The Fictional Brand Archives: Explore a Growing Collection of Iconic But Fake Brands Found in Movies & TV

Los Pol­los Her­manos, Madri­gal Elec­tro­mo­tive, Mesa Verde Bank and Trust, Davis & Main: Attor­neys at Law—all of these brands come from the Break­ing Bad/Bet­ter Call Saul uni­verse. They also appear in the Fic­tion­al Brands Archive, a web­site ded­i­cat­ed to “fic­tion­al brands found in films, series and video games.” Tak­ing the brands seri­ous­ly as brands, the site draws on research from a new book writ­ten by Loren­zo Berni­ni enti­tled Fic­tion­al Brand Design. And, with its many entries, the site pro­vides a “com­pre­hen­sive view of each fic­tion­al brand, fram­ing them in their own fic­tion­al con­text and doc­u­ment­ing their use and exe­cu­tion in source work.”

Oth­er notable brands include Acme (Looney Tunes), ATN News (Suc­ces­sion), Dun­der Mif­flin (The Office), Fed­er­al Motor Cor­po­ra­tion (Fight Club), both Grand Budapest Hotel and Mendl’s (Grand Budapest Hotel), and Nakato­mi Cor­po­ra­tion (Die Hard). Enter the Fic­tion­al Brands Archive here.

via Messy­Nessy

Relat­ed Con­tent 

A Free Dig­i­tal Archive of Graph­ic Design: A Curat­ed Col­lec­tion of Design Trea­sures from the Inter­net Archive

The Let­ter­form Archive Launch­es a New Online Archive of Graph­ic Design, Fea­tur­ing 9,000 Hi-Fi Images

Down­load 2,000 Mag­nif­i­cent Turn-of-the-Cen­tu­ry Art Posters, Cour­tesy of the New York Pub­lic Library

40 Years of Saul Bass’ Ground­break­ing Title Sequences in One Com­pi­la­tion


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Isaac Asimov Predicts the Future in 1982: Computers Will Be “at the Center of Everything;” Robots Will Take Human Jobs

Four decades ago, our civ­i­liza­tion seemed to stand on the brink of a great trans­for­ma­tion. The Cold War had stoked around 35 years of every-inten­si­fy­ing devel­op­ments, includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to the Space Race. The per­son­al com­put­er had been on the mar­ket just long enough for most Amer­i­cans to, if not actu­al­ly own one, then at least to won­der if they might soon find them­selves in need of one. On New Year’s Eve of 1982, The Mac­Neil-Lehrer News Hour offered its view­ers a glimpse of the shape of things to come by invit­ing a trio of for­ward-look­ing guestsWas­n’t the Future Won­der­ful author Tim Onosko; Omni mag­a­zine edi­tor Dick Tere­si; and, most dis­tin­guished of all, Isaac Asi­mov.

As the “author of more than 250 books, light and heavy, fic­tion and non-fic­tion, some of the most notable being about the future,” Asi­mov had long been a go-to inter­vie­wee for media out­lets in need of long-range pre­dic­tions about tech­nol­o­gy, soci­ety, and the dynam­ic rela­tion­ship between the two. (Here on Open Cul­ture, we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured his spec­u­la­tions from 1983, 1980, 1978, 1967, and 1964.) Robert Mac­Neil opens with a nat­ur­al sub­ject for any sci­ence-fic­tion writer: mankind’s for­ays into out­er space, and whether Asi­mov sees “any­thing left out there.” Asi­mov’s response: “Oh, every­thing.”

In the ear­ly eight­ies, the man who wrote the Foun­da­tion series saw human­i­ty as “still in the Christo­pher Colum­bus stage as far as space is con­cerned,” fore­see­ing not just space sta­tions but “solar pow­er sta­tions,” “lab­o­ra­to­ries and fac­to­ries that can do things in space that are dif­fi­cult or impos­si­ble to do on Earth,” and even “space set­tle­ments in which thou­sands of peo­ple can be housed more or less per­ma­nent­ly.” In the full­ness of time, the goal would be to “build a larg­er and more elab­o­rate civ­i­liza­tion and one which does not depend upon the resources of one world.”

