Norman Lear made his ''All in the Family'' writers read newspapers to keep up with current events for the show
"It didn't take a lot of imagination. It just took looking around."
One of the best parts about television is that it holds a mirror up to reality and forces us to take a long hard look at ourselves and reckon with what we see. When All in the Family first aired, the expectation for shock and scandal was so expected that CBS added extra telephone operators under the impression that they would get an influx of calls from upset viewers watching the episode. But while startling, it's important to understand that the series wasn't operating from the absurd; While there was only one Archie Bunker on television, countless Archie Bunkers were walking around in the real world.
According to Archie & Edith, Mike & Gloria: The Tumultuous History of All in the Family by Donna McCrohan, the writing of All in the Family was more of a collective effort than other television shows airing at the time. Michael Ross, who worked as a story editor on the show, said, "Most situation comedies in Hollywood are 10-to-5 jobs for the writers. But on All in the Family, there is a kind of community effort. Everybody stays with it until the final moment."
Bernie West, fellow writer, also confirmed that in a show like All in the Family, the writers were granted leniency in terms of what topics were approved to write about. He said, "When you hear about other shows not being able to say this or that, it's nice to be with a show where we can be as free as we are. I'm not just talking about profanity either. It's the topics, the treatments, and the latitude we have to make things as funny and as true to life as possible. Other shows have problems."
However, the writers also looked at current events to find possible material. In Rock Me On The Water by Ronald Brownstein, Lear stated that he made it a requirement among his staff writers to keep up with the news and current events. He said, "We had the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times in the office, so anybody who missed something could read it."
Moreover, to ensure that they were writing faithfully and honestly, Lear also brought in experts on particularly sensitive issues to speak with the writer when those topics were to be covered in an upcoming episode. Lear noted, "It didn't take a lot of imagination. It just took looking around."