Lou Grant: s04 e08 – Catch

He’ll be back

Lou Grant‘s fourth season is proving to be a difficult one, this latest episode being the third in a row to have problems. There was a decent, entertaining and personal story in there, but it got lost amid a confusion of purpose and the shackles of a secondary story whose principal note was paranoia (justified paranoia, it seemed) that was entirely uncomplimentary.

The main story started off suggesting the series’ usual approach to societal stories, though its apparent peg was hardly earth-shattering. The tenants of a well-maintained, stylish apartment building are protesting its conversion into a condominium that no-one could afford: dry as dust and far too technical a story, especially for British eyes and ears.

But this is our McGuffin, quickly set-up and pretty much to be abandoned since it’s prpose is to ring together Billie Newman, reporter, and Ted McCovey (Cliff Potts, excellent and friendly), third string baseball catcher.

The way it worked was that Billie’s investigating the company that’s forcning through the condo conversion, being stonewalled, discovering its major investors to be baseball players, three massive stars and Ted, the only one she can approach. And Ted is likeable from the off, an intelligent man with a finely-tuned sense of his real status as a ball-player, someone who’s been in love with the sport all his life, aware he’s got maybe a season left.

Billie, despite all her ignorance of and indifference to, the sport (it’s so slow…) falls for the obviously honest and open-hearted Ted, who’s gotten into the rapidly-receding condo story because his pals cut him in and he trusted them implicitly, because they were his pals. Ted was someone who placed a high value upon friendship and trust: when he retires, an old schoolpal will cut him in as a partner in his appliance store, no contract, just a word of trust.

You couldn’t help but like Ted. Billie certainly did. She tried to back out of the story but did so so half-heartedly, Lou wouldn’t let her. And the expected happened: the story drove a wedge between them, the relationship dead before it was born.

Except that Ted then rang Billie to correct a mistake in her story. As of two minutes ago, he’s no longer a Major League Baseball player, he’s been let go. Ted’s in obvious shock and though Billie immediately goes to see him, she just compounds things, trying to get him to consider another job in baseball. Yes, she’s aware of his love for the game, but Ted’s in shock, he’s set on a clean break, and her well-meaning efforts are only making it worse. One great line that could apply to any sport: ‘for fourteen years they’ve treated me like a child and now they tell me I’m an old man’. Strike two.

There was a nice little touch added. Billie once had a brief affair with Art Donovan, who’s looking at her again with that look in his eyes. Billie tells her troubles to Art, who points out she has plenty of friends out there: he’s the last one she should be unloading herself to.

Then, in a lovely little moment, Ted turns up in the City Room. He wants Billie’s opinion, her approval, which will come pre-loaded, making this a moment of connection, the last hurdle to cross before they become the couple they’re going to be. He’s been offered a job as a scout. The pay’s lousy, the driving’s murderous, he’ll have no time for himself, the chance of coaching might not come for years. And she says it sounds terrific and they kiss.

This is the story that could have made this into a good episode, if it hadn’t been bogged down in the McGuffin that gave the story a blurred feel for so much of its length and was left so conspicuously hanging.

I’ve excluded mention of the B story because it was so conspicuously unsuited to pair with Billie’s romance, but this was Rossi’s story, along with Adam Wilson and a guest appearance from Robert Hirshfield as the Trib’s IT manager, just a year before becoming a regular in Hill Street Blues. Rossi’s paranoid about the paper’s VTU’s (i.e., their word processors/computers). Unreliability, the medical risk, all the things people were concerned about forty years ago, before we let the personal computer in all its myriad forms into our lives and hearts.

It’s paranoia writ large, of a kind that would have been more effective then, but it’s allied to a security issue. Adam loses all his notes on a major story because he’d stored them all in the computer and they vanished. It turns out that a company working for the Trib in respect of their IT is also the holding company for the one about which Adam was writing. Having breached the Trib’s security to get Adam’s access code, they hacked the system and deleted the notes.

So, there you go. It is hard to recapture the atmosphere of 1980, especially when I’ve had a PC or a laptop of my own for nearly thirty years by now, which diffused the strength of the story, if it really had any to begin with. But primarly it was an intrusion into the episode, a contrast too deep to ever cohere, which contributed largely to the eoisode’s inadequacies.

Looking ahead, next week’s episode has a very serious theme, as the title alone will establish. I will be hyper-critical of that if they blow it for a fourth week in succession.

Lou Grant: s04 e07 – Streets

She is in this episode…

For entirely different reasons, this was another poor episode, failing on its lack of anything but an earnest liberal concern about its topic, which was the Ghetto.

It began with two deaths. A white police officer stops a loose-limbed, cool-jiving black man that he knows, after saving him from being knocked down in the street. Thee black guy runs, the white officer gives chase. They run round a corner, out of sight, we hear shots, the officer is dead. The Police corner Benny Jordan in a tenement building, he tries to shoot his way out, he gets killed.

It’s the set-up for a cliched story about Police racism, but to give the show credit it aimed 180 degrees away. The officer was a good guy, straight, popular, well-liked in the ghetto. Jordan was a screw-up, a doper, an ex-pimp, but two thousand people turned up at his funeral, as opposed to the hundred or so for Officer Stewart.