As for “the com­put­er age,” asks Jim Lehrer; “have we crest­ed on that one as well”? Asi­mov knew full well that the com­put­er would be “at the cen­ter of every­thing.” Just as had hap­pened with tele­vi­sion over the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion, “com­put­ers are going to be nec­es­sary in the house to do a great many things, some in the way of enter­tain­ment, some in the way of mak­ing life a lit­tle eas­i­er, and every­one will want it.” There were many, even then, who could feel real excite­ment at the prospect of such a future. But what of robots, which, as even Asi­mov knew, would come to “replace human beings?”

“It’s not that they kill them, but they kill their jobs,” he explains, and those who lose the old jobs may not be equipped to take on any of the new ones. “We are going to have to accept an impor­tant role — soci­ety as a whole — in mak­ing sure that the tran­si­tion peri­od from the pre-robot­ic tech­nol­o­gy to the post-robot­ic tech­nol­o­gy is as pain­less as pos­si­ble. We have to make sure that peo­ple aren’t treat­ed as though they’re used up dishrags, that they have to be allowed to live and retain their self-respect.” Today, the tech­nol­o­gy of the moment is arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, which the news media haven’t hes­i­tat­ed to pay near-obses­sive atten­tion to. (I’m trav­el­ing in Japan at the moment, and saw just such a broad­cast on my hotel TV this morn­ing.) Would that they still had an Asi­mov to dis­cuss it with a lev­el-head­ed, far-sight­ed per­spec­tive.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts in 1983 What the World Will Look Like in 2019: Com­put­er­i­za­tion, Glob­al Co-oper­a­tion, Leisure Time & Moon Min­ing

Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts the Future on The David Let­ter­man Show (1980)

Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts the Future of Civ­i­liza­tion — and Rec­om­mends Ways to Ensure That It Sur­vives (1978)

Buck­min­ster Fuller, Isaac Asi­mov & Oth­er Futur­ists Make Pre­dic­tions About the 21st Cen­tu­ry in 1967: What They Got Right & Wrong

In 1964, Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts What the World Will Look Like Today: Self-Dri­ving Cars, Video Calls, Fake Meats & More

Nine Sci­ence-Fic­tion Authors Pre­dict the Future: How Jules Verne, Isaac Asi­mov, William Gib­son, Philip K. Dick & More Imag­ined the World Ahead

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Meet Johnny Costa, the Pianist Who Introduced Millions of Mister Rogers Fans to Jazz

Jazz pianist and com­pos­er Charles Cor­nell is not alone in his con­tempt for the sort of dumb­ed down musi­cal fare typ­i­cal of children’s pro­gram­ming.

The late John­ny Cos­ta, Mis­ter Rogers’ Neigh­bor­hoods long-time musi­cal direc­tor and a self-described “real jazzer,” was of like mind:

Chil­dren have ears, and they’re peo­ple, and they can hear good music as well as any­body else. So I start­ed right from the begin­ning play­ing for them as I would for any adults.

The show not only hooked many young view­ers on jazz, it may have plant­ed a sub­lim­i­nal pref­er­ence for live jazz.

None of the show’s music was pre­re­cord­ed.

Instead, Cos­ta attend­ed every tap­ing, pro­vid­ing live accom­pa­ni­ment just off cam­era with per­cus­sion­ist Bob­by Raw­sthorne and bassist Carl McVick­er. They were such an inte­gral part of the show’s vibe that in 1985, Mr. Rogers broke the fourth wall to show his “tele­vi­sion neigh­bors” their set up.

As Cor­nell notes, above, host Fred Rogers, an accom­plished pianist him­self, wrote the program’s sig­na­ture tunes, includ­ing its famous open­ing theme, but left it to Cos­ta to impro­vise as he saw fit.

