TV Producer Lear Comes to Harvard
Sees Little Innovation in Programming
Norman Lear, the acclaimed producer known for his immensely successful television shows, concluded a two-day visit to Harvard yesterday, saying, "It's invigorating to be around young people with incredible minds and a thirst for curiosity and knowledge."
Lear's visit, sponsored by the Learning from Performers program of the Office for the Arts, included dinner and a discussion session at Eliot House Thursday night, meetings with faculty members, and a symposium on the future of television programming.
"Each of us should have the experience to answer questions about himself for one day." Leer said at a press conference prior to yesterday's symposium. "Answering those questions reminds me of attitudes and ideas I've long forgotten," he added.
Lear developed several situation comedies in the 1970s--including "All in the family" and "Maude"--which met with great critical and commercial success. His shows dealt with issues previously unmentioned on prime-time television, such as racism, and homosexuality.
Describing his choice of subject matter, Lear said that he simply aimed to entertain the largest possible audience by writing about topics that interested him. "Audiences do laugh the hardest when they care, and when they care, they'll also cry," he said.
At a packed Agassiz Theater, Lear addressed a crowd of about 250 on the symposium topic, "Survive or Thrive: Can Quality Find Success in Television." Joining Lear were several prominent drama experts, including Robert S. Brustein, professor of En- glish and director of the Loeb Drama Center.
"The name of the game is television is to rate better than the other two networks, to succeed too quickly for innovation. The climate has grown more severe year by year," Lear explained, adding that he does not foresee an improvement in programming quality in the near future.
"I see a fixation on short-term, bottom line thinking across the breadth of America," Lear said. "The greatest societal disease of our time is we seem to think that if you're not a winner, you're a total loser. I despair that we won't see a change in TV until, as a nation, we deal with this short term fixation."
Brustein questioned whether network television will improve, asking, "Does the answer lie in public television or should we seek a new alternative?"
Students at the symposium generally agreed with Lear's assessment, but said that he failed to provide realistic solutions to the dilemma of television quality.
"Lear hates what's happening in TV, but he's being very diplomatic in saying that society must first change," Thomas D. Greenwald '84 said Carrie M. Weiner '86 was more critical of Lear, saying. "I would think that someone who made 'All in the Family would be indignant or at least somewhat dismayed at what has happened to television.
Since its start in 1975, the Learning From Performers program has brought a range of artistic luminaries 'o Harvard, including playwright Arthur Miller, actor Robert Redford, and classical cellist Mstislav Rostropovich