In February 1969 I was assigned to be associate director on an ABC pilot produced by Norman..
Lear. It was a situation comedy titled, THOSE WERE THE DAYS. When I read the script I said to myself, "This Is the funniest script I have ever read! There is no way this show will ever get on the air." I knew that broadcast standards would never accept any part of the references to racism, antisemitism, infidelity, homosexuality, women's liberation, rape, religion, miscarriages, abortion, breast cancer, the Vietnam War, menopause, and impotence. My God, they wouldn't even allow shots of a woman's navel. I had worked on a Dick Clark production called WHERE THE ACTION IS that was shot at the beach. Although all the girls wore bikinis you never saw a navel because broadcast standards wouldn't allow it.
It was a strange scene: dozens of pretty young girls at the beach, wearing bikinis, with bath towels around their middles, watching rock 'n' roll icons, Paul Revere and the Raiders, perform or talk to them. It always seemed to me that broadcast standards had drawn more attention to the female navel by insisting on the bath towels. The cover up created more mystery and was more enticing.
THOSE WERE THE DAYS was the second ABC-TV pilot of the show. The first one had been previously shot in New York. The purpose of this pilot was to audition actors for to play the parts of Gloria and the Meathead. Carol O'Connor played Archie and Jean Stapleton played Gloria. Bud Yorkin was the director and we shot the show with television cameras. I loved working with Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin. Bud allowed me to create the shots in the script while he worked with the actors on the floor. The show was to be performed in front of a live audience. This was a departure from how all previous situation comedies had been produced. Without exception they were filmed with a single movie camera and there was no live television audience. Instead, all of the audience reaction was created from a laugh track. As I had predicted, THOSE WERE THE DAYS did not make it on the air at ABC TV and the show was sold to CBS where it was re-titled ALL IN THE FAMILY and where it experienced incredible success. Even today it stands alone as the best sitcom ever!
I often think about that pilot and the wonderful people I worked with. One of the interesting things that happened during the pilot was when the casting director came up to me and asked, "Would you be interested in trying out for the part of the meathead?" I was stunned and a bit flattered that she would even think of me as an actor who could play such an important role. I considered it carefully, but I knew ABC broadcast standards would never let the show go on the air and so, reluctantly, I thanked her and told her I was not interested. Of course there's no way of knowing of whether I could have made the final cut to play the Meathead. But, I still wonder about what a different direction my life might have taken had I taken the chance to try out for the part Rob Reiner made so very famous!
As a final note, while working in the pilot I learned something about television directing that I had not thought about before. When I worked with Bud Yorkin I had directed some filmed commercials, but I had never done a filmed TV comedy. Film directors like Bud were used to working with a very large movie screen where an actor's close-up would appear perhaps 20 feet tall or more. The close-up television directors worked with would appear perhaps 20 inches tall on a home television set. Because film directors worked with a large screen format they often preferred wide shots and full shots of their actors. Contrary to this, television directors used lots of close-ups so that the folks at home would get the full benefit of their much smaller TV screens. So when Bud Yorkin saw the shots I had marked in the script he remarked to me that he liked my shots, but I needed more wide shots and fewer close-ups. That gave me an instant understanding about the difference between our backgrounds in directing.