Those Were the Days: “All in the Family” Premiered 40 Years Ago Today

On January 12, 1971, All in the Family debuted with the following disclaimer: “The program you are about to see is All in the Family.  It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices, and concerns.  By making them a source of laughter, we hope to show— in a mature fashion— just how absurd they are.” As noted in Donna McCrohan’s Archie & Edith, Mike & Gloria: The Tumultuous History of “All in the Family” this debut did not lead to much of a public outcry. In fact, its airing on CBS trailed the competition considerably (ABC offered the TV movie Assault on the Wayne and NBC aired the feature film Secret Ceremony).

The new series did get a certain amount of press and strong word-of-mouth, but it wasn’t until CBS executive Fred Silverman re-ran the initial episodes during the summer that the show became popular.  With that came the good and the bad: A slew of Emmys and other awards, and criticism from everyone from Bill Cosby to Laura Z. Hobson.  Many argued that the lines were blurred in the audience’s perception of Archie— bigot or hero; however, no one could argue with the ratings.  All in the Family’s second season was the #1 highest rated for 1971-72, and the show remained in the top slot over the next four seasons.

All in the Family may have centered on Archie Bunker’s prejudice, yet many other issues were addressed during the run, including: menopause, homosexuality, rape, Women’s Lib, impotence, and breast cancer.  The show too, was funny, and by design.  As Jean Stapleton noted in her Archive of American Television interview: “There’s nothing like humor to burst what seems to be an enormous problem.  Humor reduces it to nothing and wipes it out.  That’s what humor does.  That was a great part of that show in terms of every issue, but especially bigotry.  You make fun of something, it reduces it to nothing.”

Of all of the things All in the Family is known for, one that is distinctly non-controversial is its classic theme song “Those Were the Days,” performed by stars Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton.  Lesser known is the fact that Carroll O’Connor wrote a lyric for the ending instrumental theme “Remembering You.”  Here’s a clip posted on You Tube of O’Connor (with composer Roger Kellaway at the piano) performing “Remembering You.”

Carroll O’Connor performs All in the Family closing theme: “Remembering You”:

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