Long before the laugh-track sitcom was the stuff of Arrested Development punchlines and critical judgment, the half-hour comedy show was one of the best and most effective vessels for addressing some of the tensest cultural conversations of the day. When you think of this sort of sitcom, it’s hard not to immediately land on Norman Lear.
Lear’s work on series like All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Good Times, Maude, and One Day at a Time allowed the prime-time sitcom to distinguish itself as not only a legitimate artistic medium, but to address racism, homophobia, sexism, discrimination, and other socially divisive topics in ways that resonate well after the initial airdate.
Now, two of Lear’s most iconic series will return as a one-night-only live event, with modern stars playing the classic lead characters. The Hollywood Reporter states that ABC will air live renditions of two classic episodes from All in the Family and The Jeffersons on May 22nd, with Lear and Jimmy Kimmel hosting the event.
The 90-minute event will feature Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei as Archie and Edith Bunker of Family, along with Ellie Kemper as their daughter Gloria. On the Jeffersons side, Jamie Foxx and Wanda Sykes will become George and Louise Jefferson, with Will Ferrell as their friend Tom and Justina Machado (of the great, recently cancelled reboot of One Day at a Time) as their housekeeper Florence.
While live broadcasts have come back into vogue of late (see the spate of live-taped musicals in recent years), the All in the Family/Jeffersons event could open a major door for networks with deep libraries, if successful. Particularly given that the cast will be delivering classic episodes, who’s to say which other sitcoms could follow? Drake as Urkel/Stephan Urkelle, please and thank you.