Norman Lear keeps working ‘One Day at a Time’

Norman Lear (Rich Polk/Getty Images/TNS)
Norman Lear (Rich Polk/Getty Images/TNS)

Norman Lear is proof giants come in all sizes. The quiet man behind some of television’s biggest TV series is seated at a table near the wall of the room where Netflix is hosting a party in connection with the debut third season of “One Day at a Time,” which is streaming now. Along with both incarnations of “One Day at a Time,” Lear’s producing credits include “Good Times,” “Maude,” “Sanford and Son” and “All in the Family.” 

This version of “One Day at a Time” features a newly single Latina mother (Justina Machado) who raises her teen daughter and tween son with some assistance from her old-school mom (Rita Moreno).

One trademark of a Lear production is tackling serious issues. In the new “One Day at a Time,” Machado plays an Army veteran who has had to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. The show has also dealt with immigration, bigotry, homophobia, mental illness and what it means to be Latino and living in the United States.

Such topics are a lot easier to broach via streaming services and premium cable channels. Lear, 96, spent decades battling the networks’ censors. But if streaming services had been around when he was changing television in the ’70s and ’80s, he still would have opted to go the network route.

“The reason I would not have gone streaming has nothing to do with people,” Lear says. “It has to do with the system. I wanted to be topical. It’s impossible to be current and topical when you are streaming.”

Many programs provided through a streaming service like Netflix make it so the full season is finished before the launch date. That makes it possible for those who want to watch an entire 13-episode season in one sitting do so. To accomplish that, shows are written and produced as much as six months before the season opening date.

Lear, one of the writers on the current “One Day at a Time,” points out that such a long lag time eliminates being able to comment on current events. The show looks at more aspects of human nature as those tend to be evergreen.

“We look at the relationship between parents and children, grandparents and children. We look at what is happening in schools,” Lear says. “There are some things that live forever and so we deal with that in the show.

“The granddaughter came out last year and we are dealing with that this season.”

While Lear is proud of his contribution to pushing the envelope, the bottom line in every series he has worked on since “The Martha Raye Show” in 1954 is the programming has to be entertaining.

Moreno loves that at age 87 she’s working as much as she ever has and is especially proud of being part of the show. A huge part of that pride comes from getting to work with someone like Lear.

“I respect and admire him and (am) privileged to be in this circumstance,” Moreno says.

The Netflix series was co-created by Mike Royce and Gloria Calderon Kellett based on Lear’s series that aired from 1975-1984. Lear had never thought about making a new version of any of his past series but jumped at the chance to make a new “One Day at a Time” when Royce and Kellett pitched the idea of focusing on a Latino family.

“It’s a great privilege to be me in the culture of this particular show. A great privilege because I walk into a room after a great group have sat around a table for several days and worked out a story. And I inherit the story along with an audience and have occasionally something to add to it or something to say about it. It’s a brand-new role for me. I’ve never had this role before. So at 96, a new role is a good idea,” Lear says.

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