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Live in Front of a Studio Audience – Archie Bunker & Jeffersons

(WWETV Network) Of course yours truly, Venom, had to give you the ultimate Throwback reaction to the special event honoring television history. The cast pulled off an epic live performance of classic episodes of the legendary television shows “All In The Family” & “The Jeffersons”. The show started off with the creator of the programs, the incomparable Norman Lear. Jimmy Kimmel did the introductions for what became a historic night of television

The experiment went well as Live in Front of a Studio Audience recreated two episodes from All in the Family and The Jeffersons. The two episodes included season 4 for All In The Family entitled “Henry’s Farewell” that became the debut of George Jefferson.

One of American television’s first African American entrepreneurs would remain on the show until The Jeffersons launched in 1975. It was only natural for the episode to air on Live in Front of a Studio Audience would be the pilot episode which gave us a pleasant surprise from an original cast member.

Marla Gibbs made an appearance to the delight of the live audience and shocking television viewers. It was Florence playing Florence in a nice tip of the hat to the original cast. Justina Machado (One Day at a Time) was originally announced as Florence Johnston — but at the dress rehearsal on Tuesday, Machado was nowhere in sight. The scripts remained intact as promised by the two shows brainchild Norman Lear.

“We’re not updating anything. They are word for word. The lesson or message in that is human nature doesn’t change. All of the problems that Archie and Jefferson face are clearly here today. Nothing has been totally resolved. There isn’t any subject we did through all those years that we couldn’t do again today.”

Norman Lear – Entertainment Weekly

Archie Bunker’s famous chair also made it onto the re-enactment. The piece of television history was on loan from the Smithsonian as announced to the dress rehearsal crowd by Jimmy Kimmel.

Another piece of television history was the interaction between Marla Gibbs and Jackee. 80’s fans of comedy would know the two were sparring partners on the classic show 227. Gibbs played the homemaker Mary and Jackee was the sexpot Sandra Clark.

The twitter-verse showed their appreciation for the re-creation and for the cast who delivered the goods on iconic characters.

The above tweets illustrate just how groundbreaking and shocking the original format was as the show ran with a warning before each broadcast during the 1970’s. ABC News documents it in the video below.

Helen and Tom

LIVE IN FRONT OF A STUDIO AUDIENCE: NORMAN LEAR’S ‘ALL IN THE FAMILY’ AND ‘THE JEFFERSONS’ – ABC’s late-night host Jimmy Kimmel presents a live, 90-minute prime-time event in tribute to classic television sitcoms. “Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s ‘All in the Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons'” teams Kimmel with television icon Norman Lear and executive producers Brent Miller, Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Justin Theroux. This special, airing live WEDNESDAY, MAY 22 (8:00-9:33 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network, will take viewers down memory lane, recreating an original episode from each of the Emmy(r) Award-winning series “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons.” This legendary night of television will be hosted by Lear and Kimmel, and directed by 10-time Emmy winner James Burrows. (Eric McCandless via Getty Images) WILL FERRELL, KERRY WASHINGTON

In the original, Tom and Helen Willis were groundbreaking characters that dealt with the issue of interracial marriage. In this particular episode it deals with the difficult ramifications of society’s stereotypes and epithets and how it would affect an interracial couple. It’s pretty heavy stuff especially for a pilot episode.

Kerry Washington took on the role of Helen Willis to perfection and played it as if she stepped off the screen of her own classic television series “Scandal” where she played the role of an interracial relationship as well. In the mini documentary after the live broadcast, Washington made note that the characters of Tom and Helen Willis helped pave the way for Olivia Pope and the President Fitz. Will Ferrell took on the role of Tom Willis with his own take of the iconic figure. Ferrell’s version I was not a fan of, but he put his on twist to it.

Momma Jefferson

Mother Jefferson

The mother of George Jefferson, was the original queen of shade on television. She was best known for her one line zingers, but she also broke ground and changed the image of elderly African American women. She let it be known she was no “Mammy” with the iconic Archie Bunker. That would set the tone for the rest of the series run. Fran Bennett played the role and was solid, but it was huge shoes to fill trying to top Zara Cully who portrayed perhaps the GOAT of mother in law characters in television history.

Marla Gibbs As Florence Johnston

Speaking of iconic characters in television history, it made complete irony that Marla Gibbs made a shocking return on “Live In Front Of A Studio Audience” as her legendary character Florence Johnston. Marla Gibbs was not as snappy as the original incarnation, but being a legendary entertainer rose to to occasion to recite her classic lines with timing.

Marisa Tomei as Edith & Woody Harrelson as Archie Bunker

Edith Bunker was iconic for her quirks and timing. Tomei hit home these points as the show progressed. The character is not an easy one to pull off, if an actor has to mimic Jean Stapleton. She was probably one of the only actors who had it down pact who tried to follow the character to a tee. This was something that Jamie Foxx tried to do.

Woody Harrelson also followed this route and at times was brilliant, but especially at the beginning portion of the show came off as if he was trying to imitate Carol O’Connor in a spoof instead of being the character. All in all, Harrelson who also comes from classic sitcom history on Cheers did his part to entertain on this historic night.

Jamie Foxx as George Jefferson

There were moments when Jamie Foxx hit it on the nail portraying Sherman Helmsley’s mannerisms, but there were moments when he became too campy as well. This was sort of expected as Foxx originally comes from the comedic realm as he also comes from a classic show “In Living Color”. Foxx was also comfortable with the live stage aspect since he did this weekly on the sitcom Roc in the 90’s.

I wouldn’t be surprised if that “mistake” was not planned to give the presentation a quirky moment to illustrate that the show was done live on television unlike the majority of television shows today.

The Venom Reaction

The shows were well done for the most part and perhaps keeping to the original script was an easy way out of offending people or upsetting the fans of the show. It is always hard to replicate historic characters on television since the shows still air on reruns for people to remember exactly how the characters were portrayed.

Doing a complete revamp on the other hand could have given the shows new life and brought it up to speed of a newer generation that never got to see the original run of these shows. However, in also going that route the actors and producers would run the risk of ruining the nostalgic nature of the show which this was really about when it comes to the bottom line.

The shows were successful enough where I could see Jimmy Kimmel and ABC going back to this well once in a while. What would Venom like to see portrayed again? Maybe Good Times and Sanford & Son from the Norman Lear pantheon would be another good fit, but more likely it would be Maude which caused the spin-off series that featured Florida Evans.

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