As I waited for Norman Lear at his Hollywood office, Mark Pollack, the president of Lear's production company, sauntered over to introduce himself. Pollack is one of those entertainment wunderkinds with tortoiseshell glasses and tortoiseshell haircuts. "So, did you love the show?"
He meant Love Child, a sitcom pilot Lear had taped the night before about an empty-headed senator, Bill Hamilton (played by John Forsythe), who suddenly discovers he has a forty-six-year-old love child (Linda Hunt). "You know, Mark," I said, lapsing into the heightened insincerity of L.A.-speak, "I did love it. And I thought your work on the show was exceptionally thoughtful and deeply felt."
Pollack picked up the fawning game instantly: "Have I ever told you what a great, great talent I think you are? And how much I admire and respect your magazine?"
And so we traded faithless superlatives until he finally said, "I think we should hug." Such is L.A.
Amid the bizarre hokum attending the world of entertainment, Norman Lear, who once declared TV "a steady diet of shit," stands out for being outspoken, particularly in his belief that an apathy-inducing medium should be used to warn viewers against apathy. Lear also stands out for backing his words with deeds—for famously troubling the sleep of the seventies with such crude, populist hits as All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Maude, Good Times, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, among many others.
The late writer Paddy Chayevsky summed up Lear's cont...