As a result the open­ing num­ber varies a bit from episode to episode, with hints of Oscar Peter­son, Art Tatum, Thelo­nius Monk and oth­er jazz world greats.

Cor­nell con­sid­ers Cos­ta their “crim­i­nal­ly unno­ticed” equal, but observes that his quar­ter cen­tu­ry of involve­ment on Mis­ter Rogers Neigh­bor­hood means his music has like­ly reached a far larg­er audi­ence.

Cos­ta had carte blanche to noo­dle as he saw fit under the onscreen pro­ceed­ings, includ­ing the many dis­cus­sions of feel­ings. This musi­cal under­scor­ing helped Rogers demon­strate the wide range of human emo­tions he sought to acknowl­edge and nor­mal­ize with­out con­de­scend­ing to his preschool audi­ence.

The show’s web­site prais­es Cos­ta for simul­ta­ne­ous­ly know­ing “when to stop play­ing and let the silence take over, as there were times when Fred Rogers didn’t want any­thing, even music, to dis­tract the chil­dren from con­cen­trat­ing on what he was say­ing or show­ing.”

As Cos­ta revealed:

I watch Fred, and there must be some kind of telepa­thy that we’re not aware of, because some­how I get the mes­sage to play or not to play.  I’m sure that some of it has to do with work­ing togeth­er all these years, but a lot of it is unex­plain­able.

The show afford­ed him the oppor­tu­ni­ty to play with renowned neigh­bor­hood vis­i­tors like trum­peter Wyn­ton Marsalis and croon­er Tony Ben­nett, as well as the Land of Make Believe’s pup­pets inhab­i­tants.

Which is not to say he nev­er ven­tured out­side of the neigh­bor­hood. Behold Cos­ta and “Handy­man” Joe Negri per­form­ing on 67 Melody Lane, a show geared toward adult view­ers.

Stream more of John­ny Costa’s music for Mis­ter Rogers’ Neigh­bor­hood below.

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Mis­ter Rogers Makes a List of His 10 Favorite Books

Mr. Rogers’ Nine Rules for Speak­ing to Chil­dren (1977)

The Col­ors of Mis­ter Rogers’ Hand-Knit Sweaters from 1979 to 2001: A Visu­al Graph Cre­at­ed with Data Sci­ence

Via Laugh­ing Squid

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

When The Who (Literally) Blew Up The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967

From 1967 to 1969, Tom and Dick Smoth­ers host­ed The Smoth­ers Broth­ers Com­e­dy Hour, a polite­ly edgy com­e­dy show that test­ed the bound­aries of main­stream tele­vi­sion and the patience of CBS exec­u­tives. Play­ing to a younger demo­graph­ic, the show took posi­tions against the Viet­nam War and for the Civ­il Rights Move­ment, while fea­tur­ing musi­cal acts that chal­lenged the norms of the era–everyone from Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, to the Doors and Jef­fer­son Air­plane, to Buf­fa­lo Spring­field and Simon and Gar­funkel.

Then came The Who in Sep­tem­ber 1967. Mak­ing its Amer­i­can net­work TV debut, the band picked up where they left off a few months ago at the Mon­terey Pop Fes­ti­val. They per­formed “My Gen­er­a­tion” and went into auto-destruc­tion mode, smash­ing their gui­tars, top­pling their drums, and cre­at­ing gen­er­al may­hem, before bring­ing the song to a close. But for The Smoth­ers Broth­ers Com­e­dy Hour, The Who added a spe­cial twist, pack­ing Kei­th Moon’s drum kit with explo­sives, a few too many, it turns out.

Here’s how Allan Blye, a pro­duc­er-writer for the show, remem­bers it:

The Who want­ed to do a big explo­sion at the end of their per­for­mance. In dress rehearsal, it was a pow­der puff. So, I say to the spe­cial effects guy, “We have to make a big­ger boom.” Unbe­knownst to us, The Who had told their own guy the same thing. When the explo­sion went off, it affect­ed Pete Townshend’s hear­ing per­ma­nent­ly. Kei­th Moon got blown off his drum­stand, but was too out of it to know.

