The end of one much loved series marked the beginning of another critically acclaimed creation, when in September 1977, Edward Asner's character of hard-bitten news editor, Lou Grant, finally stepped out of the shadow of his supporting role with the legendary Mary Tyler Moore, and stepped easily into the spotlight of his own series. The final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show had seen the character of Lou Grant and most of the news staff of WJM-TV Minneapolis fired and going off in their own directions.
The following season, the fifty-year-old Grant had relocated to Los Angeles and taken a brand new job as the city editor of the Los Angeles Tribune, a crusading, hard-hitting newspaper under the excessively autocratic rule of its owner/publisher, Margaret Pynchon. (A delightfully hard-edged performance from the late, sadly missed veteran Nancy Marchand). Although Lou officially worked for managing editor and old personal friend, Charlie Hume, he was more often to be found locked in a stubborn battle of wills with the his strong-minded publisher. Pynchon was a woman who exhibited personality traits of stubbornness, toughness, and bloody-minded determination, of equal measure to, and perfectly mirrored in the character of Lou Grant, which led to frequent disagreements but never failed to acknowledge the underlying mutual respect between the two characters.
Other core characters included Joe Rossi; an impulsive but deeply committed young investigative reporter; Carla Mardigian, a young and ambitious female reporter (who was destined to last mere weeks, before being replaced by the character of Billie Newman, another young reporter with similar aspirations); Art Donovan, the fastidious assistant city editor; and Animal, the nonconformist staff photographer. Unlike other 'MTM' show spin-offs Rhoda and Phyllis, Lou Grant dropped outright comedy, deftly mixing serious issue lead drama with moments of well judged humour and thrived on a succession of well crafted scripts, which made full use of the dynamics and interplay of a talented, finely balanced and experienced cast.
The series won 11 Emmys in 5 years, including two for Asner as Best Actor and 2 for Outstanding Drama as it covered a range of serious issues such as Vietnamese refugees, child abuse and gun control, before it concluded its run in September of 1982, in a storm of controversy which could easily have served as a storyline from the show itself. Despite CBS' statement at the time that the series had been unexpectedly cancelled because of declining ratings, the real reason behind the network's withdrawal of support was due to the forthright political statements concerning U.S. involvement in Central America, by Asner, at the time head of the Screen Actors Guild, which led him into direct conflict with President Ronald Reagan.
Published on December 31st, 2018. Written by SRH for Television Heaven.