Norman Lear, age 94 and a native New Yorker, thought he knew a few things about the obstacles of housing in the Big Apple.
But when he began exploring the subject for “America Divided,” Lear said he was “horrified at how little I knew. Someone making a reasonable living with two children can no longer afford to live in New York City.”
Not only is rising costs from real-estate gentrification displacing working-class and even middle-class residents, but racial discrimination is a problem despite a fair-housing law that makes it illegal. On his episode, Lear goes undercover to expose real-estate agents who give preferential treatment to him, as a white man, over a black man seeking the same apartment.
Those were the insights Lear helps bring to viewers in his chapter of “American Divided,” an eight-story, five-part series that premieres on the Epix channel on Sept. 30.
Lear — along with one of the series’ creators, Solly Granatstein — appeared before TV reporters Saturday to represent the seven fellow major figures who explore their own issues of inequality that, in each case, was close to their heart. These correspondents also include Amy Poehler, Zach Galifianakis, Common, Rosario Dawson, Peter Sarsgaard, Jesse Williams and America Ferrera. Additional issues they tackle include inequality in education, health care, labor, criminal justice and the political system.
Granatstein, whose credits include “60 Minutes” and the docuseries “Years of Living Dangerously,” said he and his co-producers began with ideas for stories. “Then we targeted individuals who we knew were somehow connected with those issues.”
He said more social problems and “substantive A-listers” were in the wings if the series scores a second season.
Lear, a legendary comedy titan, said this was his first experience in the role of a reporter.
What did he learn?
“I learned I’m a great reporter,” he replied.
“It’s true,” Granatstein said.