Stunned yet poised, Tom Smoth­ers walked onto the stage, only to find his acoustic gui­tar snatched from his hands and smashed to smithereens too. He lat­er recalled: “Every­one was so shocked.” “When Town­shend came over and grabbed my gui­tar, I was busy just see­ing where the bod­ies were, see­ing if any­one was injured. He picked the gui­tar up, and peo­ple kept say­ing, ‘Did he real­ly ruin your gui­tar? It looked so real!’ And I’d say. ‘Well it was real! I was con­fused as hell!’ ”

The suits at CBS abrupt­ly can­celed The Smoth­ers Broth­ers Com­e­dy Hour in 1969, lead­ing the broth­ers to file a breach of con­tract law­suit, which they even­tu­al­ly won. (They dis­cuss the sting of that whole expe­ri­ence with David Let­ter­man here.)

Tom Smoth­ers died yes­ter­day at age 86, “fol­low­ing a recent bat­tle with can­cer.” His broth­er Dick announced his pass­ing, stat­ing: “Tom was not only the lov­ing old­er broth­er that every­one would want in their life, he was a one-of-a-kind cre­ative part­ner. I am for­ev­er grate­ful to have spent a life­time togeth­er with him, on and off stage, for over 60 years. Our rela­tion­ship was like a good mar­riage – the longer we were togeth­er, the more we loved and respect­ed one anoth­er. We were tru­ly blessed.” And so were the rest of us.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Watch Steve Mar­tin Make His First TV Appear­ance: The Smoth­ers Broth­ers Com­e­dy Hour (1968)

Janis Joplin & Tom Jones Bring the House Down in an Unlike­ly Duet of “Raise Your Hand” (1969)

Revis­it “Turn-On,” the Inno­v­a­tive TV Show That Got Can­celed Right in the Mid­dle of Its First Episode (1969)

Kei­th Moon, Drum­mer of The Who, Pass­es Out at 1973 Con­cert; 19-Year-Old Fan Takes Over


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Holidays Spent with the Muppets — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #164


For Pret­ty Much Pop’s annu­al hol­i­day episode, your hosts Mark Lin­sen­may­er, Lawrence Ware, Sarahlyn Bruck, and Al Bak­er talk all things Mup­pets, but in par­tic­u­lar the 1992 film The Mup­pet Christ­mas Car­ol, where­in Michael Caine gives us just as strong and seri­ous a Scrooge as you might find. What’s the appeal of this pup­pet act? Is the humor actu­al­ly sup­posed to be good, or post-fun­ny iron­ic? How do Mup­pets change the way we expe­ri­ence music?

Even though Jim Hen­son had died by the time of Christ­mas Car­ol, near­ly all the rest of the cre­ative team from The Mup­pet Movie (1979) was still in place, includ­ing scriptwriter Jer­ry Juhl and song­writer by Paul Williams. Should the prop­er­ty still exist now that a new gen­er­a­tion has large­ly tak­en over, and can it ever recap­ture that old mag­ic? We con­sid­er recent iter­a­tions includ­ing the cur­rent Mup­pet May­hem, the clas­sic movies and var­i­ous revivals, past Christ­mas spe­cials (John Den­ver! Emmet Otter!), pre-Mup­pet-Show iter­a­tions of Hen­son’s act, the Dark Crys­tal and Labyrinth films, the role of humans in Mup­pet media, the ide­ol­o­gy of Dick­ens’ sto­ry, and much more. Which Mup­pet per­son­al­i­ty type are you?

Fol­low us @law_writes, @sarahlynbruck, @ixisnox, @MarkLinsenmayer.

For some more Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life net­work hol­i­day antics, watch Mark and Bil­l’s video chit-chat for Phi­los­o­phy vs. Improv. The ghost of Pret­ty Much Pop Christ­mas past brings you episodes about Xmas songs and hol­i­day view­ing. We also men­tion our Peanuts episode.

