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Why Jay Moriarty Will Be Watching ABC's 'All In The Family' Re-creation

Courtesy ABC
ABC's "All In The Family" re-creation stars (from right) Woody Harrelson as Archie Bunker; Marisa Tomei as wife Edith Bunker; Ellie Kemper as daughter Gloria and Ike Barinholtz as son-in-law Mike "Meathead" Stivic.

Cincinnati native Jay Moriarty, who wrote for The Jeffersons for seven seasons, can't wait to see ABC's recreation of a 1976 All In The Family episode on ABC's Live In Front Of A Studio Audience Wednesday (8 p.m. Dec. 18, Channel 9, ABC).

He and his partner Mike Milligan wrote it for creator Norman Lear.

"It was the first thing I wrote for TV," said Moriarty, a 1964 St. Xavier High School grad who moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Xavier University in 1968.

Credit Courtesy Jay Moriarty
Jay Moriarty from FInneytown attended St. Xavier High School and Xavier University.

ABC executives and Lear decided to re-create "The Draft Dodger" because it was one of the iconic episodes in the nine seasons (1971-79) often repeated at Christmas. The Writers Guild of America called it "one of the top 100 shows ever seen on television," says Moriarty, who grew up in Finneytown. 

"The Draft Dodger" is about a Christmas dinner at the Bunkers attended by Archie's pal Pinky, whose son died in Vietnam, and son-in-law Mike's friend David, who fled to Canada to avoid serving in the Army.

"That was a big decision you had to make at that age – go to Canada or go to war. I thought it was a good thing for Archie and Meathead (Mike) to discuss," Moriarty says by phone from his Los Angeles home.

Moriarty wrote the story as a treatment – a summary version, not a full script – for All In The Family in 1971, as he was trying to transition from writing for the Pacific Life insurance company to writing TV situation comedies. He eventually found an agent and a script writing partner (Milligan), and two and a half years later, they had their first success with broadcast episodes of Good Times and That's My Mama.

Credit Courtesy ABC
Norman Lear was TV's most influential producer in the 1970s with 'All In The Family,' 'Maude' and 'The Jeffersons.'

By 1975, they were offered staff writing jobs on The Jeffersons,Lear's All In The Family spin-off about wealthy dry cleaner George Jefferson starring Sherman Hemsley, Isabel Sanford and Marla Gibbs.

The next year he went upstairs to Lear's office and pitched "The Draft Dodger," convinced that Lear hadn't seen the unsolicited story treatment he submitted in 1971.

"I didn't know what Norman would say, and he said, 'Wow!' " Moriarty says. At the end of their conversation, Lear told him that he "just gave us a reason for doing next season."

Lear, 97, will appear on the show with ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel. The one-hour ABC broadcast also includes a re-creation of Good Times(1974-79), set in a Chicago housing project.

Lebanon High School graduate Woody Harrelson will star as Archie Bunker, as he did in ABC’s first Live In Front Of A Studio Audience in May. Also returning are Marisa Tomei (wife Edith Bunker), Ellie Kemper (daughter Gloria) and Ike Barinholtz (son-in-law Mike "Meathead" Stivic). Kevin Bacon, Jesse Eisenberg and Justina Machado also will appear in roles to be announced during the broadcast.

Credit Courtesy ABC
Harrelson and Tomei singing the 'All In The Family' opening theme song for ABC's live broadcast last May.

The Good Times cast includes Viola Davis (Florida Evans), Andre Braugher (husband Jame Evans) Jay Pharoah (son J.J. Evans),  Asante Blackk (son Michael Evans) and Corinne Foxx (daughter Thelma Evans). Patti LaBelle and Anthony Anderson will sing the theme song.

Moriarty writes about attending "The Draft Dodger" taping in his new memoir, Honky In The House: Writing & Producing The Jeffersons. He was seated next to Nancy O'Connor (Carroll's wife), and notes that "tears were streaming down her cheeks" when Archie and Meathead argued about the war.

The book also includes a note from President-elect Jimmy Carter, who campaigned in 1976 on amnesty for Vietnam War draft dodgers in his campaign. "I appreciate your congratulations and expressions of confidence. Your thoughts are important to me, and I will carefully consider your suggestions regarding pardons/amnesty," Carter wrote.

"We got a lot of personal letters. It was courageous for Norman to risk taking that on," Moriarty says.

How will talk about draft dodgers play in 2019? We'll find out Wednesday.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.