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Norman Lear’s groundbreaking ‘Maude’ abortion episode also caused division in his household

The legendary producer looks back at some of his most seminal sitcom moments in the ABC special, Norman Lear: 100 Years of Music and Laughter.

Legendary producer Norman Lear’s groundbreaking abortion episode of Maude also caused disagreement in his own household.

In his star-studded birthday special Norman Lear: 100 Years of Music and Laughter, the TV tour de force looks back at his storied life and career, one responsible for some of the most seminal sitcom moments, including the then-controversial two-part Maude episode in 1972. CBS, Lear reveals, wasn’t the only opposing force to the storyline: one of his daughters “disagrees with every bit of that.”

Snippets of season 1’s “Maude’s Dilemma” — wherein Bea Arthur’s headstrong Maude and husband Walter (Bill Macy) make the decision to not proceed with a pregnancy — are played on a screen in front of Lear, who is joined by Jimmy Kimmel, Amy Poehler, Octavia Spencer, and Jennifer Aniston at a dining table, cocktails and glasses of wine in tow. “For you, Maude, for me, in the privacy of our own lives, we’re doing the right thing,” Macy’s Walter says in the scene.


Bea Arthur and Bill Macy in ‘Maude’

| Credit: CBS via Getty Images

After the scene fades to black, Lear tells Kimmel and co., “I have a glorious daughter who disagrees with every bit of that. This is a glorious young woman in thousands of ways, but she will disagree about that loud and clear.”

“Well, Norman, that’s what was so special about your work,” Poehler notes in response. “We watched it with people in our living rooms who were on a completely different journey than we were, and we all watched it together.” Aniston agrees, adding that “it sparked a conversation — a good one.”

Lear says CBS fought hard against the episode, but he never wavered — and even threatened to quit a few times. He also, as Kimmel notes, became the target of religious groups at the time. The late pastor Jerry Falwell called him the “No. 1 enemy of America.” Lear quips to Kimmel, “How could you not be proud of that?” (“Better than No. 2,” Poehler says.)


Octavia Spencer, Jimmy Kimmel, Jennifer Aniston, and Amy Poehler in ‘Norman Lear: 100 Years of Music and Laughter’

| Credit: ABC/Eric McCandless

“I was deeply concerned with Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, [who] were proliferating on the tube and radio and so forth, claiming you were a good or a bad Christian depending on your political view,” Lear says, later noting, “That’s not the American way.”

Lear’s resolve to tell human stories has inspired many who have come after him, as is reiterated many times by peers throughout the broadcast. “[Lear] threatened to quit countless jobs because at the end, it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about telling important stories no matter what it’s about,” Kenya Barris says in the special. “About tackling things everyones talking about, or afraid to talk about.”

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