Ithaca College honored television producer Norman Lear for his contributions to the American cultural landscape at the Paley Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, Nov. 15, presenting him with the 2018 Rod Serling Award for Advancing Social Justice Through Popular Media.
Lear’s iconic 1970s television comedies, including “All in the Family,” “Maude,” “Good Times,” “Sanford and Son” and “The Jeffersons,” brought social and cultural issues into America’s living rooms for the first time.
“His thoughtful and courageous work not only enabled viewers to examine complex issues of race, privilege and class in our country, but it did so with a sharp sense of humor and provocative honesty that resonated deeply,” said Ithaca College President Shirley M. Collado, who spoke at the event.
Accepting the award, a self-effacing Lear spoke about the power of laughter, likening it to a spiritual experience.
“I believe laughter adds time to one’s life,” Lear said. “I believe that heart and soul; I believe that like a scientist might believe that.”
Lear was introduced by 1986 Ithaca College graduate Mike Royce, who works with Lear as an executive producer and co-showrunner of “One Day at a Time” on Netflix.
“As part of the television generation, I learned about life through TV, and real life I learned through Norman’s work,” said Royce. “I was exposed to real people talking about real things, and what was important not just to me but to the country.”
Established by Ithaca College, the Serling Award is given to contemporary media industry professionals whose work highlights prejudice, inequality and evolving social norms. The award is presented in honor of “The Twilight Zone” creator Rod Serling and his pioneering efforts in the television industry. Serling taught at the college from 1967 to 1975.
“Rod certainly had a passion for social justice; he exuded generosity and a real optimism for the future generation of media makers,” said Diane Gayeski, dean of the Roy H. Park School of Communications.
Although he did not know Serling well, Lear spoke of his deep appreciation for his work, and recalled being star struck the few times that they crossed paths. “I could not have admired him more,” Lear said.