Viewers unaware of Jimmy Kimmel’s live TV stunt on Wednesday no doubt wondered if their televisions had somehow time-travelled back to the 1970s when they witnessed new versions of the Bunkers and the Jeffersons in a one-time-only recreation of vintage sitcom hits “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons”.
The brainchild of Kimmel and pal Justin Theroux garnered the cooperation of the sitcom’s creator, Norman Lear, and lured an A-list roster of talent, headed by Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei as Archie and Edith Bunker, and Jamie Foxx and Wanda Sykes as George and Louise “Weezy” Jefferson.
Other cast members included Ike Barinholtz and Ellie Kemper as Mike “Meathead” Stivic and wife Gloria, Sean Hayes as neighbour Mr. Lorenzo, Anthony Anderson as George’s brother, Henry, Will Ferrell and Kerry Washington as the Jeffersons’ neighbours, George and Helen Willis with Marla Gibbs making a surprise cameo as Florence, while Jennifer Hudson delivered a scorching version of the “Jeffersons” theme song.
Using actual scripts from the original shows, Archie’s racist language was not dulled for this far more PC era, and his use of offensive racist slurs proved to be jarring (some particularly egregious words were bleeped for TV viewers).
At a dress rehearsal prior to the live broadcast, reports Variety, Kimmel honoured Lear, while warning the studio audience that they’d be hearing words that hadn’t been aired on broadcast television for decades.
“[Lear] did so much for freedom of speech and inclusivity. We’d be way behind without him,” Kimmel told the audience.
“Some of the jokes are going to be shocking to you,” he warned, jokingly pointing out that while certain language is unacceptable on TV, “now you can have dragons burning naked women at the stakes.”
Lear himself spoke to viewers in a pre-taped segment that ran before the broadcast, with the TV icon pointing out that “people weren’t used to TV shows dealing with issues,” and that “the language can still be jarring today.”
His hope in revisiting his iconic shows so many years later, Lear said, is to “make you laugh, provoke discussion, and encourage action… there’s still so much work to do.”
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