Rather a change of pace, this week, for Lou Grant, with an episode that moved away from the social issue stock of the early stories to look at the newspaper business itself.
Lou, being a journalist of the old school, is still wedded to the idea of the exclusive, the scoop. Get the story, but get it before everybody else and instead of everybody else if you can. Billie’s covering the return of Terry Hall, missing for 28 hours, kidnapped and ransomed for $200,000. Except she’s still a bit naive and hasn’t thought to secure herself a phone, so the Trib gets the story ten minutes after everyone else and after its deadline. Even her one genuine exclusive, the ransom amount, gets blown for her on live TV.
Meanwhile, Rossi, who’s been rather overshadowed whilst Billie’s being bedded in, has also got an exclusive. Verified four different ways, he has the Councilman who’s going to run for Congress. Except he’s not. It’s not made clear whether Rossi genuinely misread his info, which had Lou excited for the scoop, or whether going with it a day early scared Councilman Garber off.
Either way, there’s a quick pooling of stories about ways reporters used to get exclusives, in the ‘old days’, and Rossi, in disgrace, is sent off to cover a nothing story about a Sheriff who’s got him a dirt bike and wants to show it off as a new Law Enforcement Vehicle.
I remembered this bit, the first one I’ve remembered. The Sheriff overdoes it, takes a fall, is called dead. Rossi and a rival scramble to beat each other to a phone, with Rossi winning. Only the Sheriff’s not dead: his deputy panicked. Two scoops in as many days, both wrong. Mrs Pynchon is not pleased. She would like a bit more Right Tomorrow reporting. Rossi’s confidence is shot.
Billie, on the other hand, is still following up the Hall kidnapping aftermath. There are some odd details, an aftermath that doesn’t fit. The kid’s a diabetic, was held 28 hours, missed his insulin shot. So why’s he in hospital with symptoms appropriate to excessive insulin?
It looks like, and it is, a scam. Terry and his girlfriend are both workers for Preserve Our Seas, their Dads both lawyers defending Oil Spill companies. $200,000 would tip the unequal odds a bit. This one’s gotto be right, and Lou still wants it exclusive. The Trib gets it, but only because Billie steals a rival’s car keys (and the guy gets his shoe run over), over which she gets an attack of conscience. Rossi, brought in on this to rebuild his confidence, and who’s contacts are instrumental in throwing this together very quickly, has a renewed attack of arrogance. Lou says, “welcome back.”
A neatly designed episode, played with gusto and a proper emphasis on character, which recognises the twin impulses behind journalism and, sensibly, doesn’t try to set one up above the other. The LA Tribune is a reputable paper, aiming for accuracy and truth, and it’s nice to see that.
Pity we don’t have any newspapers like that in Britain.