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All in the Family-How did this show change American Television?

Updated on September 16, 2012

Meet the Characters

All in the family was on television from 1968 until 1979. Its main character was played by Carroll O'Connor who played Archie Bunker. Jean Stapleton played Archie’s wife Edith. Sally Struthers played the couple’s daughter Gloria bunker-Stivic who married Michael Stivic “Meathead” played by Rob Reiner.

Archie,Edith,Gloria and Michael
Archie,Edith,Gloria and Michael | Source

What was “All in the Family” About?

The show is about a working-class family who is led by a man who held bigoted, conservative views of the world, Archie Bunker. Archie is a dockworker in queens and his viewpoints clash with nearly everyone that he comes into contact with especially his liberal son-in-law Mike Stivic or, as Archie delights in calling him, "Meathead". In the earliest episodes, his cynical worldview is primarily challenged by son-in-law Mike and daughter Gloria both living at the Bunkers’ while Mike attends college. But by the second season, wife Edith assumes the show’s voice for optimism and compassion, and her slow struggle to pull Archie away from his comfort zone of suspicion and bitterness becomes the main theme of the series. The show did not shy away from addressing controversial or socially relevant subject matters. All in the Family wasn’t the first TV series to tackle controversial subjects such as racism, rape, and homophobia, women's liberation, miscarriage, breast cancer, menopause & impotence but what was groundbreaking about the series, was that it was the highest-rated show on television for five seasons. It was also one of the most important and influential series ever to air, it started a new era in American television characterized by programs that did not shy away from addressing controversial or socially relevant subject matters.

The Controversy

Throughout the shows eleven year run Archie is bothered by the changes occurring in the American society he once knew. To Archie, gains by the "Spades," "Spics," or "Hebes" of America (as he referred to Blacks, Hispanics, and Jews, respectively), came at his expense and that of other lower middle class whites. As surely as Archie was politically conservative and socially misguided, Mike was equally liberal and sensitive to the concerns of minorities and the oppressed, and, because both characters were extremely vocal in their viewpoints, heated conflict between the two was assured. Each week the show brought uncomfortable conversations and allowed the American viewers a vehicle for great dialogue and debate. The show lime lighted bigotry and controversial subjects that were otherwise not discussed but rather swept under the carpet, so to speak.

When the show first aired it came with a cool reception and was deemed a wretched program. The public was not ready to face the controversial topics. But thanks to the evolving character development of the series' cast members and the introduction of strong supporting characters. Both the Bunkers' African American next-door neighbors, the Jeffersons, and Edith's visiting cousin, Maude Findlay, eventually went on to star in successful spin-off series of their own. All in the Family also benefited from an occasional one-shot guest appearance, the most memorable of which featured entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr.

In 1971,five years into the sitcom brought the first gay man into America’s living room who turnedout to be a former linebacker. The gay rights were just getting off the ground at that time and the first Pride Parade had been held the previous summer. Nixion was president at that time and he announced he was NOT a fan. This episode’s groundbreaking and complicated exploration of gay identity four centuries ago is what made this show a venue for conversation among American families. Even in watching it today you realize how far it was before its time.

What was the impact of the show?

All in the Family's impact went well beyond the world of television. The show became the focus of a heated national debate on whether the use of comedy was an appropriate means by which to combat prejudice and social inequality. The character of Archie Bunker became an American icon as a result, Carroll O'Connor's characterization of Archie contained notable sympathetic qualities, allowing many viewers to see Archie in a favorable light despite his obvious character flaws.

All in the Family's impact on American television is difficult to estimate. It helped to introduce a new generation of comedy programs that abandoned light domestic plotlines of television's early years into topical themes with important social significance. In this sense, its influence on prime time programming continues to be felt decades later.

My thoughts on the show “All in the Family”

Did you ever watch All in the Family?? I remember watching it as a family and though I was a preteen I remember feeling shocked at some of the subject matter and not liking Archie. I tended to identify with Gloria and Michael and their compassion. I think today that is partially why I cannot tolerate bigotry and hatred. I hated seeing the mean spirited subjects of the show but I think this show helped highlight how wrong it is to think less or hate someone because of color, sexual preference or religious beliefs. I have a strong belief that there is good in all people and that goodness should be cherished. I don’t think you truly have lived until you learn from different cultures and people with different beliefs then your own. Just because I am straight or have a different religious preference doesn’t mean that I cannot learn from that person. And who is to say that person is wrong because of the way they choose to live their life??

