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TV CRITIC'S CORNER

Norman Lear can take pride in ground he broke with ‘All in the Family’

Norman Lear gave us the first sitcom to put a gay man on the small screen.
Norman Lear gave us the first sitcom to put a gay man on the small screen.Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/file

In thinking about LGBT pride month, I found myself thinking about Norman Lear. Many, many important difficult issues found their way to television thanks to Lear, a true groundbreaker. With “All in the Family,” he gave us the first sitcom to put a gay man on the small screen. What’s more, he did it in a way that fought against the gay stereotypes that continued to taint gay representation in the years to follow.

It was the fifth episode of the show’s first season, called “Judging Books by Their Covers,” and Archie is not pleased when son-in-law Michael and daughter Gloria invite their effeminate — but, as Michael says, not gay — friend (played by Anthony Geary, later Luke on “General Hospital”) over for lunch. Archie goes out to the bar, where he runs into an old friend, Steve, played by Philip Carey (later Asa on “One Life to Live”), who is masculine, strong, and used to be a football player. Yup, he’s gay, which inspires Archie to arm wrestle with him — twice. His world view has been rocked, not least of all because Steve is so comfortable with his orientation.

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It was pitch perfect.

By the way, not surprisingly, President Richard Nixon was not pleased with the episode, which aired on Feb. 9, 1971. In the Nixon tapes, he is heard saying to H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, “Goddamn it, I do not think that you glorify on public television homosexuality. You don’t glorify it, John, any more than you glorify, uh, whores. I don’t want to see this country go that way. You know what happened to the Greeks. Homosexuality destroyed them.”


Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.