All in the Family paved the way for M*A*S*H
All in the Family built the car, and M*A*S*H drove it down the road.
Although it was based on a previous series, All in the Family became a trailblazer on television for its colossal risks and its covering of controversial topics. The series opened the door for other television programs to begin using their platforms to discuss bigger and bigger issues, even if they didn’t realize it. Still, in the beginning, getting the show to air was very touch and go.
One of the biggest problems with a show that’s the first of its kind is that you have nothing previous to compare it to prove that it has the potential for success. Of the show and the precedent it set, creator Norman Lear said it best: “That’s all they [CBS] worried about. It’s as simple as ‘We don’t know if this works.’ We know the Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction, we know that works. We don’t know if this works.”
Still, All in the Family dutifully persevered to production, in part due to the effort of Robert Wood, president of CBS. In Ronald Brownstein's book Rock Me On The Water, James Rosenfield, who later served as CBS network president said, “He didn’t know Norman Lear, but he understood that there was an opportunity here for significant change in the medium, and he made it happen.” These endeavors, coupled with the efforts of Fred Silverman and Norman Lear, ensured that All in the Family made it to air, and the quality of the show ensured that it was an absolute hit.
Because of this success, it became easier for additional, more controversial shows to make it on the air successfully. From the beginning, creators Reynolds and Gelbart made a concentrated effort to create a comedic show out of M*A*S*H but to ensure that comedy was fused with a serious tone that worked not to trivialize war.
However, this was easier than it could have been because CBS had a show like All in the Family to look to prove that a show that pushed the envelope was likely to succeed. In Sally Bedell's book, Up The Tube: Prime-Time TV In the Silverman Years, Jack Schneider, a senior CBS executive, said of the experience, “Once we had digested All in the Family, nothing else was an issue.”
Both shows went on to become wildly successful, and have earned well-loved places in the hearts of an audience.