Coming June 9, 2016, Here & Now listeners and visitors will experience our stories and journalism online in a whole new way.
A new sitcom, “The Goldbergs” debuts on ABC tomorrow. It’s not the first time a show called “The Goldbergs” has been on television.
In 1949, a groundbreaking program of the same name made the leap from radio to TV. It was the first Jewish sitcom and had a huge audience.
Jeffrey Shandler, a professor of Jewish studies at Rutgers University, joins Here & Now to take a look at how Jews have been portrayed on television, from the original Goldbergs to the Goldbergs of today.
How important is the fact that the family is Jewish?
“It depends on who you ask, which is what makes it so interesting, so Adam Goldberg will tell you that it’s not a big deal. On the other hand, Jeff Garlin, who plays the father, says ‘You know, by calling the show ‘The Goldbergs,’ you might as well call it ‘The Jews’.’ And George Segal, who plays the grandfather, says ‘This isn’t a Jewish family. This is every family.’ So you have got a wide range from the universal to the autobiographical to the particularly Jewish, this tells us maybe more about the viewer and the discussant than the actual program. But certainly a program named ‘Goldbergs’ makes that possible because, for some people, that name signals a Jewish family.”
On how Jewish characters have changed throughout TV history
“Well, you know, there isn’t a continuum here because Jewish characters come and go and sometimes they’re a singular presence. So one of the reasons that the character of ‘Rhoda’ got a lot of attention, especially when she first appears in the ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ is that you didn’t have a lot of Jewish characters on television, especially Jewish female characters and by the time you get to ‘Seinfeld,’ there are not only more Jewish characters, but the idea of Jewish characters are getting played with, and ‘Seinfeld’ does really, wonderfully, perverse things with Jewishness and the shows has characters that we are told aren’t Jews, and yet they are loaded with Jewish markers.”
On how the new Goldbergs do not hide their Jewishness
“And here we actually have a kind of similarity with the original Goldbergs series, is that Adam Goldberg says ‘This family is not overtly Jewish, they are just implicitly Jewish’ and Gertrude Berg said about her Goldbergs, in an interview years ago, she said, ‘They weren’t very self-conscious about being Jewish, they just sort of were,’ and I think that kind of sense that Jewishness is just there is noteworthy in its own right.”