Hear more Pret­ty Much Pop, includ­ing many recent episodes that you haven’t seen on this site. Sup­port the show and hear bonus talk­ing for this and near­ly every oth­er episode at or by choos­ing a paid sub­scrip­tion through Apple Pod­casts. This pod­cast is part of the Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life pod­cast net­work. Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast is the first pod­cast curat­ed by Open Cul­ture. Browse all Pret­ty Much Pop posts.

The Origin Story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: How a 1939 Marketing Gimmick Launched a Beloved Christmas Character

It’s time to for­get near­ly every­thing you know about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rein­deer…at least as estab­lished by the 1964 Rankin/Bass stop motion ani­mat­ed tele­vi­sion spe­cial.

You can hang onto the source of Rudolph’s shame and even­tu­al tri­umph — the glow­ing red nose that got him bounced from his play­mates’ rein­deer games before sav­ing Christ­mas.

Lose all those oth­er now-icon­ic ele­ments —  the Island of Mis­fit Toys, long-lashed love inter­est Clarice, the Abom­inable Snow Mon­ster of the North, Yukon Cor­nelius, Sam the Snow­man, and Her­mey the aspi­rant den­tist elf.

As orig­i­nal­ly con­ceived, Rudolph (run­ner up names: Rol­lo, Rod­ney, Roland, Rod­er­ick and Regi­nald) wasn’t even a res­i­dent of the North Pole.

He lived with a bunch of oth­er rein­deer in an unre­mark­able house some­where along San­ta’s deliv­ery route.

San­ta treat­ed Rudolph’s house­hold as if it were a human address, com­ing down the chim­ney with presents while the occu­pants were asleep in their beds.

To get to Rudolph’s ori­gin sto­ry we must trav­el back in time to Jan­u­ary 1939, when a Mont­gomery Ward depart­ment head was already look­ing for a nation­wide hol­i­day pro­mo­tion to draw cus­tomers to its stores dur­ing the Decem­ber hol­i­days.

He set­tled on a book to be pro­duced in house and giv­en away free of charge to any child accom­pa­ny­ing their par­ent to the store.

Copy­writer Robert L. May was charged with com­ing up with a hol­i­day nar­ra­tive star­ring an ani­mal sim­i­lar to Fer­di­nand the Bull.

After giv­ing the mat­ter some thought, May tapped Den­ver Gillen, a pal in Mont­gomery Ward’s art depart­ment, to draw his under­dog hero, an appeal­ing-look­ing young deer with a red nose big enough to guide a sleigh through thick fog.

(That schnozz is not with­out con­tro­ver­sy. Pri­or to Caitlin Flana­gan’s 2020 essay in the Atlantic chaf­ing at the tele­vi­sion spe­cial’s explic­it­ly cru­el depic­tions of oth­er­ing the odd­ball, Mont­gomery Ward fret­ted that cus­tomers would inter­pret a red nose as drunk­en­ness. In May’s telling, San­ta is so uncom­fort­able bring­ing up the true nature of the deer’s abnor­mal­i­ty, he pre­tends that Rudolph’s “won­der­ful fore­head” is the nec­es­sary head­lamp for his sleigh…)

On the strength of Gillen’s sketch­es, May was giv­en the go-ahead to write the text.

His rhyming cou­plets weren’t exact­ly the stuff of great children’s lit­er­a­ture. A sam­pling:

Twas the day before Christ­mas, and all through the hills, 

The rein­deer were play­ing, enjoy­ing the spills.

Of skat­ing and coast­ing, and climb­ing the wil­lows,

And hop­scotch and leapfrog, pro­tect­ed by pil­lows.


And San­ta was right (as he usu­al­ly is)
The fog was as thick as a soda’s white fizz


The room he came down in was black­er than ink

He went for a chair and then found it a sink!

No mat­ter.

May’s employ­er wasn’t much con­cerned with the art­ful­ness of the tale. It was far more inter­est­ed in its poten­tial as a mar­ket­ing tool.

