How 'All in the Family' and 'The Jeffersons' changed TV

The stars from "Live in Front of a Studio Audience" performance of the two Norman Lear classics join "Nightline" to discuss the cultural and historical significance of the two iconic series.
7:20 | 05/22/19

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Transcript for How 'All in the Family' and 'The Jeffersons' changed TV
George! I love "All in the family". I love "The Jeffersons". These are shows I watched over and over again as a kid. I love the shows in their original form. So I thought, why not do it in the way they've been doing these live musicals. Reporter: In a special ABC event, the ground breaks series "All in the family" and "The Jeffersons" will be brought to light in front of a live audience. We have Jamie Foxx and Wanda Sikes. Anthony Anderson as uncle Henry. Ellie kemper is Gloria. All in the family premiered in January of 1971. Now I suppose you're going to tell me the black man has the same opportunity in this country as you? He had more, he had more. I didn't have people marching and protesting to get me my job. No, his uncle got it for him. It was made to make people uncomfortable. Race, religion, politics is never an easy conversation to have. The theme song is fascinating, because it really represents Archie's view. Those were the days You got Archie bunker saying "We want the good old days". Girls were girls and men were didn't need no welfare state, everybody pulled his weight. That's conservatism. It was the biggest television show in America. You're talking about an audience of 60 million people every time they do a show. Part of what's so revolutionary is that they're just families. They're families that are very recognizable and relatable. They're sort of dipping their toe into difficult areas and having conversations that we are all still having. We're at the, at the plaque on the Norman Lear building. Reporter: We recently caught up with the creator of both iconic series. The only thing I knew to write about was what I saw around me. There's nothing that we did on "All in the family" or "The Jeffersons" or any other show that wasn't going on. How about a woman president? Oh, holy cow. A woman president? Mr. Jefferson, this may come as a big surprise to you, but women are much more oppressed than blacks. I don't see no Getto for women. What do you call a kitchen? The people who were dealing with it were people I knew. Versions of people I know. Because I believe we have versions of one another. Norman Lear, when you look back at it, was a genius. A genius, because who would think to put this bigot on television and surround him with all of these characters who represent so much in our country. Edith, the downtrodden wife. You know what I think? What, ma? I think we ought to eat. Gloria, the feminist daughter. You have to treat ma like she was a slave? I treat her like a housewife. Case closed. Married to a very liberal guy who was forcing his father-in-law to confront his racism. People have arrived. They're here. I ain't lettin' them in. Archie bunker was afraid of tomorrow, was afraid of progress. The Jeffersons were the bunkers' neighbors. Ha, ha, you're in. No I ain't, I'm out. George and Louise Jefferson had become so financially successful that they couldn't leave queens and move to the upper east side of Manhattan. Who would have figured except for Norman Lear that a spinoff would be the way to do it and the rest was history. Well, we're movin' on up movin' on up to the east side The theme song for the Jeffersons tells it all. Movin' on up The song is dipped in black culture, black references and black English. Fish don't fry in the kitchen, beans don't burn on the grill. It only rhymes if you're black. Now we're up in the big leagues For a lot of black people in this country, it was a theme song that just resonated. The rest of the world hadn't seen anything like the Jeffersons. They represented an upper middle class, upwardly mobile. They were living the American dream. You live in this apartment, Uh-huh. And you got an apartment in this building, too? Yes, that's right. Well how come we overcame and nobody told me? These shows were champions for inclusivity and diversity and yet the people calling the shots, the producers were almost exclusively white men. After they do the table read, they get up from the table and the director and producers and writers sit there and discuss the scene. I didn't know any better, so I stayed at the table. Anyway, I started interrupting. Excuse me, excuse me, black people don't talk like that. And they listened to me. Reporter: For many of the new cast it felt like a perfect time to introduce these classic shows to a new generation. I think we're in this moment right now where the country is very divided. It just feels like the perfect time to kind of reintroduc know, not just these characters but this show and the issues it brought up to, to a younger generation. You know what's really bothering you, Louise? You feel guilty about spending the money. Well, I can't help it. It's the way I was brought up. A penny saved is a penny earned. A penny, huh. The idea of bringing these shows to life at a time when so much of what we're talking about in these shows needs to still be talked about and to bring these shows to a new generation of eyeballs, I just, I wanted to be a part of that. Gather around, everybody, I'm going to make a toast to Archie. We couldn't be having more fun doing something that we love to do, reading words that were written by, you know, Norman Lear. Can't you men change the subject? Yeah, Gloria's right. I'm talkin', Michael. Oh, boy. I'm giddy. I think the whole thing is straight out of a dream of mine. Reporter: The 90-minute prime time special will be the first of its kind, and the pressure is on. I think these are great shows, and I want to make sure a younger generation knows them and understands why they were important. I think there is, you know, a responsibility to step into this production. The most important thing is you have to do a good job. I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't nervous, if I wasn't scared, if I wasn't excited, if I wasn't proud. I'm all of those things. And more.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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