Lou Grant: s04 e01 – Nightside

The story

So, I’m still here and still at it.

Lou Grant‘s fourth season started with a curveball. There’s a slightly unsettled atmosphere to begin with, with a new and slightky fussier re-recrding of the theme music and then the rearrangement of the City Room, to accomodate newer and bigger VDU’s (Visual Display Units, forerunners of desktop computers).

Everyone’s going home. With Marion away, Charlie wants Lou to join him for dinner and the selection of a chain saw. But the Night Editor, Hugh Kendall, is late again. Donovan won’t stay, because he did that last night. It’s up to Lou to fill in, which he has to do all night as Kendall has brken his collar-bone.

So it’s change-of-pace time as Lou interacts with the night staff.

This gives the guest stars a good run at things. There’s Richard Erdmann as Hal Hennecker, the man who knows what he’s doing, who doesn’t need Lou’s directing and general bullishness the way the regulars do, who’s dry and straight and utterly brilliant. There’s David Paymer as Roy Scobel, a younger, more laconic character who firstly sounds like a goofball but who works quickly and efficiently all night.

There’s Millie Slavin as Corinne Piantadosi (spelling?), revealed as the paper’s gossip clumnist, ‘The Insider’, all ornate dress and language, wonderfully camping things up as a story breaks that requires her knowledge of la creme de la creme, there’s a brief but very effective appearance by Alexandra Johnson as Kim, from the IT department, even Scotty, the night copy kid (Charles Bloom) is effectivey eager.

Though there are offshoot stories to keep both Mrs Pynchon and Charlie in the episode, despite not being on the spot, and Animal and Billie wander in, the show sets up to let the guests be at the centre.

(There is no Rossi in this or the next episode as Robert Walden had gone on strike for a salary raise: he’s in the credits, he’s named in the show but he ain’t here.)

Instead of the show’s usual concern with sociological subjects, the episode marries its character work with a procedural, as a breaking story starts to grow in detail and angle. A well-known yacht is reported as sinking, a simple enough subject that builds into elements of illegal gambling and probable drug-smuggling throughout the night, with the dry Hal ding most of the writing and cutting short Lou’s intentions with a simple, “I got it.”

I’d have liked to have seen more of this other side of the Trib in future episodes but of course this was purely a one-off. We’re going back to the limitations of the prime-time television series on 1980, when things are still pre-Hill Street Blues, and there is a mighty gulf between regular cast and the extended but primarily invisible network that supports them.

Though if Robert Walden hadn’t caved, I could see one of the three reporters, most probably Roy, being set up as his long-term replacement.

This kind of thing was an odd selection for the opening episode of a series, and it does niggle slightly that after three full seasons of the regulars doing everything twenty-four seven, they suddenly go home and other people take over, but I liked it. I’m here let’s carry on.