Controversial and groundbreaking, Norman Lear's All in the Family was one of the first American television sitcoms to tackle real-life situations such as racism and homosexuality. Based on the satirical BBC Sitcom 'Til Death Do Us Part by Johnny Speight, it bade farewell to the old idyllic sitcoms such as Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver, and paved the way for a new breed of television.
'America's Beloved Bigot', Archie Bunker was a symbol of the working-class American male. Closed-minded, staunch in his beliefs, and leery of all things different from him, Archie became a metaphor for everything that was wrong with America at the time. Nevertheless, Archie tries to be a good man. He loves his wife and daughter, and even his son-in-law Mike, with whom he constantly argues. Archie works at the docks as a foreman and drives a taxi to earn extra money. He was played by the late Carroll O'Connor, who also earned fame for the television series In the Heat of the Night and his staunch anti-drug campaigns following the death of his son Hugh.
Archie's wife Edith is the heart and soul of All in the Family. Despite being somewhat unaware of what goes on around her, she knows exactly what happens in the hearts of those she loves. She is always around to help, whether that involves fetching Archie a beer after work or offering advice to her daughter Gloria. She was often referred to as 'dingbat' by her husband and told to 'stifle', but Archie truly loves his wife and couldn't possibly get along without her. Edith was played by Jean Stapleton, who also appeared in the film Michael with John Travolta, and as the voice of the owl in Dr Doolittle with Eddie Murphy.
Archie and Edith's daughter, Gloria lives with her parents and her husband Mike. She is Archie's 'Little Girl', but she shares political views with Mike. She is not quite a feminist, but not quite the subservient housewife her mother is. She often questions her mother in her decision to remain a loyal housewife, but deep down she wants to do the same for her own husband. She was played by Sally Struthers, who is also known for being a spokeswoman for the International Christian Children's Fund.
Gloria's left-wing husband, Mike is a sociology student and much more politically-minded than his wife. His views are the exact opposite of Archie's on almost all subjects, from gun control to the Vietnam War. His stubborn father-in-law refuses to listen to him, dismissing him merely as 'Meathead'. Mike and Archie share a grudging love for one another, and Mike is forever grateful to Archie for allowing him and Gloria to live in their house while Mike attends college. Mike was played by Rob Reiner, who after the show became a notable director and producer, creating such film classics as This is Spinal Tap and When Harry Met Sally.
All in the Family tackled real-life situations that no show before it had ever touched on. Episode topics included Mike suffering from impotency, Edith nearly being raped, and Archie meeting (and then befriending) a transvestite who was later the victim of a hate crime.
The Bunkers lived at 704 Hauser Street in Astoria, Queens, New York. Their most frequently seen neighbours were the Jeffersons: George, Louise, and Lionel. George was similar in ideology to Archie, albeit from the opposite side of the racial divide. Lionel likes to tease his father and Archie, and later he and Archie become friends.
Another recurring character was Stephanie, Edith's young niece, who was left with the Bunkers by her deadbeat father. Archie grows to love the new family member, and a wonderful episode ensues when the family learns that Stephanie considers herself Jewish. Stephanie asks her Uncle Archie if this is all right, and a heartbreaking moment arises when Archie, despite his anti-Semitism, says yes by presenting her with a necklace bearing the Star of David.
All in the Family had several spin-offs, most notable of which was The Jeffersons, which involved the Bunkers' old neighbours George and Louise 'moving on up' after earning a sum of money in the dry-cleaning business. Other spin-offs included Maude, based on Edith's pro-feminism cousin, and Archie Bunker's Place, which involved the Bunkers after All in the Family. Midway through the series Edith dies of a stroke in her sleep, and Archie and Stephanie must deal with the grief together.
Writer Normal Lear also had several other television sitcoms. Notable ones include Sanford and Son, Good Times, and Checking In.
Allinthefamilysit.com - A wonderful source of information dealing with All in the Family and its many spinoffs.
TV Land - All in the Family - Contains a bit more information, including cast biographies and an episode guide.