Woody Harrelson Stars As Archie Bunker On ABC May 22

May 21, 2019

Woody Harrelson has played many memorable characters since winning an Emmy for Cheers bartender Woody Boyd 30 years ago.

On Wednesday, May 22, he takes on one of the most daunting roles of his career: Archie Bunker.

Harrelson had just graduated from Lebanon High School in 1979 when Carroll O'Connor won his fourth Emmy Award for Bunker, TV's iconic blue-collar bigot from CBS' hit All In The Family.

Woody Harrelson was nominated for an Academy Award as the small town police chief opposite Oscar-winner Frances McDormand in 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.'
Credit Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

Now 40 years later, Harrelson will portray Bunker in ABC's sweeps stunt, Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear's 'All in the Family' and 'The Jeffersons' (8-9:31 p.m. Wednesday, Channel 9).

Jimmy Kimmel and Lear will host the live broadcast of an all-star cast performing actual scripts from All In The Family (1968-1979) and its spin-off, The Jeffersons, which starred Sherman Helmsley (1975-85) as an opinionated dry cleaning company owner who moved from Bunker's Queens neighborhood to "a deluxe apartment in the sky" with his wife and son.

CBS' 'All In The Family' cast in 1973: (bottom) Sally Struthers, Rob Reiner, (top) Jean Stapleton, Mike Evans and Carroll O'Connor
Credit Courtesy CBS

ABC has announced the stars (Harrelson, Jamie Foxx, Will Ferrell, Marisa Tomei, Sean Hayes, Kerry Washington, Anthony Anderson), but not which episodes will be re-created.

Don't be surprised if ABC picks one of Hemsley's 15 All In The Family episodes as George Jefferson, including the Jan. 11, 1975 "The Jeffersons Move On Up" show which launched the spin-off.

Here's the casting:

All In The Family: Harrelson (Archie Bunker); Tomei (wife Edith Bunker); Ellie Kemper (their daughter Gloria Stivic); and Ike Barinholtz (son-in-law Michael "Meathead" Stivic, the role originated by Rob Reiner).

Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford starred in 'The Jeffersons,' a 1975 spin-off from 'All In The Family.'
Credit Courtesy CBS

The Jeffersons: Foxx (George Jefferson); Wanda Sykes (wife Louise Jefferson); Ferrell (neighbor Tom Willis); Washington (Tom's wife Helen Willis); Amber Stevens West (their daughter Jenny Willis Jefferson); Jovan Adepo (Lionel Jefferson, son of George and Louise); Justina Machado (housekeeper Florence Johnston, the role originated by Marla Gibbs); Stephen Tobolowsky (English neighbor Harry Bentley); Hayes (Mr. Lorenzo); Anthony Anderson (Uncle Henry); and Jackée Harry (Diane Stockwell).

"It's going to be exciting as hell. Another version of Archie Bunker is going to play Archie Bunker. A great, great talent is going to be Archie Bunker," Lear, 96, recently told the Associated Press. Lear also created or developed Maude; One Day At A Time, Sanford and Son, and Good Times.

Legendary sitcom director James Burrows will direct. He has 10 Emmys from Cheers, Will & Grace, Frasier and Taxi.

Harrelson (right) in 1985 joined the 'Cheers' gang, which included John Ratzenberger, George Wendt and Kelsey Grammer.
Credit Courtesy NBC

The live sitcom telecast is a new twist on the networks' recent success in doing live productions of The Sound of Music, Jesus Chris Superstar, Grease, Rent and other Broadway musicals.

From the ABC announcement:

"From 1971 through 1979, 'All in the Family' was in the homes of millions of Americans, tackling controversial subjects for the first time such as women’s rights, racism and homosexuality. The series followed Archie Bunker as the highly opinionated, working-class family man who viewed the world on his terms. When not arguing with his liberal son-in-law, Archie took refuge in his wife, Edith, who tried to understand Archie’s conservative ways and outdated beliefs. The award-winning series shaped ongoing political and social conversations among American families in the post-civil rights era.

"The success of 'All in the Family' launched 'The Jeffersons,' running from 1975 to 1985. It was the first television series to feature an interracial couple, and it would go on to be one of the longest-running African-American shows on TV. The series followed George and Louise Jefferson moving on up to the east side and showcasing what it was like to be successful in a predominantly white world. The series changed the landscape and helped shift conversations about race and class, paving the way for other African-American actors and TV shows."