Norman Lear's endeavors in the entertainment industry have generally had two characteristics in common: success and an offbeat approach.
It's too early to tell whether Lear's newest venture, a bid with partner Jerry Perenchio to take over Evening News Association, will be successful. But it is unusual -- one of only a few hostile attempts to buy a media company, and one of the first to proceed under new Federal Communications Commission guidelines for such attempts.
Lear is perhaps best-known for his production of landmark situation comedies of the 1970s, beginning with "All in the Family." The success of the series built around Archie Bunker and his family was followed by "Maude," "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," "The Jeffersons" and "One Day at a Time." The shows revolutionized television, bringing a new degree of realism and social consciousness to the home screen.
Lear has long crusaded for quality television programming. At his 1984 induction into the Television Hall of Fame, he said, "My hope for the future of television is that it will take itself as seriously as it is taken, that the time will come when all of us, all of us including networks, will look to our creative and our human instincts to create and to program, instead of following the dictates of flow charts and research and overnight ratings and the pursuit of instant success."
Lear applied his social consciousness to other arenas as well, using his national prominence as a television producer to gain attention for a number of politically liberal causes. He took on fundamentalist minister Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority in the early 1980s by forming a counter group, People for the American Way. Lear created the group to protest what he called "the intolerant messages and anti-democratic actions of moral majoritarians," after Falwell had attacked Lear's shows as attacking American family values. Lear's group produced anti-Moral Majority television commercials and a patriotic television special starring several major Hollywood stars.
In addition to giving him a national platform, the success of Lear's TV shows also provided the financial base for his next professional venture, a move out of the artistic side of television and into the business side of Hollywood. He and Perenchio bought Embassy Pictures from Avco Corp. for a reported $25 million in 1981, giving them a full-scale production company in addition to an umbrella for syndication of reruns of the series, such as "All in the Family," made by Lear's company, Tandem Productions.
Under Lear and Perenchio's ownership, Embassy and Tandem made some less-than-successful motion pictures but concentrated mostly on turning out television sitcoms, including "Silver Spoons" and "Facts of Life." The syndication operation also churned out millions of dollars of annual profits for its owners, before Lear and Perenchio decided last month to sell Embassy and Tandem to Coca-Cola Co. for $485 million.
At the time of the sale, Lear said he wanted to resume writing and directing, while Perenchio reportedly was negotiating to buy the Loew's theater chain. But they apparently decided to rejoin forces for their unorthodox bid for Evening News.
The son of a Connecticut salesman, Lear, 63, is known as something of a show-business "ham," given to theatrical gestures to liven up business meetings and often doing comedy routines to warm up audiences at tapings of programs he produced.