What are your thoughts of All in the Family? Did you ever watch it?? I’d love to hear your thoughts please leave your comments below.

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      Denise 2 months ago

      Another item worth mentioning here is the slow transition of Archie Bunker. I thought the show was well done regarding the characters. Edith reminded me a lot of my own mother, the one with a status quo and jovial 'everything is rosy' attitude, until she evolved. That is what's beautiful about the show, how all these characters evolved from being too far right or too far left. There was always somewhat to meet in the middle. Archie Bunker was certainly seen as a racist, but if you really take time to understand that all these characters in the show had their own flaws, and the reality of it, is this was America at the time and in our face in the most controversial way. Most would consider me more liberal than right winged, but I can honestly say, I am neither one. I do not like identifying with extremes. It leaves no room for expanding out to a higher consciousness, which is the natural path of being human.

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      trusouldj 3 years ago from Indiana

      I find myself explaining my love for this show to people who only see Archie as a racist. Fortunately my wife loves it too. I just wish the writing had been as good on Archie Bunker's Place.

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      SounGuy 3 years ago

      The 70's was 4 DECADES ago ... NOT 4 CENTURIES ago ...

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      Rhonda Humphreys 4 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you Tim for the comments and also for sharing your memories. I was saddened to hear of Maureen (Edith's) passing just recently. I glad to hear someone else has fond memories of this show. Again thank you.

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      Rhonda Humphreys 4 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you so much Jo!! I appreciate your comments and that you shared it. I can just imagine you saying "Arrrcchhiee". I might have to use that with my hubby

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      Tim Mitchell 4 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Great article Rhonda! Thank you Jo Goldsmith11 for bringing it to my attention. Sharing is I did not watch for whatever reasons until really after high school or '72. Yet, the shared rental home of 4 - 6 after '73 a mainstay was Archie. That show prompted many discussions going at times to the morning hours. Since we knew each others families whose dad was closest was a favorite topic at times with the varying episode.

      Thank you for a delightful, well presented, and thought provoking article. Do have a great day . . . one smile at a time as best as can . . .

      tim

    • Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image

      Jo_Goldsmith11 4 years ago

      This is so cool! :) I watched this growing up and I learned to immitate Edith Bunker's voice to a "T". Sometimes when my sweetie gets on my nerves, I will say "Arrrcchhiee":) lol

      Great hub, voted up ++++ and shared & tweeted. :)

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      Rhonda Humphreys 4 years ago from Michigan

      Sueswan,thank you so much for your comments. You are very right in the fact that the show was not politically correct. I think this really helped move society along though putting a face to bigotry.

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      Sueswan 4 years ago

      Hi Rhonda,

      I grew up watching All in The Family. Nowadays it would not be considered politically correct. It was a great show.

      I remember the episode where Archie found a swastika painted on the front door. The look on Archie's face when he saw that Paul was killed was very moving. It showed us Archie's vulnerability.

      Voted up and awesome.

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      Rhelena 4 years ago

      I love this show, it was before my time, but the comedy is just so much better than what is out there these days.

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      Rhonda Humphreys 5 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you so much suzettenaples. I think it was a very important show in television history. I wish there were more like it now. Thank you for stopping in!!

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      Rhonda Humphreys 5 years ago from Michigan

      Hi Dahlia Flower, you can still do a hub. Your take may be completely different from mine. What channel broadcast All in the Family in Canada?? I thought maybe something like Nick at Night or TBS may carry it. I agree,I too think that Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton are both brilliant. It also was brilliantly written. Thank you for dropping by!

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Great Hub! I remember the show so well - I was in my teens when it was popular. This was and still is the 'King of all Sitcoms!' This is an iconic classical show that will be forever remembered. Archie's favorite comments that he usually yelled, 'Meathead' and 'Stifle yourself, Edith,' and Gloria's wail, 'Whaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!'when Archie said something ugly. The laughter that that show brought out of all of us is legendary. Thanks for bringing back memories of when and what I thought was great TV. Your analysis of the show is excellent.

