IT'S the gospel according to Norman Lear. Beginning a week from Monday, it will be broadcast for 30 minutes each day, five days a week (on Channel 20 at 11 p.m. in Washington). Millions of men and women will look through a glass, lightly, at Lear's latest, "All That Glitters." They will see a world that looks familiar, but the sex roles have been changed to provoke the not-so-innocent.
Women win the bread and men serve it on "All That Glitters." Women run the mighty Globatron Corp. while their husbands keep house. Male secretaries serve the women executives and sometimes sleep with them, if the young men are particularly ambitious. A men's movement will arise to challenge the traditional sex stereotypes, but it will be a tough job. The structures and strictures of sexism are pervasive.
"All That Glitters" will be the first nationally broadcast series on commercial television to focus primarily on issues raised by the feminist movement.If it last, and works, it could do to sexism what "Roots" did to racism - show a huge audiences the specifies of a whole system of discrimination.
Of course "All That Glitters" will not be as grim or as intense as "Roots." It's not a long role-playing session taped at a consciousness-raising group. It's an entertainment conceived by Norman Lear, king of television comedy. The form is derived from Lear's last hit, "Mary Hartman, and, like "Hartman," "Glitters" is distributed by Lear himself. This time Lear has stuck as new blow for the independence of TV producers - after the first 13 weeks, his firm, rather than the TV stations, will sell 30 seconds of the advertising time on "All That Glitters." "Glitters" is not an ideological enterprise untainted by the marketplace.
The series could evolve into a white-collar "Mary Hartman" with one trendy twist - the sex-role swap. But Lear says "Glitters" will not be as "off the wall" as "Hartman." Early reports confirm that the finished product is not as funny as "Hartman." "On 'All That Glitters,' we reach." says Lear, "but not to those outrageous extremes. We reach deeper, more vertically, into the essence of relationships."
The relationships on "Glitters" are not completely mired in sex roles. As in the real world, not everything is governed by gender. There will be love stories and plain old corporate backbiting stories. Anyone who thinks women would make a sweeter, more humane world, given their turn at the top, is in for a disappointment. Globatron chairwoman L.W. Carruthers (Barbara Baxley) is a tiger, and her division heads are alternately intimidated, brave, disillusioned, sycophantic.
Anyone who thinks women would botch the world if they ran it will also be disappointed. Wilmington Division head Christina Stockwood (Lois Nettleton) is harassed but hard-driving and capable. Unfortunately, she's not so capable of understanding poor, overweight Mr. Christina (Bert) Stockwood (Chuck McCann) and his problems around the house. They seem so trivial to Christina - men's work. And Bert has become such a nag that Christina now fools around with her opportunistic young secretary Dan Kincaid (Gary Sandy).
Wilmington's No. 2 woman is Nancy Bankston (Anita Gillette). Unlike Christina, she has begun to question her obsession with her job, especially since L.W. has pounced on Nancy's choice of a "Wilmington Woman" (Linda Gray) for the Wilmington Ale advertising campaign. Nancy is relatively tolerant of her husband Glen (Wes Parker) and his personal goals. He gave up his career as an actor to marry Nancy, nut now he wants to pick it up again, and a powerful agent (Jessica Walter) is interested in him.
Glen's younger sister Andrea (Louise Shaffer) is a dashing young lawyer, in love with Globatron secretary Michael McFarland (David Haskell). He thinks they should settle down - he wants only a marriage and family - but he's having a hard time convincing Andrea to make that commitment.
Why is Lear, a man, in charge of all this? Shouldn't this show be run by women?
Well, "Glitters" was Lear's idea - he says he woke up with it one morning. And Lear is legendary for staying close to his shows, even after eight of them are on the air and most of them are big hits. Besides, he thinks of "Glitters" as "extraordinary from a male standpoint, too The male is as trapped as the female in this conundrum of our life. We're all wrapped up in this thing together, so any examination of it has to be of as much interest to one gender as it is to the order."
Neverthless, Lear's three top lieutenants on "Glitters" are women. He insists they were hired because they were the most qualified people, not because they were the most qualified women. But certainly their experiences as women, and as secretaries and executives in large organizations, did not count against them. One of them, Virginia Carter, was local president of the National Organization for Women. She's a vice president of Lear's T.A.T. Communications, and one of her special interests and responsibilities is "Glitters." (Two of T.A.T.'s seven vice presidents are women, and at last count there were two male secretaries.)
