How the All in the Family Pilot Episodes Were Recovered

As of today, for the very first time fans can watch both All in the Family pilot episodes from the late 1960s. They’ve been released on DVD as part of the Norman Lear TV Collection. I’ve wanted to write something about these pilots for a long time and now seems like the perfect time. I hope to clear up any confusion about the number of pilots produced for what eventually became All in the Family. None are lost.

All in the Family was an adaptation of a British sitcom called Till Death Us Do Part, created by Johnny Speight. The series ran from 1966 to 1968 and then from 1972 to 1975, along with several special episodes. Till Death Us Do Part starred Warren Mitchell as Alf Garnett, a working class man living in the East End of England. Alf was very much a racist and a bigot. Dandy Nichols and Una Stubbs played Else and Rita, Alf’s wife and daughter, respectively, while Anthony Booth played Mike, Rita’s husband, whom Alf detested.

That certainly sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Regrettably, many episodes of Till Death Us Do Part produced from 1966 to 1968 (when the show was in black and white) no longer exist. But viewers liked what they saw and so, too, did television producer Norman Lear. In an August 15th, 1968 article in The Los Angeles Times, Dean Gysel reported that Lear had purchased the rights to Till Death Us Do Part and would be producing a pilot episode for ABC and noted that the series would be “modified for an American audience” [1].

In the article, Leonard Goldberg (ABC’s vice president of programming) states the following: “We’re not looking for a sensationalized show to get a rating. We want something contemporary in nature. That’s why we plan to tape the show one week ahead, rather than film the series” [2]. According to Gysel, should the pilot be picked up it could be on the air as a mid-season replacement in January of 1969.

The pilot was listed in a November 4th, 1968 Broadcasting article about the 1969-1970 season as one of ABC’s committed pilots with the title “Justice for All” (formerly “‘Till Death Do Us Part”) and Carroll O’Connor attached to star [3]. I don’t know exactly when this pilot was filmed. UCLA’s Film and Television Archive indicates it was produced in 1968. Along with Carroll O’Connor (whose character was named Archie Justice), the cast of the pilot included Jean Stapleton as Edith Justice, Kelly Jean Peters as Gloria, Tim McIntire as Richard (Gloria’s husband) and D’Urville Martin as Lionel.

According to a November 4th, 1970 article in The Los Angeles Times, “Justice for All” was submitted to ABC at just the wrong time, according to Norman Lear: “Our timing was bad. We turned it in right after ABC had turned off Turn-On” [4]. Turn-On was broadcast for the first and last time on February 5th, 1969. So the pilot was presumably filmed in late 1968.

ABC turned down “Justice for All” but was confident enough in the concept (or perhaps in Norman Lear) to order a second pilot, this one called “Those Were the Days.” UCLA states that this pilot was filmed on February 16th, 1969. That seems like an awfully quick turnaround from the rejection of the first pilot to the filming of the second. In Allan Neuwirth’s They’ll Never Put That On the Air, interviews with Fred Silverman and Leonard Goldberg suggest that the second pilot arrived at ABC around the time of Turn-On, prompting the network to drop the whole thing for good [5]

In any event, “Those Were the Days” once again starred Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton as Archie and Edith (I believe the last name was still Justice at this point) and D’Urville Martin was back as Lionel. Kelly Jean Roberts and Tim McIntire were replaced by Candy Azzara as Gloria and Chip Oliver as her husband, now named Dickie. ABC passed on the second pilot and the series entirely. United Artists expressed interest in a feature film version [6].

And then, sometime in 1970, Mike Dann (CBS vice-president of programming) was shown the second pilot. In They’ll Never Put That On the Air Dann calls the pilot “the goddamnest thing I ever saw” [7]. He showed it to other executives, Norman Lear was contacted and CBS ordered thirteen episodes. No new pilot. The premiere episode broadcast on Tuesday, January 12th, 1971 was a reworked version of the previous two pilots, with O’Connoll and Stapleton reprising their roles. Sally Struthers and Rob Reiner joined the cast as Michael and Gloria Stivic.

Norman Lear screened one of the pilots (presumably “These Were the Days”) on March 6th, 1987 as part of the Museum of Broadcasting’s (later the Museum of Television & Radio and currently the Paley Center for Media) 4th annual Television Festival [8]. In June of that year the Museum released a list of its “most wanted” lost television programs. Included were unaired pilot episodes for I Love Lucy and All in the Family [9].