“We believe that an exclu­sive sto­ry like this aggres­sive­ly adver­tised in our news­pa­per ads and circulars…can bring every store an incal­cu­la­ble amount of pub­lic­i­ty, and, far more impor­tant, a tremen­dous amount of Christ­mas traf­fic,” read the announce­ment that the Retail Sales Depart­ment sent to all Mont­gomery Ward retail store man­agers on Sep­tem­ber 1, 1939.

Over 800 stores opt­ed in, order­ing 2,365,016 copies at 1½¢ per unit.

Pro­mo­tion­al posters tout­ed the 32-page free­bie as “the rol­lickingest, rip-roaringest, riot-pro­vokingest,  Christ­mas give-away your town has ever seen!”

The adver­tis­ing man­ag­er of Iowa’s Clin­ton Her­ald for­mal­ly apol­o­gized for the paper’s fail­ure to cov­er the Rudolph phe­nom­e­non  — its local Mont­gomery Ward branch had opt­ed out of the pro­mo­tion and there was a sense that any sto­ry it ran might indeed cre­ate a riot on the sales floor.

His let­ter is just but one piece of Rudolph-relat­ed ephemera pre­served in a 54-page scrap­book that is now part of the Robert Lewis May Col­lec­tion at Dart­mouth, May’s alma mater.

Anoth­er page boasts a let­ter from a boy named Robert Rosen­baum, who wrote to thank Mont­gomery Ward for his copy:

I enjoyed the book very much. My sis­ter could not read it so I read it to her. The man that wrote it done bet­ter than I could in all my born days, and that’s nine years.

The mag­ic ingre­di­ent that trans­formed a mar­ket­ing scheme into an ever­green if not uni­ver­sal­ly beloved Christ­mas tra­di­tion is a song …with an unex­pect­ed side order of cor­po­rate gen­eros­i­ty.

May’s wife died of can­cer when he was work­ing on Rudolph, leav­ing him a sin­gle par­ent with a pile of med­ical bills. After Mont­gomery Ward repeat­ed the Rudolph pro­mo­tion in 1946, dis­trib­ut­ing an addi­tion­al 3,600,000 copies, its Board of Direc­tors vot­ed to ease his bur­den by grant­i­ng him the copy­right to his cre­ation.

Once he held the reins to the “most famous rein­deer of all”, May enlist­ed his song­writer broth­er-in-law, John­ny Marks, to adapt Rudolph’s sto­ry.

The sim­ple lyrics, made famous by singing cow­boy Gene Autry’s 1949 hit record­ing, pro­vid­ed May with a rev­enue stream and Rankin/Bass with a skele­tal out­line for its 1964 stop-ani­ma­tion spe­cial.

Screen­writer Romeo Muller, the dri­ving force behind the Island of Mis­fit Toys, Sam the Snow­man, Clarice, et al revealed that he would have based his tele­play on May’s orig­i­nal book, had he been able to find a copy.

Read a close-to-final draft of Robert L. May’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rein­deer, illus­trat­ed by Den­ver Gillen here.

Bonus con­tent: Max Fleischer’s ani­mat­ed Rudolph The Red-Nosed Rein­deer from 1948, which pre­serves some of May’s orig­i­nal text.

Relat­ed Con­tent

Hear Neil Gaiman Read A Christ­mas Car­ol Just Like Charles Dick­ens Read It

Hear the Christ­mas Car­ols Made by Alan Turing’s Com­put­er: Cut­ting-Edge Ver­sions of “Jin­gle Bells” and “Good King Wences­las” (1951)

Hear Paul McCartney’s Exper­i­men­tal Christ­mas Mix­tape: A Rare & For­got­ten Record­ing from 1965

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.


