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Old January 21st, 2012, 11:00 PM
Brainbin Brainbin is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: The British Empire
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Meet The Bunkers

"Boy, the way Glenn Miller played,
Songs that made the hit parade;
Guys like me we had it made.
Those were the days!
Didn’t need no welfare state;
Everybody pulled his weight.
Gee, my old LaSalle ran great.
Those were the days!
And you knew where you were then,
Girls were girls and men were men.
Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again.
Hair was short and skirts were long,
Kate Smith really sold a song.
I don’t know just what went wrong.
Those were the days!
"

- Theme from Those Were the Days, lyrics by Lee Adams and music by Charles Strouse; sung by Carroll O'Connor, aka Archie Bunker, and Jean Stapleton, aka Edith Bunker [1]

The history of Those Were the Days is an especially convoluted one, which has only added to its mystique, and would put even Star Trek to shame. It began life across the pond, as a British sitcom called "Till Death Us Do Part". It was created by veteran comedy writer Johnny Speight, who intended to use the program, and its lead character, Alf Garnett, to satirize racist and reactionary viewpoints. The show was defined by the ongoing conflicts between Garnett and his son-in-law; this was symbolic of the gaping generation gap facing young adults, and their middle-aged parents, in this era. Topical and highly provocative, the show became an instant hit; it also caught the attention of an American writer-producer by the name of Norman Lear.

Lear became convinced that an adaptation of the program, tailored to American audiences, would also become hugely successful. ABC, the last-place network, was desperate enough to take a chance on this long-shot idea, and a pilot was developed in 1968, which was, to put it delicately, an eventful year indeed. It was named "Justice for All", a reference to the Pledge of Allegiance but also, in a manner typical of the show's British origins, a pun on the family’s surname: Justice. Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton played Archie and Edith Justice, being involved with the show from conception to delivery. [2] O'Connor, who had been living in Europe at the time that Norman Lear had contacted him about the part, moved back to his birthplace of New York City, where the pilot was being taped, to play the role. He found himself intimately involved in the writing process, as well as the characterization of Archie. Like Lear, O'Connor was very liberal, but he had an incredibly insightful understanding of the character and his circumstances, and imbued in him a powerful sense of pathos. He and Stapleton worked well together, their low-key chemistry perfectly evocative of a long-time married couple. Like O'Connor, Stapleton was a gifted performer, bringing warmth and humanity to her character, who would become the emotional core of the series.

For all the strengths of the "Justice for All" pilot, there were many weaknesses, particularly the poor casting of the daughter and son-in-law characters, Gloria and Richard. [3] ABC, following the footsteps of NBC with Star Trek a few years before, agreed to commission a second pilot. It was renamed "Those Were the Days", and the filming was moved to Hollywood. Gloria and Richard, now nicknamed "Dickie", were recast, and the surname of the family was changed from "Justice" to "Bunker", a name deemed suitably Anglo-Saxon and evocative of American culture. The pilot script underwent only light revisions; indeed, it was O'Connor, and not Lear, who was largely responsible for the rewrite. 1969 was shaping up to be a far more optimistic year than 1968 had been; Hubert H. Humphrey, the "Happy Warrior", was now President, and he was working to end the overseas quagmire in which the United States had become entangled. Accordingly, the second pilot was considered "softer" than the first had been. But it wasn’t enough for ABC, who had seen the failure of "Turn-On" blow up in their faces earlier that year, and weren’t ready to take a chance on another highly topical, controversial series. [4] They rejected the pilot, and it looked like the show would be over before it even got started.

But then salvation came from seemingly the unlikeliest of places. Fred Silverman, the new Vice-President of Programming at CBS, bought the broadcast rights from ABC. He wanted to revamp his network’s image, and was eager to produce shows that would appeal to younger, more urban audiences in order to do so. [5] He gave Lear and O'Connor one more chance to sell him and the network executives on the show. Though Star Trek had been the first series to secure a second pilot, and other shows had since followed, an order for a third pilot was unprecedented. Gloria and Dickie were once again recast: Gloria was played by Penny Marshall [6], who strongly resembled Stapleton, and Dickie, whose name was restored back to Richard, was played by… Richard Dreyfuss. Among the other finalists for the role was Marshall’s husband, Rob Reiner, who was deemed "too mean" for the part. [7] The script was once again lightly revised; it was 1970, and the renewed sense of American optimism, coupled with the rise of Moonshot Lunacy, meant that the originally intended tone of the show (that of the younger generation aghast at the continuing endurance of Archie's viewpoints, and the people who held them) was turned on its head: instead, it became about the struggle of the older generation to cast their viewpoints aside and embrace the positive changes impacting society. Norman Lear was hesitant about this paradigm shift, but O'Connor and Stapleton were both insistent that it would work. [8] The suits at the network agreed, and Those Were the Days was set to premiere in mid-season, on January 12, 1971. [9]

