary's involvement was more than strictly business, however, since he was dating Archie's 18-year-old niece Billie. She had arrived at the
start of the season on a visit, only to become a permanent member of the Bunker
household and a waitress
at Archie's Place.
all of these changes, All In The Family remained one of the top hits
on television. It did not begin that way, however. It took 1971 audiences several
months to adjust to the blunt, outrageous humor of the show. There was
considerable publicity about Archie's railings against "spics and spades" and it
seemed possible that the show might be cancelled. But by the summer of 1971,
All In The Family had become a
controversial hit, and the #1-rated show on television - a position it retained for 5 years.
Part of its appeal was based on the fact that it could be interpreted in several
different ways. Liberals and intellectuals could site it as an example of the
absurdity of prejudice, while another large segment of the viewing audience
could agree with Archie's attitudes and enjoy him as their kind of guy. Like the Honeymooners' Ralph
Kramden in the 1950's, the loudmouthed yet vulnerable Archie Bunker was a man
for all audiences.
All In The Family
was based on the British series, Till Death Us Do Part.
telecast reruns of
All In The Family
weekdays from December 1975 to September 1979 and in prime time
during the summer of 1991, in the latter instance paired with Norman Lear's new (and
decidedly less successful)
Selected reruns also surfaced in prime time in January 1992.