Two women are the top of the full-time "Glitters" staff - executive producer Stephanie Sills, an ex-Washington who was hired away from the National Endowment for the Arts, and producer Viva Knight, who worked her way up the Lear organization from secretary to producer of "Mary Hartman." On the other hand, men wrote and directed the first episodes of "Glitters." Sills says this sort of balance is ideal - the women characters won't be totally bossy and the men characters won't be totally servile.
There are a number of psychic back flips involved in "Glitters." Traditional sex roles and the psychological traits that accompany them are reversed, but traditional physical mannerisms and appearances of the sexes are not. This is not a drag show. The secretary characters look like swinging single studs, for example, but the writers and producers can't give them the usual sexist lines. This is a woman's world, and these young men are aiming for spots as token men executives or as husbands of powerful women.
At one of the rehearsals, a secretary was lighting the Globatron board members' cigarettes for them. A woman writer interjected that it was all wrong. Society has traditionally assigned cigarette-lighting to males, she pointed out. Most secretaries are female, so generally they don't light other people's cigarettes, even their bosses'. The script was changed; the "Glitters" secretaries won't have to do cigarettes.
It might be difficult to handle all this without making the whole idea of such a world, where women are in charge, appear outlandish. Of course, it is outlandish, but the point Lear is making is that it's no more outlandish than the current system, with men in charge. Asked whether the sex role switch might be dismissed as a novelty, Lear asks back: "Why isn't it a novelty that the president of an important university visited these offices a few days ago and said without any self-awareness that his wife was a psychologist, that it, quote, keeps her busy, close quote? Why isn't that a novelty?"
The sex roles become more obvious when switched. Their irrationality becomes more apparent. But won't some people look at the show and laugh at the sex role change, rather than the sex roles themselves, and become even more determined to maintain the status quo? "Anything is possible," replies Lear. But he is confident the viewers will catch on.The were those who said the unwashed masses would learn to love bigotry by learning to love Lear's Archie Bunker; Lear always felt such critics underestimated the American public.
Lear himself is "the most remarkably non-sexist man I've ever known," says Virginia Carter. He attributes some of this to his wife, who runs an executive personnel service for minorities and women, and to his three daughters. But he doesn't pass himself off as Mr. Liberation. Asked if he ever catches himself with sexist attitudes, he replied: "I had the most incredible demonstration of it last night. Incredible, I mean it stunned me."
He had told a young couple he had known for some time about the university president who referred to his wife's job as a psychologist as something that "keeps her busy." The woman with whom he was chatting replies that very rarely would anyone ask her "what do you do?" The conversation continued, related Lear, "and I was standing there, thinking all this time, and I took her hand and I whispered to her, 'I've never asked you what you do.' She said, 'No, you haven't.' So I asked her what she did and she said she was an attorney. I said, 'I'm going to confess something . . . I thought I knew that you're a yound couple, therefore you have small children, therefore you are a housewife and a mother, and that's why i never asked you the question.' I was there telling a story about the head of this university, and here I was, performing in exactly the same sexist manner, to tally unconsciously."
Don't be surprised if this scene pops up on "All That Glitters" some day. But be prepared: the person whose occupation is always ignored will be the one with the beard. CAPTION: Picture 1, When God made Eve, She stepped back and took a good at her and said, "I think she'll lonely." So She took a rib from Eve and created Adam. Now, everything flows from that. In the 10th or 11th century when the Queen had a baby daughter, the bells rang throughout the kingdom. There was no cause for rejoicing when a boy was born, and some boys were even put away, a shame. In the Oriental nations, men have always walked a few paces behind their women. In the Moslem nations, men in the orthodox tradition have always worn veils. It's never been otherwise. We live in a world in "All That Glitters" in which the Orthodox Jewish woman says each morning in her daily ritual prayer: "Thank you, dear Lord, for not making me a beast of burden. Thank you, dear Lord, for not making me a slave. Thank you, dear Lord, for not making me a man."
Norman Lear; Picture 2, The cast from "All That Glitters," standing from left: Wes Parker, Vanessa Brown, Marte Boyle Slout, Chuck McCann; seated on floor, from left: Gary Sandy, Linda Gray and David Haskell.; Picture 3, Lois Nettleton and Chuck McCann in "All That Glitters."