The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has chosen to honor one of the hardest — and longest — working men in television history, announcing that the organization will present the Carol Burnett Award to Norman Lear.
As the architect of several of the greatest sitcoms in TV history, including “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” “Maude,” and “Good Times,” Lear has married humor with biting social commentary in a fashion that revolutionized the industry. While Lear continues to be an active mentor and producer within the community, he has also dedicated himself over the years to both political and social activism.
“Norman Lear is among the most prolific creators of this generation,” HFPA president Ali Sar said in a statement. “His career has encompassed both the Golden Age and Streaming Era, throughout which his progressive approach addressing controversial topics through humor prompted a cultural shift that allowed social and political issues to be reflected in television. His work revolutionized the industry, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is honored to name him as the 2021 Carol Burnett Award recipient.”
The TV pioneer is just the third person to receive the accolade, an honor bestowed upon individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the medium, be it on- or offscreen, and helped shape the very landscape of TV. Previous recipients include the award’s namesake — Carol Burnett — in 2019 and Ellen DeGeneres in 2020.
Looking at what Lear has accomplished in the first 98 years of his life is jaw-dropping. He has an Oscar nomination (“Divorce American Style”); 16 Emmy nominations; six Emmy wins, including two consecutive wins in 2019 and 2020 for Outstanding Variety Special; and two Peabody Awards. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts by Bill Clinton in 1999, was one of the first seven individuals inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1984, and in 2017 received the Kennedy Center Honors, but not before declining an invitation to mingle with President Trump at a White House reception. His shows have been nominated for and won many Golden Globes.
And yet, because of Lear’s age, one might wonder if enough has been made of his legacy. A generation of TV’s finest comedic minds are at risk of slipping away, but have we appreciated all of the ways they’ve laid the groundwork that modern TV comedy is built atop?
In November 2019, the Paley Honors recognized a group of living legends in Carol Burnett, Lily Tomlin, Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart, and Norman Lear, and though just over a year has passed since the event, the world has already lost Reiner, who at 98 died of natural causes in June 2020.
The creation of the Carol Burnett Award by the Golden Globes — the organization’s TV equivalent of its Cecil B. DeMille Award for film — is a great step toward continued recognition and celebration of deserving creators while they are still around to receive it.
Seriously folks, Dick Van Dyke is 95. James L. Brooks is 80. Bob Newhart is 91. Betty White is 98. Lily Tomlin is 81. Awards bodies, if you haven’t had time to honor the minds that grew the industry, it’s time to make time.
And thankfully, the Golden Globes are doing just that. Lear will accept the honor during the awards telecast on Sunday, February 28 from 5-8 p.m. PT live on NBC.