There was the core of a decent, and quite possibly very good episode in this week’s story, but in typical Lou Grant fashion it all went for nothing for the series’ refusal to give their set-up an ending. Then again, give that the title indicates quite clearly that we’re going to be dealing with the infamous Fifties, Joe McCarthy, HUAC and the Red Scare, and this was being broadcast in Ronald Reagan’s America, anything remotely pro-Communist was off the table. And how do you treat with the blacklist without condemning it for the sick, ugly thing it was?
For the episode, two new Trib reporters were introduced. Freddye Chapman guests as Abby McCann, introduced out of nowhere as not only working alongside Joe Rossi but also going ut with him. The exact extent of the relationship is blurred, mainly because rossi is white but Abby is black. It doesn’t bother them, but it might bother the audience (according to the imdb review, they share a ‘chaste kiss’: not in the syndicated version I’ve just watched they do). The other can wait his turn in the story.
Rossi and Abby are just two of many frustrated by late responses to requests under the Freedom of Information legislation. They are investigating why a certain physicist was refused a project headship for which he was eminently qualified, on security grounds, but the bulky file is ninety percent redacted. One thing that is left in is a name: F. J. Obler, interviewed in 1952, interview itself redacted. Could that possibly be Frank J. Obler, Trib reporter (William Schallert)? Would I be mentioning him if it wasn’t?
But first we have to go to the source. Abby’s father, Price McCann (Graham Brown) is in LA, to play at a folk concert. Mr McCann is a practical man (is this just a bizarre coincidence or did someone on the writing stuff really want to tip their hat to The Move’s ‘Curly’), a house painter. Thirty years ago he was a folk singer, of growing reputation. Until he was dragged before HUAC as a Commie, refused to name names, and was blacklisted.
The same thing happened to his friend Larry Hill, once an actor, who played Macbeth, and then a teacher of photography. With a certain amount of deliberate poignancy, Larry was played by Jeff Corey, an actor who was blacklisted.
Abby’s sensitive to what happened to her Dad – she was seven at the time, which would make her 37 now, and Freddye Chapman didn’t look 37: it seems impossible to find her age online – and it makes her sensitive to job situations. she’s the only reporter on the Trib who hasn’t applied for the investigative Reporter role that’s come vacant. She’s loathe to approach Obler over her and Joe’s story. When they do, however, Obler denies absolutely knowing the man or ever hearing of his name, but you know he’s lying from his thoughtful air of puzzlement.
Meanwhile, Price and Larry discuss everything and finger Franklin J Obler as a Fink, who hung out with everyone only to give secret testimony to the FBI. To use the terminology of the times, Obler was a Creep, and Abby refuses to work with him when they are abruptly paired in connection with the B story I’ll mention shortly.
Everything’s set up. The Pinko hatred is alive today. Price McCann has had a two page letter this week, in vile terms (not too vile to be read out on Prime Time TV, mind you). It’s a living problem.
And the show lets it all fall apart. The blacklisted, who were denied the careers their talent led to, are full of wise and moderate understanding towards those who ratted (I wonder if Jeff Corey really felt that way). After all, they didn’t starve, and painting houses is a perfectly adequate substitute career for a talented singer who’s still got it even now. As for the Fink, Obler starts off by defending himself: he’d gotten interested in some of the Communists’ social ideas but grew disillusioned, left the party, hated Reds, and gave evidence becauise he didn’t want to lose his job, but then is allowed to admit that he hates the choice he made, he could have fed his family some other way…
And there is no ending. Lou has admitted he doesn’t want to work with the creep but there’s nothing on what happens to Obler. Oh, we won’t see him again, but that’s because he’s a one-off guest star: we’ve never seen him before either, but there’s no outcome.
And there’s no that much of one for Price McCann. He performs at his concert, reminds his audience that America is great, America is a land to love, it wasn’t America that persecuted him (I’m calling it persecution but the episode won’t) and he launches into ‘This Land is My Land’ because ‘God Bless America’ won’t entirely fit, and everyone sings together and no doubt in the unexpurgated version this is where Joe and Abby share their intuh-racial kiss.
As for the B story, it involves Dr Valentine’s column, discussing sexual issues in direct and honest terms for teenagers. It’s controversial: concerned mothers castigate it as filth and campaign to have it removed, the Trib’s Advertising Manager wants it dropped, the paper defends it, one silly mother yelling utside blames the Trib for making her sixteen year old daughter pregnant, never knew the old dog still had it in him. It also goes nowhere, as much because it can’t be afforded a decent amount of space to enable it to breathe and develop whilst attention is being devoted to the Blacklist story that winds up being rather more Greylist, or even Beigelist, because no-one was going to offend anyone on an offensive topic.
If you want a rather more accurate picturee of the times, treat yourself to the film The Front starring Woody Allen, featuring one of the world’s most brilliant and deserved ‘Go fuck yourselves.’ File this Lou Grant under A, for Anodyne.