What’s Worth Watching: Star Gazing With a TV Visionary

Startalk with Norman Lear
NG Studios

StarTalk, “Norman Lear” (Monday, June 22, 11/10c, National Geographic Channel)

Describing his show as a forum “where science and pop culture collide,” Neil DeGrasse Tyson concludes his first season of the televised StarTalk (inspired by his podcast) with excerpts of his interview, conducted in the renowned astrophysicist’s office, with TV legend Norman Lear. “All 92 years of him,” Tyson can’t keep himself from gushing to his studio guests, comedian Chuck Nice and author Saul Austerlitz (Sitcom), who also revere Lear’s revolutionary impact on the TV sitcom, with such 1970s breakthroughs as All in the Family, Maude and Good Times.

Lear is at his self-effacing best in what we see of the interview. When Tyson remarks, “You’ve seen everything,” Lear quips back, “But know so little.” Which obviously isn’t true, and he’s especially illuminating when talking of mining “the humor in the human condition” in his renowned comedies. Example: Family‘s Edith Bunker dealing with breast cancer or Maude considering an abortion, the latter the sort of third-rail topic you’d be unlikely to find in any contemporary TV comedy. “There is not hilarity to be had there,” Lear explains, “But there is amusement and laughs. Those laughs are heartier and warmer because the audience cares a great deal about the outcome.” A little more Lear and a little less commentary would make this hour of chat even more compelling, but if you desire more of the comedy master’s wit and wisdom, get Lear’s wonderful memoir Even This I Get to Experience. It’s almost as good as his shows.