The expected controversy surrounding the series failed to materialize, for the very simple reason that nobody was watching. Critics gave the show very positive notices, but audiences mostly ignored the show throughout its entire first season of 13 episodes. Word-of-mouth was excellent, as it had been with Star Trek in the early going, and combined with strong support from Silverman, there was no doubt of the series returning for a second season. It was during the Emmy Awards of May 9, 1971, that Those Were the Days finally made its mark. The characters from the show were featured in the opening sketch of the awards ceremony, and the series would go on to win three Emmys that night, including Outstanding Comedy Series, and Outstanding Lead Actress for Stapleton. It was a complete vindication for all involved, and from that point forward, the ratings continued to climb. The 1971-72 season would prove a turning point for network television in general, and Those Were the Days was leading the way…

---

[1] IOTL, seven different versions of this theme song were produced: the 1968 pilot version; the 1969 pilot version; the 1972 single release version; and four different versions used throughout the run of the series proper. Stapleton's piano playing is livelier and more uptempo than most of her OTL renditions, reflecting both the optimism of TTL society and the greater emphasis on nostalgia. Also, the theme is reprised over the end credits; IOTL, the instrumental "Remembering You" was used as the end theme instead.

[2] Stapleton was famously offered the role of Mrs. Teavee on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but declined in favour of shooting the third (and final) pilot instead. IOTL, the role was instead offered to Dodo Denney; ITTL, it went to somebody else.

[3] Richard was Irish-American, echoing the Irish Catholic roots of the analogous character from "Till Death Us Do Part". It was only when Reiner (who could never pass as Irish-American) was cast IOTL that "Michael" (renamed after the original son-in-law) became Polish-American instead. The obvious irony was that Carroll O'Connor - playing a WASP - was himself Irish-American.

[4] This is the exact same reason that ABC ultimately rejected All in the Family IOTL.

[5] We'll hear a good deal more about Silverman and his plans for CBS in short order.

[6] Penny Marshall would, IOTL, go on to play Laverne in "Laverne and Shirley" and become the first woman to direct a picture that grossed over $100 million: 1988's Big. She was chosen over the OTL Gloria, Sally Struthers, because it was felt that the character should be able to stand up to both her husband and her father, and Struthers was seen as "too passive".

[7] Given the zeitgeist of TTL, a character who constantly complains and gripes about society in the Reiner mould would not work. Also, Dreyfuss - though he, like Reiner, is Jewish - is seen as more able to "pass" as Irish-American. Dreyfuss and O'Connor would both make light of their cross-ethnic casting, noting that they were an Irishman and a Jew playing a WASP and an Irishman.
Since Dreyfuss is slightly shorter than Marshall, she has to wear flats and slouch a lot, and he wears lifts in his shoes.

[8] O'Connor and Lear had two very different views of their lead character, why their show was a success, and how it appealed to people. IOTL, O'Connor was right, but Lear had just enough plausible deniability to delude himself into believing that his view was the correct one.

[9] Given the show's emphasis on the older generation coming to terms with the new ways, Those Were the Days is retained as a title. IOTL, it was of course replaced by All in the Family. The date of the series premiere is as IOTL; the series being replaced was called "To Rome With Love", which was moved to another timeslot and, unsurprisingly, did not survive the 1970-71 season.

---

And thus, we explore the origins of one of TTL's most important series: Those Were the Days. I'm sure that many of you can already see the rabble of butterflies forming in response to the changes from OTL. We'll further discuss production details, content, and audience response when we return to the series in the next cycle of updates. But coming up next time: a final farewell to classic television.
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