Best Norman Lear Comedies, Ranked

When Norman Lear passed away on December 5, 2023, at the age of 101, the world lost a legend of American television and film production. Working in the entertainment industry for over 70 years, Norman Lear served as an executive producer, writer, production manager, and creator on numerous television shows that affected the social landscape of America. While he may be known to younger audiences for his work on popular films such as The Princess Bride, it was his television shows that truly made him the heart of the American sitcom.



Over the span of his long career, Norman Lear created, wrote, and produced television shows that were compassionate and thoughtful and dealt with social and political issues. More importantly, these shows did so while dressed in the guise of easy-watching television, which introduced new ideas and controversial topics to the homes of millions of Americans. This allowed social change to move gently throughout American families, considering multiple sides of difficult issues and letting people laugh at the same time. Comedy is one of the first arenas where social norms and political ideas are challenged, sort of like a society dipping its toes into the water to test out the temperature. Norman Lear used this ability to challenge the mores of modern America and allow people to sympathize with each other in ways they previously hadn’t.


10 Archie Bunker’s Place Continued the Story of a Sitcom Classic

Archie Bunker's Place

Archie Bunker’s Place

The further misadventures of Archie Bunker, now the owner of a local pub, and his regulars.

Release Date
September 23, 1979

Cast
Carroll O’Connor , Allan Melvin

Main Genre
Comedy

Rating
TV-PG

Seasons
4 Seasons

Creator
Patt Shea, Harriett Weiss, Joe Gannon

Production Company
Tandem Productions

Show

Network

Years on Air

Number of Seasons

Number of Episodes

Archie Bunker’s Place

CBS

1979-1983

4

97

While technically, Archie Bunker’s Place is a continuation of All in the Family, and truth be told, Norman Lear didn’t really want it to exist in the first place; the show deserves a mention in its own right. Archie Bunker’s Place continues to focus on Carroll O’Connor’s Archie Bunker, but more often in the context of work relationships and friends than the family-focused All in the Family. Most of the rest of the characters are Archie’s business partners, employees, and tavern regulars. Familial issues are still a theme, however. Archie helps raise Stephanie Mills after he and his wife, Edith, take her in during the final season of All in the Family. Archie experiences the loss of his wife when she dies of a stroke. Edith and Archie’s niece and daughter both make appearances in the show as well.

The ideological discussions and differences between the characters are the heart of the show. As with All in the Family, Archie’s prejudiced and conservative ways contrast starkly with those of his liberal peers, family, and friends. Although Norman Lear agreed to let the show’s production proceed mostly for the sake of the cast and crew keeping their jobs, Archie Bunker’s Place proved that continuations of popular shows, even when characters left or died, could be successful stories. It also goes to show that the power of a person’s creations can sometimes grow more powerful than the creator himself.

9 The Deputy was Lear’s First TV Outing

The Deputy

The Deputy

Clay McCord is who often helped Chief Marshal Simon Fry in 1880’s Arizona territory. McCord eventually becomes Fry’s Chief Deputy assigned to Silver City. Fry and McCord are assisted by Sergeant Hapgood Tasker Army cavalry Sergeant.

Release Date
September 12, 1959

Creator
Roland Kibbee, Norman Lear

Rating
TV-PG

Seasons
2 Seasons

Characters By
Henry Fonda, Allen Case, Read Morgan

Production Company
Top Gun Productions

Henry Fonda in The Deputy

Show

Network

Years on Air

Number of Seasons

Number of Episodes

The Deputy

NBC

1959-1961

2

76

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The Deputy is Norman Lear’s first television show, created while he was writing for and producing several other television shows that never really took off. The Deputy isn’t as socially conscientious as many of Lear’s later shows, but it does feature the titular deputy as very reluctant to bear firearms. Henry Fonda stars as Chief Marshal Simon Fry, although he rarely features prominently in an episode. Usually, Allen Case’s Deputy Clay McCord is the lead and performs the many missions that the Chief Marshal assigns to him.

