LOS ANGELES -- If you're going to take on classics like "All in the Family" and "The Jeffersons," you've got to do it right - and Norman Lear and Jimmy Kimmel are confident they've found a way to honor Lear's legendary, trailblazing sitcoms.
In Wednesday night's aptly titled "Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear's 'All in the Family' and 'The Jeffersons,'" Lear and Kimmel teamed up with a star-studded cast to present one episode from each of the series in front of a live studio audience. And though the series are both four decades old, both Lear and Kimmel think 2019 is a perfect time to present them to a new generation.
When they originally aired in the 1970s, both sitcoms were groundbreaking in their own right. "All in the Family" was heralded not only for its portrayal of the working-class Bunker family but also for its willingness to use humor as a tool to address complex hot-button social issues.
"The Jeffersons," meanwhile, was one of the first programs to portray a successful African American family navigating a predominantly white world and went on to become one of the longest-running programs to feature a largely black cast. It was also the first series on television that featured an interracial couple.
Many of the issues the programs addressed throughout their runs -- like racism and racial stereotypes, class inequality, abortion rights and LGBT equality - are still at the forefront of the societal conversation today, a fact not lost on Kimmel.
"These shows are even more relevant now than they were. People forget that they were controversial," he explained. "Maybe if we had social media back then, these shows wouldn't have survived - or maybe they would have been even bigger than they were."
Lear agreed, citing the "timelessness of human nature" in a statement and adding that he "cannot wait to see what these glorious performers make in our time of these indelible characters."
In adapting the episodes for a new generation, the live special's cast and crew felt it was important to stay true to the dialogue as it was originally written, even though the script used offensive language. The actors will perform the original dialogue, but the offensive language will be bleeped from the broadcast.
For Lear and Kimmel, paying homage to the shows also meant assembling an all-star cast that could do them justice. With Kimmel assuming hosting duties, the special stars Woody Harrelson as Archie Bunker, Marisa Tomei as Edith Bunker, Jamie Foxx as George Jefferson, Wanda Sykes as Louise Jefferson, Ellie Kemper as Gloria Stivic, Kerry Washington as Helen Willis and Will Ferrell as Tom Willis. The special is directed by 10-time Emmy winner James Burrows.
Harrelson and Foxx both joined the project "almost immediately...and then I really knew I had something," Kimmel said of the "unprecedented" cast.
"It really is crazy, when you have something great, how quickly people will agree to be a part of it," he said.
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Norman Lear, Jimmy Kimmel on staying true to 'All in the Family,' 'The Jeffersons' in live adaptation