A group of friends, including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Marisa Tomei, and Wanda Sykes introduced the tribute by celebrating Lear’s talent. Tomei called him “our north star.” Hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler discussed how Lear wasn’t afraid of discussing controversial topics and showing life as it is. A clip package rolled, showing clips from “All in the Family,” “Good Times,” “Maude,” and “Sanford and Son.” Lear, filmed in a separate location, thanked everyone and was “blessed” to accept an award in honor of Carol Burnett. He went on to thank his various collaborators and his wife of 30 years.
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.
Lear’s accomplishments in the vein of television and movies cannot be understated. He holds one Oscar nomination, 16 Emmy wins, and two Peabody Awards. His work comprises some of the best sitcoms ever brought to television, including “All in the Family,” “Maude,” “The Jeffersons,” and “Good Times.” His work is also groundbreaking with regards to disability, where actresses like Geri Jewell and Melanie Watson got their start as disabled performers on his shows.
“Norman Lear is among the most prolific creators of this generation,” HFPA president Ali Sar said in a statement earlier this year. “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.”
In an interview with Watson last year she praised Lear for his accomplishments with disabled actors. Watson gave Lear credit for giving disabled actors like herself an opportunity on a large series. “I’m proud of Norman for going against the norm and doing something,” she said. It’s enough to make Watson wish she had been more mature when she started acting: “I didn’t realize what a gift it was to be the first one out there. If I had to do it all over again I would have stayed in the business.”
Lear, alongside Cecil B. DeMille award recipient Jane Fonda recently sat down to talk about their careers. In the video he talks about securing the Carol Burnett award, especially as he’s been fortunate to work with the actress. “Oh my god. Yes. For all the years before I got really started. There was ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ for a number of years. And nobody ever made me laugh harder. You know, Jane you may remember — I’ve said it so much all my life that I couldn’t believe anything more than that -—laughter adds time to your life.”