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An interview with television producer Norman Lear appeared on TED earlier this year.

In it Lear speaks about how he discovered what he calls “the foolishness of the human condition” and how it led him through his outstanding television programming career.

One of the reasons his shows of decades past were so popular is because they gave a voice to underrepresented segments of society of the time. Those people were his audience ‒ think: All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Maude, The Jeffersons ‒ and the shows had a profound influence on many. Lear cites one young man who learned from watching George Jefferson on The Jeffersons that it was actually possible for a black man to write a cheque.

Although the sitcoms’ stereotypical Jewish mother was based on his own mother, his childhood history was not a happy one. His mother is described as someone for whom Lear was never good enough. It was also during his childhood that he learned that there were people in the world that hated him because he was born to Jewish parents. These things, along with an absentee father, Lear believes were influential in his later years during his search for a voice that would be listened to.

But the most important seed was planted on the day that nine-year-old Lear was crying while his father was being carted off to jail and another man put’s his hand on Lear’s shoulder and said, “You’re the man of the house now, and men of the house don’t cry.”

“I think that was the moment,” says Lear, “that I began to understand the foolishness of the human condition,” which became the springboard to his soaring career, giving voices to those who had none.

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