    • Dahlia Flower profile image

      Dahlia Flower 5 years ago from Canada

      I'm so glad you did this hub on All in The Family. I had been thinking of doing one and now I won't. In Canada, this show comes on every night of the week between 6:00 pm and 7:00 pm -- two shows in a row -- and then sometimes the sequel, Archie Bunker's Place, comes on next. I had watched this show when I was younger, but hardly remember it. I watched it many times this past winter while visiting my parents. My dad loves it and my mom gets so involved that she dislikes Archie intensely. So I looked up Carroll O'Connor's biography. I read several articles on him and also on Jean Stapleton. And then I watched some interviews of Carroll O'Connor and a couple interviews of Jean Stapleton. I was so amazed at them. They are both such brilliant actors. And Carroll O'Connor is a real buttoned-down actor -- sort of like Anthony Hopkins -- so different than his character Archie Bunker. Carroll O'Connor died in 2001.

      Great hub! Voting up, awesome and sharing.

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      Rhonda Humphreys 5 years ago from Michigan

      You are right Danette. Thank you for stopping by and for your votes.

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      Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

      As many have said here, I too remember that show. I think that was an era of sitcoms that weren't afraid to tackle sensitive issues, were genuinely funny without resorting to bathroom humor or bad sight gags. Plus they had real people in the audience reacting to it, not just canned laughter which is so irritating. Voted up and interesting.

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      Rhonda Humphreys 5 years ago from Michigan

      thank you so much so suxiecat7 for stopping by. You are right the show was brilliant and I feel it helped to bring awareness to how narrow-minded we were and in some cases still are.

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      suziecat7 5 years ago from Asheville, NC

      The show was brilliant in its controversy. I grew up watching it and appreciated the "in your face" look at narrow-mindedness. Great Hub - voted up and I'm a fan.

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      Rhonda Humphreys 5 years ago from Michigan

      Oh I forgot about Gloria. I watched that too. The show did bring a lot of spin offs. Remember Maude and didn't the Jefferson's maid Florence have a show too? Thank you Deb for stopping by.

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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I grew up with "All in the Family." I didn't care for the character that Archie was, but I liked the rest of the family and the neighbors that were featured. it sure brings back memories. I also watched "The Jeffersons," "Archie's Place," and "Gloria," even though it was short-lived.

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      Rhonda Humphreys 5 years ago from Michigan

      DeborahNeyens

      It is sad that almost 40 years later we have not progress much as a society and that bigotry is still tolerated. Thank you Deborah for stopping by and weighing in.

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      Deborah Neyens 5 years ago from Iowa

      I watched this show as a child with my family. It helped me understand what bigotry was and, like you, teach me that it shouldn't be tolerated. It would be interesting to rewatch some of the episodes today. Sadly, there are many who still cling to Archie's views.

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      Rhonda Humphreys 5 years ago from Michigan

      MazioCreate,

      I think you are right the show could do with airing today. It is sad to me that some of the story lines that were aired back then still have not progressed more 30 years latter.

      Thank you for stopping by.

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      MazioCreate 5 years ago from Brisbane Queensland Australia

      The show was broadcast in Australia and we watched it every week. Like marcoujor, I cringed at the behaviours of Archie, but also was pleasantly surprised when he showed his more compassionate side. Great show for its time and its contents could well do with a good airing today. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and bringing back some good memories. Liked and shared!

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      Rhonda Humphreys 5 years ago from Michigan

      Dear marcoujor,

      You were about the same age as me when you watched it and had the same reaction. I do however thing the show was a great vehicle to open up lines of communication between not only families but also different generations. When I was growing up the older generation felt it was acceptable to speak the way Archie did. I think All in the Family helped teach that it was wrong.

      thank you for your comment and ratings.

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      Maria Jordan 5 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Dear Rhonda,

      This show was on from the time I was about 7 to 18 years of age and it was a favorite in my household. As I aged, I started cringing as I understood Archie's actions more and watched Edith's stereotypical womanly behavior of the day when she 'stifled herself'.

      Today I still cringe at some real-life characters I know who are in a time warp with the same mentality. I am also sad that Sally has lost some of her sweetness in light of the recent news.

      Nice meeting you...thought producing hub. Voted UP and AI.

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      Rhonda Humphreys 5 years ago from Michigan

      Hey Cogerson, thank you for stopping by. You are right, it was a ground breaking show. Like you I didn't always understand the plotlines either but since we watched as a family my parents were there to ask questions of. thanks again for your comments

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      Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

      Excellent hub on one the greatest groundbreaking shows in television history. I remember my parents watching this show....and I remember my grandmother really hating All In The Family....she used to say...."All they do is scream at each other...what kind of show would want to do that".

      As a kid.....I did not really understand the plotlines.....just I always thought it was fun to watch Archie.....many years later when I was an adult I understood why Archie was always getting into disputes. Voted up and very interesting.