Lou Grant: s01 e12 – Takeover

Don’t trust the bastard…

I was wondering why this week’s episode was significantly shorter than the usual run, at just under forty minutes, but the reason for this became abundantly clear about three-quarters of the way in, when an entire segment between ad-breaks failed to materialise. It was irritating, but it didn’t seem to hurt the overall flow of the episode, which for once was not about a newspaper story, but about the newspaper itself. In which sense this was a terrible warning, and a fantasy escape, from something that has become a genuine and horrifying aspect of the world of newspapers ever since.

Our lead in is Lou being invited to a Board Meeting to present his next year’s budget for the newsroom, up $246,000. This provokes bitter opposition from Mrs Pynchon’s nephews, Colin and Freddie, as obvious a pair of shitweasels as you could recognise on the spot, and people with whom Johan from Black Lake would get on with like a house on fire.

The shitweasels are concerned that all the money tied up in the Trib is actually used to run the Trib, and they aren’t getting any dividends. They’re into diversification, like taco stands, lots of money in taco stands. The shitweasels are backed up by 49% of the vote. Mrs Pynchon and her side control 49% of the vote. The crucial 2%, which includes some of writing staff, is controlled by lawyer Norman McAllister, who votes with Mrs Pynchon. Shitweasels dismissed.

But that’s before Russell Grainger arrives in town. Russell’s a newspaper proprietor, but not one like Mrs Pynchon. He’s an asset-stripper, a runner of scandal sheets, celebrity mags, rumour mongers, anything but actual hard news. Russell Grainger doesn’t so much take newspapers downmarket as chuck them down a mineshift and cement a cover over them. And he’s got an eye for Mrs Pynchon, or is it the Trib? Trouble is, she’s got an eye for him.

Charlie Hume is worried. Lou thinks he’s paranoid, and it’s a charming December-December romance. Mrs Pynchon is due some happiness. Unfortunately, Charlie is right, even down to coming out with the Frog and Scorpion story (it’s the same as Al Wilson’s ‘The Snake‘ except that the Scorpion dies too). Mrs Pynchon appreciates Charlie’s warning, but all this research Grainger’s takeover team is doing into just how vulnerable the Trib is is for her benefit.

Or is it? The story is clever enough to play with perceptions. The shitweasels approach Grainger ready to backstab Aunt Maggie and he throws them out with malice aforethought. But then he doesn’t hand the research over to Mrs Pychon but decides to study it further. Then calls Norman McAllister in for lunch…

Oh yes, he’s going for it. Joe Rossi’s leading the outrage and the refusal to work for Grainger but it’s down to votes, and Gainger has them in his pocket (it is at this point that the missing segment is missing). Attention turns to the Board Meeting. An unwanted (by the shitweasels) Director is voted out when the worm Norman turns, seduced by promises of editorial input that fits Grainger’s agenda. And Grainger is voted onto the Board.

Lou and the staff make an impassioned plea for what the Trib is, its importance, and the fact that the Trib is its people, its writers, photographers and editors, its family, none of whom will work for Grainger. It doesn’t move him, he can fill empty desks. But here is where the fantasy kicks in, the glorious escape, Right trumps Might in exactly the way it never has when this story has been repeated in newspaper and newspaper in Ameruca since, and yes, here in dear old Blighty, for when the vote to merge the Trib with Grainger’s coming is held, and Mrs
Pynchon is ready to resign, the vote is 51%/49% against. It moved Norman McAllister back to the Good Guys.

Give Grainger credit. He congratulates Norman, leaves the room immaculately, displays an almost inhuman grace in defeat that Mrs Pynchon wonders if any of them could have matched. The L.A. Tribune has been saved. And props to the episode for some unexpected continuity touxhes, referring to stories from previous episodes, ‘Hoax’ and ‘Nazi’.

‘Takeover’ was a warning that no-one cared about. It was a prediction of the future that no-one listened to. But hell, what good was Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner in warning us of the world to come? It’s here and it will never go away. No, television fiction doesn’t change a damned thing, except in the wrong direction. Warn against the rich and powerful extending their control and exploitation of those lower than them, and you waste your breath, paint those lower as lower still, animals, filthy liars and cheats and you’re onto a winner.

I wish I could live in Lou Grant’s world.

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