Besides being Norman Lear’s first television creation and thus the show to launch Lear’s career, The Deputy is notable for refusing to lean into the violence associated with most Westerns of the time. Clay McCord believes that guns are one of the main problems on the frontier and resists using them as much as possible. Still, McCord has a strong sense of duty and responsibility, so when he devotes himself to being the deputy, he always follows through. Such an attitude makes sense coming from Norman Lear, a United States Air Force veteran of World War II, but for many Americans, The Deputy was the first inkling of the argument over guns that would erupt in the coming decades.

8 One Day at a Time Was a Little-Known Show With a Powerful Message

One Day at a Time-1

One Day at a Time (1975)

The misadventures of a divorced mother, her family and their building superintendent in Indianapolis.

Release Date
December 16, 1975

Creator
Whitney Blake, Norman Lear, Allan Manings

Cast
Bonnie Franklin , Pat Harrington Jr. , Valerie Bertinelli , Mackenzie Phillips

Main Genre
Comedy

Rating
TV-PG

Seasons
9 Seasons

Production Company
Embassy Television, TAT Communications Company.

Mackenzie Philips, Bonnie Franklin, and Valeria Bertinelli in One Day at a Time

Show

Network

Years on Air

Number of Seasons

Number of Episodes

One Day at a Time

CBS

1975-1984

9

209

To many modern viewers, One Day at a Time might not be the most well-known of Norman Lear’s television shows, but it deals with many important issues of its time. The show stars Bonnie Franklin, Mackenzie Phillips, and Valerie Bertinelli as a divorced mother and her two daughters, respectively, who move to Indianapolis. The themes of the show revolve around relationships, family, and many subjects tackled by second-wave feminism.

Norman Lear developed and produced the show, but he left most of the writing and creation to Whitney Blake and Allan Manings. This meant that Whitney Blake, as a woman with first-hand experience with divorce, being a single mother, and the status of women in the workplace, was able to express perspectives and thoughts on these issues through the television show. Norman Lear’s dedication to supporting others in telling their own stories and opinions, like in One Day at a Time, was one of his greatest strengths.

7 Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman is a Strange Change of Pace for the Era

Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

A small-town housewife struggles to cope with the increasingly bizarre and violent events unfolding around her.

Release Date
January 5, 1976

Creator
Jerry Adelman, Daniel Gregory Browne, Norman Lear, Ann Marcus, Gail Parent.

Cast
Louise Lasser , Greg Mullavey , Mary Kay Place

Main Genre
Comedy

Rating
TV-PG

Seasons
2 Seasons

Producer
Viva Knight, Brad Buckner, Eugenie Ross-Leming, Lew Gallo, Jerry Adler

Louise Lesser as lMary Hartman on the Phone in the Kitchen in Mary Hartman, Mary. Hartman

Show

Network

Years on Air

Number of Seasons

Number of Episodes

Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

Broadcast Syndication

1976-1977

2

325

Another show developed by Norman Lear, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman is a parody of the American soap opera that explores American consumerism. The show is more of a black comedy and melodrama than most other series involving Lear, so it polarizes audiences. Some viewers find it off-putting and in poor taste, while other viewers find the bizarre combination of styles to be refreshing, leading to the show’s cult following.

While the combination of dark humor and soap opera was bizarre and unique for its time, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman is important in the world of television as it is a predecessor to shows like Arrested Development and Barry. Many Normal Lear sitcoms and dramedies deal with societal issues head-on in a straightforward manner, but Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman uses a tongue-in-cheek approach that influences cult classics and offbeat shows to this day.

Sanford and Son

Sanford and Son

The misadventures of a cantankerous junk dealer and his frustrated son.

Release Date
January 14, 1972

Creator
Norman Lear

Main Genre
Comedy

Rating
TV-PG

Seasons
6 Seasons

Characters By
Redd Foxx, Demond Wilson, LaWanda Page

Production Company
Tandem Productions

Show

Network

Years on Air

Number of Seasons

Number of Episodes

Sanford and Son

NBC

1972-1977

6

136

A sitcom with a largely Black cast, Sanford and Son is a show that focuses on a junk dealer and his son as they go about their lives in Los Angeles. Fred Sanford is the curmudgeonly, scheming father of the more peaceable Lamont Sanders. Their extended family and friends are regularly part of the simple plots.