The Museum ran full page ads in several industry magazines (including Electronic Media and Broadcasting) asking for help in finding these missing shows. One was for the first All in the Family pilot. The ad called the pilot “Meet the Justices” and stated that it was taped in January of 1969; anyone who had seen it was asked to contact the Museum [10].

How long “Justice for All” was actually “lost” is debatable. According to Dan Einstein, Television Archivist at UCLA’s Film and Television Archive, “Those Were the Days” came to the institution around 1994, “Justice for All” a few years later. But an April 7th, 1996 article in The New York Daily News again listed “Justice for All” as one of the Museum of Television & Radio’s most-wanted lost programs (it also stated that there were three pilots) [11].

TV Land aired “Those Were the Days” for the first time on Saturday, October 17th, 1998 followed by “Meet the Bunkers,” the first episode of All in the Family. And now, after some forty years, fans of the sitcom can watch both unaired pilots and see for themselves how the series evolved.

Works Cited:

1 Gysel, Dean. “Looking Ahead: ABC to Make Bold Move.” Los Angeles Times. 15 Aug. 1968: E29.
2 Ibid.
3 “Network Program Development for 1969-1970.” Broadcasting. 4 Nov. 1968: 43.
4 Smith, Cecil. “Yorkin, Lear Set to Go With Show.” Los Angeles Times. 4 Nov. 1970: I19.
5 Neuwirth, Allan. They’ll Never Put That On the Air: An Oral History of Taboo-Breaking TV Comedy. New York: Allworth Press, 2006. 132.
6 Smith, Cecil. “Yorkin, Lear Set to Go With Show.”
7 Neuwirth, Allan. They’ll Never Put That On the Air: An Oral History of Taboo-Breaking TV Comedy. Page 133.
8 Champlin, Charles. “Sharing the Riches of TV.” Los Angeles Times. 14 Feb. 1987: 1.
9 Goldman, John J. “Elusive Shows Make ‘Most Wanted’ List.” Los Angeles Times. 26 Jun. 1987: 23.
10 Colford, Paul D. “In Search of TV’s Origins.” Newsday. 5 Aug. 1987: 03.
11 Harney, John. “Treasures of the Video Vaults.” New York Daily News. 7 Apr. 1996: 15.

9 Comments

  • Mike Doran says:

    Carroll O’Connor’s memoir “I Think I’m Outta Here” identifies the actress who played Gloria in the first pilot as Kelly Jean Peters. Unless i’m mistaken, she was the offscreen wife of Tim McIntire.

  • RGJ says:

    You are correct. I had the wrong last name.

  • C.M. Griffin says:

    For years I had heard that there was a pilot for All in the Family with Mickey Rooney as Archie? Is this an urban myth, or was it one of those situations where it was written as such, but O’Conner was the one they chose?

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    Mickey Rooney had been CONSIDERED for the role of “Archie”, but vehemently turned down an offer to appear in the pilot, warning the network they were asking for trouble if they produced it (he just didn’t care for the show’s “controversial” tone). Jackie Gleason was also mentioned as a potential star, but he didn’t want to commit himself to appearing in a weekly situation comedy.

  • RGJ says:

    Can you imagine Mickey Rooney as Archie? That would have been a phenomenal miscalculation on the part of Norman Lear.

  • Dee says:

    There were at least 17 pilots and 4 lost episodes of All in the Family, Sally Struthers said in a Television interview . She said that “most of the pilots and the 4 lost episodes were shot with Irene Ryan as Edith”.

  • John says:

    I heard that Harrison Ford was considered for the role of Michael Stivic, but I think that he turned it down.

  • blaine says:

    gleason would have done an excellent job as archie bunker, I think – but o’connor really made that character his own.

    And, yes, I just can’t see mickey rooney as archie; it was a blessing in disguise when he turned the part down

  • JR Herbaugh says:

    In his introduction to the TV Land presentation of “Those Were the Days,” in 1998, the Museum of Television & Radio, Robert M. Batscha, states:

    “It was actually preceded by an earlier pilot from 1968, entitled Justice for All. The whereabouts of that pilot is still unknown.”

    I’ll hazard a guess that it was found when studios started combing their archives for DVD releases.

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