RIP Norman Lear: Watch Full Episodes of His Daring 70s Sitcoms, Including All in the Family, Maude, The Jeffersons, and More

On the evening of Jan­u­ary 12, 1971, CBS view­ers across the Unit­ed States sat down to a brand new sit­com pre­ced­ed by a high­ly unusu­al dis­claimer. The pro­gram they were about to see, it declared, “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.” There­after com­menced the very first episode of All in the Fam­i­ly, which would go on, over nine full sea­sons, to define Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion in the nine­teen-sev­en­ties. It did so not just by dar­ing to find com­e­dy in the issues of the day — the Viet­nam War, the gen­er­a­tion gap, wom­en’s lib, race rela­tions, homo­sex­u­al­i­ty — but also by spawn­ing a vari­ety of oth­er major sit­coms like Maude, The Jef­fer­sons, and Good Times.

Even if you did­n’t live through the sev­en­ties, you’ve prob­a­bly heard of these shows. Now you can watch full episodes on the offi­cial Youtube chan­nel of Nor­man Lear, the tele­vi­sion writer and pro­duc­er involved in the cre­ation of all of them and many oth­ers besides.

If you’ve ever seen San­ford and Son, Fer­n­wood 2 NightDif­f’rent Strokes, or One Day at a Time (or if you hap­pened to catch such short-lived obscu­ri­ties as Hang­ing In, a.k.a. Pablo, and Sun­day Din­ner), you’ve seen one of his pro­duc­tions. His death this week at the age of 101 has pro­vid­ed the occa­sion to acquaint or reac­quaint our­selves with Archie and Edith Bunker, George and Louise Jef­fer­son, Flori­da and James Evans, and all the oth­er char­ac­ters from what we might now call the “Nor­man Lear mul­ti­verse.”

The best place to start is with the pre­miere of All in the Fam­i­ly, which intro­duces the Bunker clan and the cen­tral con­flict of their house­hold: that between bois­ter­ous­ly prej­u­diced work­ing-class patri­arch Archie Bunker and his bleed­ing-heart baby-boomer son-in-law Michael “Meat­head” Stivic. Lat­er episodes intro­duce such sec­ondary char­ac­ters as Edith Bunker’s strong-willed cousin Maude Find­lay, who went on to star in her own epony­mous series the fol­low­ing year, and the Bunkers’ enter­pris­ing black next-door neigh­bors the Jef­fer­sons, who them­selves “moved on up” in 1975. (So far did the tele­vi­su­al Lear­verse even­tu­al­ly expand that Good Times and Check­ing In were built around the char­ac­ters of Maude and the Jef­fer­sons’ maids.)

An out­spo­ken pro­po­nent of lib­er­al caus­es, Lear prob­a­bly would­n’t have denied using his tele­vi­sion work to influ­ence pub­lic opin­ion on the issues that con­cerned him. Yet at their best, his shows did­n’t reduce them­selves to polit­i­cal moral­i­ty plays, show­ing an aware­ness that the Archie Bunkers of the world weren’t always in the wrong and the Meat­heads weren’t always in the right. By twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry stan­dards, the jokes volleyed back and forth in All in the Fam­i­ly or The Jef­fer­sons may seem blunt, not least when they employ terms now regard­ed as unspeak­able on main­stream tele­vi­sion. But they also have the forth­right­ness to go wher­ev­er the humor of the sit­u­a­tion — that is to say, the truth of the sit­u­a­tion — dic­tates, an uncom­mon qual­i­ty among even the most acclaimed come­dies this half-cen­tu­ry lat­er. Watch com­plete episodes of Nor­man Lear shows here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Revis­it “Turn-On,” the Inno­v­a­tive TV Show That Got Can­celed Right in the Mid­dle of Its First Episode (1969)

Watch Mad Magazine’s Edgy, Nev­er-Aired TV Spe­cial (1974)

Watch Between Time and Tim­buk­tu, an Obscure TV Gem Based on the Work of Kurt Von­negut

Watch the Open­ing Cred­its of an Imag­i­nary 70s Cop Show Star­ring Samuel Beck­ett

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Watch David Bowie Perform “Starman” on Top of the Pops: Voted the Greatest Music Performance Ever on the BBC (1972)