Sanford and Son isn’t as dramatic as some Norman Lear shows. It is, however, an answer to All in the Family that presents current events and cultural issues from a new perspective. It was extremely popular with viewers in the 1970s. Without too much dramatic threat, the simple prejudices and bigotry that plague humans, in general, could be explored while keeping the heart of the show about the love between people, especially families.

5 Good Times Put a Different Perspective on Family Life

Good Times

good times

A poor family make the best of things in the Chicago housing projects.

Release Date
February 8, 1974

Creator
Mike Evans, Norman Lear, Eric Monte

Cast
Ja’net DuBois , Ralph Carter , Bern Nadette Stanis

Main Genre
Comedy

Rating
TV-PG

Seasons
6 Seasons

Production Company
Tandem Productions

A family hugs in the kitchen in Good Times.

Show

Network

Years on Air

Number of Seasons

Number of Episodes

Good Times

CBS

1974-1979

6

133

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One of the spin-offs (really a spin-off of a spin-off) from All in the Family, Good Times is the story of the Evans family living in public housing in Chicago. The show serves as a window into lower-class Black families of the 1970s. The family often struggles against poverty. James Evans, the father, often works multiple jobs while the three children all dream of ways to help their family and community.

Good Times, like other Norman Lear shows, was an opportunity to elevate different voices and perspectives. Unfortunately, the attempt wasn’t always as beneficial or as sensitive as it could have been. The popularity of Jimmie Walker’s J.J. Evans Jr. was largely thanks to his goofy antics and his catchphrase, “Dy-no-mite!” As the writers began relying on this appeal more and more, it reeked too much of minstrelsy for comfort, and the cast became rather disillusioned. The show is a great example of good intentions going wrong, but it remains an important show in television history as it gave a voice and a face to the struggles of millions of Americans.

4 Maude is Another Spin-Off With a Powerful Mission

Maude

Maude

“All In The Family” spin-off centered around Edith’s cousin, Maude Findlay, a liberal, independent woman living in Tuckahoe, New York.

Release Date
September 12, 1972

Creator
Norman Lear

Cast
Bea Arthur , Bill Macy , Conrad Bain , Adrienne Barbeau

Main Genre
Comedy

Rating
TV-PG

Seasons
6 Seasons

Production Company
Tandem Productions

Maude smiles after opening the door.

Show

Network

Years on Air

Number of Seasons

Number of Episodes

Maude

CBS

1972-1978

6

141

Maude is the spin-off of All in the Family, that in turn spawned the spin-off Good Times. Similar to One Day at a Time, Maude addresses issues relevant to second-wave feminism, although it delves into some even more controversial topics like drug abuse, alcoholism, abortion, and suicide. Undaunted by difficult subjects, Maude let audiences consider multifaceted problems and solutions to social and political issues from the safety of their couches.

One of the most self-aware aspects of Maude is that even though the protagonist is an outspoken liberal and a middle-aged feminist, she has glaringly hypocritical moments. This gives audiences a chance to identify with a sympathetic character while also confronting their own prejudices and hypocrisy. The uniqueness of Bea Arthur’s Maude, the difficult issues, and the gentle criticism of the well-intentioned white liberals are all part of what puts this Norman Lear show near the top of the list.

3 One Day at a Time (2017) Remade a Lear Classic

The cast of One Day at a Time celebrate with joy

One Day at a Time

One Day at a Time

Follows three generations of the same Cuban-American family living in the same house: a newly divorced former military mother, her teenage daughter and tween son, and her old-school mother.

