When writer and producer Norman Lear celebrated his 90th birthday, he did not leave his politics at home, and he doesn’t believe other producers and stars should either.
Lear, whose hit 1970s sitcoms “All in the Family” and “Maude” often focused on such hot-button issues as racism and abortion, said politics belongs even in TV comedies.
“Politics belongs every minute,” Lear told ABC News Thursday night during his 90th birthday bash hosted by People for the American Way, a progressive group Lear founded to promote the separation of church and state. “Whither goest our country matters every minute of every day, so there can’t be too much.”
But politics today is not the same beast it was when Lear was creating No. 1 TV shows. The “civility” of the past, he said, has been replaced with “name-calling, truth-bending, billion-dollar defamation” in the 2012 election.
While Lear firmly supports political messages in television shows, Jane Lynch, who stars in the currently successful “Glee,” cautions against it.
“I don’t think anybody writing television should think about politics unless you are ["West Wing" producer] Aaron Sorkin and you are a master,” Lynch ABC News at Lear’s birthday event.
But Lynch said that politics often seeped into television, even her show, whether intentionally or not.
“I don’t think ['Glee' executive producer] Ryan Murphy set out to create a political show, but it has created a lot of controversy,” Lynch said, noting that the show’s characters range from a high school jock to a transgender student.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who also attended Lear’s birthday event, said politics was an “integral part of our culture” and as such should play a part on TV just as it did when Lear’s “All in the Family” was running.
“You really couldn’t write a funny, modern, relevant sitcom – I guess is what you’d describe ‘All in the Family’ – without engaging in politics,” Coons said.
While Coons said he does not have time to watch much TV, he tapped ‘Modern Family’ and ‘The Daily Show’ as two of his favorite programs.
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said he was no fan of modern television, especially reality TV, which he dubbed “shallow and materialistic.”
“What’s the point of a reality TV show?” Ellison told ABC News at Lear’s birthday event. “I don’t find it engaging or interesting, and I don’t tune in much.”
Actress Kathleen Turner, who attended Lear’s event as a board member of his progressive political group, said “everyone is too afraid” these days to show the same politically charged events that were so common in Lear’s shows.
“I think there is a great deal of extremism that has prevailed in our culture, and in our country, and I think people are frightened by it,” Turner said.