The Bea­t­les were made for black-and-white tele­vi­sion, as evi­denced by the imme­di­a­cy with which their 1964 per­for­mance on The Ed Sul­li­van Show launched them into per­ma­nent inter­na­tion­al super­star­dom. Though only a few years younger than the Fab Four, their coun­try­man David Bowie arose in a dif­fer­ent era: that of col­or tele­vi­sion, with its vast­ly expand­ed aes­thet­ic range. Bowie is known to have car­ried him­self as if his own inter­na­tion­al super­star­dom was guar­an­teed, even dur­ing his ear­ly years of strug­gle. But it was only when he took full, lurid advan­tage of the tech­no­log­i­cal­ly-expand­ed son­ic and visu­al palettes avail­able to him that he tru­ly became an icon.

“It’s decep­tive­ly easy to for­get that in the sum­mer of 1972 David Bowie was still yesterday’s news to the aver­age Top of the Pops view­er, a one-hit won­der who’d had a nov­el­ty sin­gle about an astro­naut at the end of the pre­vi­ous decade,” writes Nicholas Pegg in The Com­plete David Bowie. But his tak­ing the stage of that BBC pop-musi­cal insti­tu­tion “in a rain­bow jump­suit and shock­ing red hair put paid to that for­ev­er. Hav­ing made no com­mer­cial impact in the two months since its release, ‘Star­man’ stormed up the chart.” As with “Space Odd­i­ty,” “the sub­text is all: this is less a sci­ence-fic­tion sto­ry than a self-aggran­diz­ing announce­ment that there’s a new star in town.”

“It is hard to recon­struct the drab­ness, the visu­al deple­tion of Britain in 1972, which fil­tered into the music papers to form the grey and grub­by back­drop to Bowie’s phys­i­cal and sar­to­r­i­al splen­dor,” writes Simon Reynolds in Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Lega­cy, from the Sev­en­ties to the Twen­ty-first Cen­tu­ry. But to under­stand the impact and mean­ing of Bowie — and in par­tic­u­lar, Bowie of the Zig­gy Star­dust era that had only just begun — we must imag­ine the sheer exhil­a­ra­tion of new pos­si­bil­i­ty a young, artis­ti­cal­ly inclined Top of the Pops view­er must have felt as Bowie-as-Zig­gy and the Spi­ders from Mars over­took their tele­vi­sion sets for “Star­man“ ‘s three min­utes and 55 sec­onds.

“No mat­ter how weird and alien you felt, you couldn’t have been as weird and alien as David Bowie and his band­mates looked,” writes the Guardian’s Alex­is Petridis. The occa­sion is that paper’s new list of the 100 great­est BBC music per­for­mances, whose range includes Bob Dylan, Prince, the Pix­ies, Talk­ing Heads, Pat­ti Smith, and Dizzy Gille­spie. But the top spot goes to Bowie’s 1972 Top of the Pops gig, due not least to the fact that “umpteen view­ers have tes­ti­fied to the life-chang­ing, he’s‑talking-to-me effect of the moment when Bowie points down the cam­era as he sings the line ‘I had to phone some­one so I picked on you.’ ” CNN’s Todd Leopold likens the Bea­t­les to “aliens dropped into the Unit­ed States of 1964,” but as Bowie would vivid­ly demon­strate eight years lat­er, the real inva­sion from out­er space was yet to come.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Zig­gy Star­dust Turns 50: Cel­e­brate David Bowie’s Sig­na­ture Char­ac­ter with a New­ly Released Ver­sion of “Star­man”

8 Hours of David Bowie’s His­toric 1980 Floor Show: Com­plete & Uncut Footage

How David Bowie Turned His “Ade­quate” Voice into a Pow­er­ful Instru­ment: Hear Iso­lat­ed Vocal Tracks from “Life on Mars,” “Star­man,” “Mod­ern Love” “Under Pres­sure” & More

What Hap­pens When Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Cre­ates Images to Match the Lyrics of Icon­ic Songs: David Bowie’s “Star­man,” Led Zeppelin’s “Stair­way to Heav­en”, ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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