Rob Reiner's All In The Family Audition Was Initially Rejected

Michael/Mike "Meathead" Stivic (Rob Reiner) called for a very particular type of performance. Archie and Edith Bunker's son-in-law on "All in the Family" was the progressive foil to the Bunkers' bigoted paterfamilias, a member of the Baby Boomer counterculture (back when that was a thing) who rallied against the conservative Greatest Generation beliefs championed by Archie. But at the same time, Mike was one of those well-educated liberal white guys who still struggled to recognize his own ingrained prejudices — particularly when it came to the women in his life — and was often guilty of being more concerned with feeling morally superior than figuring out how to actually bring about the social change he professed to want.

Reiner would eventually prove himself capable of handling this knot of contradictions, but it took him a couple of tries, much like "All in the Family" itself. As he once recalled in an interview with the Archive of American Television, Reiner had been hired to write for "Headmaster" not long after his original failed audition for Norman Lear's soon-to-be-legendary sitcom. Aaron Ruben's short-lived '70s dramedy series starred Andy Griffith as the headmaster at a reputable California private school, a world far removed from the folksy setting of "The Andy Griffth Show" but also one inflicted with very different problems — like in the third episode "Valerie Has an Emotional Gestalt for the Teacher," where Reiner played a young teacher who gets caught having an affair with a student.

"Headmaster" is virtually impossible to watch nowadays, so we can only speculate how the show handled such a volatile storyline. Regardless, Reiner's turn as a male authority figure who, in all likelihood, probably still held himself in high esteem despite his gross misconduct, was enough to earn him another shot at becoming the Meathead.

If at first you don't succeed, try Meathead again

Early on, it became clear there would be no Archie and Edith on "All in the Family" without Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton. However, the roles of the Bunkers' daughter Gloria and her husband Mike were recast for the two pilots that Lear shot for ABC. After CBS bought the show rights, a third pilot was produced, at which point Reiner was finally cast as the Meathead to Sally Struthers' Gloria. Here's how Reiner recounted the process:

"That episode [of 'Headmaster' I starred in] was one of the reasons I got 'All in the Family' [...] I believe I had [originally] auditioned when it was a pilot at ABC. 'All in the Family' had done two pilots at ABC and then, when it eventually got on, it got on at CBS. And Sally Struthers and I were the third set of Mike and Gloria. And I remember auditioning for an earlier version, they said I didn't get it. But I think Norman Lear saw my work in ['Headmaster'] and I auditioned again. He felt I had matured as an actor, I think, and gave me the part on the CBS [version of 'All in the Family']."

Reiner, as he admitted in the same interview, was always more interested in writing and directing than acting, so it's little wonder that Mike wound up becoming the definitive role of his career onscreen. On the other hand, Reiner's performance in "All in the Family" was a pretty flawless embodiment of both the strengths and foibles of white cishet hippie men of his generation, to the degree that it's hard to imagine him ever topping it. As for what became of dudes like Mike when they were older? Well, perhaps it's telling that Reiner later played Jordan Belfort's father in "The Wolf of Wall Street."