"All in the Family" met "Modern Family" Sunday at Warner Bros. as Norman Lear and Steve Levitan expounded on the need for mixing reality with comedy in their signature series.
Lear received a standing ovation from the audience of about 400 at the Produced By conference. Producers Guild of America exec Vance Van Petten noted that the guild's comedy series award is named after Lear and has been awarded to "Modern Family" for the past four years.
"It was the language of our time, the grist of what was going on with the world," Lear recalled. "I said 'We're going to jump in the pool and get wet.'"
The CBS series was so successful that by the mid-1970s, Lear was producing four shows at once -- "Maude," "Sanford and Son" and "The Jeffersons." Levitan, whose ABC series was renewed last month for a sixth season, asked Lear to explain how he managed.
Lear said he'd usually begin each day with story meetings that were transcribed, followed by rehearsals and tapings. "You had no time for anything else," he added.
Lear had high praise for the late Jean Stapleton of "All in the Family" and called Bea Arthur the funniest of all the actors he's worked with.
Lear also admitted he had erred with two short-lived series -- 1977′s "All That Glitters," in which women dominated, and 1994′s "704 Hauser," in which a black family moved into Archie Bunker's former residence and the father saw his son become politically conservative and have a Jewish girlfriend. "It was just too much at once," he mused.
Lear, 91, disclosed that he's been also been unsuccessful in recent years at developing "Guess Who Died," a retirement village sitcom.
In answer to an audience question about celebrity, Lear said that the cultural obsession with it has tragic impacts such as the recent shooting in Isla Vista, Ca.
"We talk too much about celebrity," he added. "It threatens to define this century."
Asked for advice to producers, Lear responded by saying, "Work at what you want to do. Don't worry about being a pain in the ass. Make the phone call'."