It’s been a rough couple of days at work and I’ve been feeling a bit mind-numb, so it came as both a relief and a refreshment to watch a very focused and purposeful episode of Lou Grant, one that has given me a great deal of cheer.
The Marathon of the title was the experience had by everyone at the L.A. Tribune on an exceptional day. The story chose to deal in inconsequentialities at first: a ‘human fly’ climbing a 60 storey building, an intern interested in using the Trib as a stepping stone into TV (played by Michael Warren, three years before catching a starring role in Hill Street Blues), Donovan considering leaving the Trib to become the Governor’s Press Secretary in Sacramennto, a wandering group of Norwegian businessmen, Rossi and Billie snarking at each other as they usually do.
But the show then quickly swung into action, with a road tunnel under construction collpsing, trapping workers underground, and not just workers but archaeology students who were also in there, hunting for Indian relics. It was chaos and the absorption of the episode was showing everyone piling in from every direction, to give the fullest possible coverage of a crisis that absorbed practically the whole day (a recurring digital clock was superimposed to toll off a timescale from 9.00am to 2.00am).
The atmosphere was tense, amplified by the continuing intrusion of the ordinary day into the extraordinary day. Lou’s insensitivity to and constant criticism of Donovan’s choices to his rising frustration, the decision to report on a secret meeting with three column inchs of white space, the repeated intrusions of Hnry Dreyfus, UFO nut, and a return appearance from Driscoll (Peter Hobbs), he veteran reporter from the cop beat who was at the heart of the first episode.
The gift was in the naturalness of these unimportant things happening alongside the tunnel story, and in how they added shading rather than detracted from the tension of watching the big story unfold through a day of insufficient information.
Inevitably, the rescue succeeded (this is Lou Grant and the leopard can’t change its shorts that quickly), though we learned that there were at least two dead, and there were going to be consequences. But that was to tie down the day, to end the frantic activity, and allow people to depart in pace. Andrew Turner, the intern, might not commit himself so much to TV, Donovan isn’t going to Sacramento. Morning is less than seven hours away, and there’s a paper to put out.
I needed something as tight and determined as that this morning, somewhere outside my head to be for forty-five minutes. A damn good episode, and a very useful one.