Release Date
January 6, 2017

Cast
Justina Machado , Todd Grinnell

Main Genre
Comedy

Rating
TV-PG

Seasons
4 Seasons

Creator
Gloria Calderón Kellett, Mike Royce

Producer
Patricia Fass Palmer, Sandi B. Hochman, Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Justina Machado

Production Company
Act III Productions, GloNation Studios, Snowpants Productions

Show

Network

Years on Air

Number of Seasons

Number of Episodes

One Day at a Time (2017)

Netflix, then Pop

2017-2020

4

46

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The most recent show on the list, Netflix’s One Day at a Time (2017), is a remake of the series of the same name from the 1970s with Norman Lear as an executive producer. The modern remake is again about a mother of two who has separated from the father of her children, although in the remake, the characters are Cuban-American rather than white European Americans. This change allows for material such as immigration and ethnicity to be explored alongside other issues.

The One Day at a Time remake goes to show how, even in his 90s, Norman Lear was dedicated to encouraging cultural, social, and political change through television. The characters deal with PTSD, sexuality, gender identity, racism, and mental illness, proving that there’s still a need for socially conscious storytelling in television. The remake is a beautiful example of the advancement in society during one man’s lifetime and his hope to encourage more in the future.

2 The Jeffersons Made History in an Unexpected Way

The Jaffersons

the jeffersons

A nouveau riche, African-American family who move into a luxury apartment building develop close, if occasionally fractious, relationships with other tenants.

Release Date
January 18, 1975

Creator
Norman Lear, Don Nicholl, Michael Ross, Bernard West

Cast
Isabel Sanford , Sherman Hemsley , Franklin Cover

Main Genre
Comedy

Rating
TV-PG

Seasons
11 Seasons

Production Company
Embassy Television

The Jeffersons Main Cast smiling for a picture

Show

Network

Years on Air

Number of Seasons

Number of Episodes

The Jeffersons

CBS

1975-1985

11

253

Yet another spin-off of All in the Family in which they were the Bunkers’ neighbors, The Jeffersons is a show about an affluent Black family living in Manhattan. The family moves there from the working-class neighborhood of Queens. Although the show is geared to be more of a sitcom, it does address racism, alcoholism, illiteracy, gun control, and mental illness, albeit not as often as some other shows that Norman Lear developed.

The Jeffersons goes to show how receptive Norman Lear could be to the viewing public. Black audiences made it clear that seeing only low-income Black families on television, like the Evanses in Good Times, was disheartening and inaccurate. Lear considered this shortcoming and developed a show wherein a well-to-do Black family could be represented for all of America to see. A new perspective on racism and the potential of racial equality was clear on The Jeffersons, not to mention Roxie Roker’s and Franklin Cover’s Helen and Thomas Willis, one of the very first interracial couples on prime-time television.

1 All in the Family is the Foundation for All Other Sitcoms

All in the Family

all in the family

A working class man constantly squabbles with his family over the important issues of the day.

Release Date
January 12, 1971

Cast
Carroll O’Connor , Jean Stapleton , Sally Struthers , Rob Reiner

Genres
Sitcom

Seasons
9

Creator
Norman Lear

Number of Episodes
205

Show

Network

Years on Air

Number of Seasons

Number of Episodes

All in the Family

CBS

1971-1979

9

205

It’s probably no surprise, but All in the Family was always bound to come in at number one for Norman Lear sitcoms. The family dynamic that was created between the young and liberal Gloria Stivic, along with her similarly-minded husband, Michael Stivic, her bigoted and conservative father, Archie Bunker, and her happy and loving mother, Edith Bunker, was truly relatable to American families. The arguments about issues and politics allowed Norman Lear to hold up a mirror to the American public. Here, viewers could see themselves, regardless of what side they were on, and relate. The explorations of such diverse and divisive issues provoked discussions throughout the country and helped encourage social change.

If television audiences today have a notion of sitcoms and dramedies as explorations of the moral and ethical issues of America, then that is largely thanks to the work of Norman Lear. Of course, these shows still have their imperfections and pitfalls, but they are a perfect example of the adage “progress not perfection.” The analysis of these shows in such terms is only possible because said shows have helped society reach its current state. The shows are not perfect, but they did help promote social change. Norman Lear was a media creator who knew how to put this quality of comedy and television to its best use: to promote compassion, empathy, and change for the better.

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