That’s your story. But it’s not a story, it’s a study. This is your Ghetto, and the episode rigidly avoided anything amounting to judgement and adhered solely to representing both sides of the story side-by-side – literally in terms of the paper’s eventual coverage – and walking away softly to allow you to make up your mind as to exactly where the wrongs and the rights stood.

Forty years ago, I’d like to think there was a chance that a substantial part of the audience would have taken the array of opinions to heart and tried to apply a balancing act. In 2020, I fear only that the udiences minds would see only what they had conditioned itself to see.

For that wishy-washiness alone the episode was always going to fail, but it compounded its failings by introducing two other story elements that served only to confuse the issue beyond hope of being taken seriously. Firstly, Rossi is assigned to Officer Stewart’s story and he takes guest star Carl Franklin, as black report Milt Chamberlain, along with him. The two take opposing viewpoints: Rossi is his usual jerk self, using Milt as hisshielld to get to the potentially more extreme members of the community, whilst Milt feels he’s just atoken, and that Rossi just isn’t getting it.

It may have been intended to reflect the black-white conflict in miniature but all it did was get in the way of the story’s real points by reducing it to a personal squabble, which could and of course did get resolved with improbable speed the moment the two participants realised they were both on the side of the story: I may plotz.

Of even more peripheral concern was Charlie Hume’s return from the latest newspaper seminar, burbling about demographics and interfaces and launching a new News-Lite section called Tempo to plumb depths in shallownesspreviously uncovered. Lou objects in his crusty manner. Charlie doesn’t want three reporters and a photographer working on a depressing but relevant story the readers don’t want to hear about.

But of course he reverses himself completely in an instant, without any explanation except the implied one of being won over by the power of the story, just in time for the end. Cue feeble joke and feeeze-frame to close on, and forget, permanently if you’re lucky.

The show can still pull out strong episodes, even in its fourth season, and whilst it’s a very long time since I last saw something I remembered from so far back, I never saw either of the last two seasons so there won’t be any more of those. I’m taking on trust that it will go back to doing better: don’t let me down.

Lou Grant: s04 e06 – Libel

Irena Ferris. Better her than anything from the episode.

I cannot believe how bad this episode was. In fact, in my eyes it doesn’t even qualify as an episode, given its structure as the first half of a two-part story which then never produced its second part. The story just vanishes up itself on a procedural point and stops abruptly with every plate left spinning in mid-air.

The episode is about exposing the National Enquirer for what it is, namely a supermarket scandal sheet devoted to exaggeration, distortion and lies to sell sensationalist stories about the rich and famous. Does this sound in any way familiar? Of course it does (it even has the cheek at one point to suggest the blame belongs to Britain).

The point of the story is that this is 1980, and the National Spectator (as the paper in the episode is named, as minimalist cover) is the only paper doing this, and very successful it is. We enter the story via popular and successful married couple tennis star Eddie Daniels (James van Patten) and fashion model Monica Daniels (Irena Ferris, a genuinely gorgeous woman with the most modern look I’ve yet seen in the whole series). Monica discovers a front-page banner headline story claiming the baby she’s carrying is not Eddie’s but rather that of a photographer, one of many with whom she’s sleeping around. The stress and upset leads to a car accident in which she loses the baby. Sent to interview Eddie, Billie Newman is berated by him just for being a reporter.

That’s the entree, though Eddie also crops up later, provoked into giving the Spectator a sensationalist photo. From here, Lou Grant decides to do a piece on the Spectator as a disgrace to the entire newspaper business.

The story was oddly dull, or perhaps that was just because nothing in it shocked or surprised the way it was hoped to do in 1980. Even then, the Spectator was not the (massively successful) outlier that the programme clearly hoped it was, but the forerunner as newspapers in general were dragged – completely willingly – into its wake until that is the norm these days, even among the so-called quality press.

The story spent a lot of time pursuing its target and exposing to the unsuspecting audience the tactics. There was a warning line early on when Joe Rossi interviewed the Publisher, George Lester (Alan Oppenheimer), a waistcoated, sleek, smooth, confident man who was clearly far cleverer than anyone on the Trib. Lester’s eager to show off his paper’s humanitarian awards for re-uniting families, exposing health scandals, but the moment Rossi starts creeping up on the scandals he’s accused of having come with pre-conceived notions, intent only on a hatchet job, and the interview is over. The funny thing is, Lester is spot on.

I’ll mention the British angle briefly. This is ex-Spectator editor Claude Whitcomb, who you know is British because he’s called Claude, he’s played by Bernard Fox (who once played Dr Bombay on Bewitched) with a fruity voice, Whitcomb’s an import from the London Daily MirrorThe Sun would have been a better example though the Mirror, which I used to get in my pre-Guardian days, wasn’t off the mark – and cheerfully outlined the tactics the tabloids used to get their stories, including lies. Fox also got to drape his arm across Linda Kelsey’s shoulders for an unconscionably long time without her kicking him in the nuts which was a bit of a character-breaking detail. Whitcomb even contrasted the Mirror and it’s fun appeal to a tired worker in the evening with the serious and off-putting stories of the ‘Manchester Guardian‘ which was a seriously outdated reference to the roots the paper had long since abandoned even then. Ok, that wasn’t all that brief a mention.

All of this is set-up for the immediate response of the Spectator, which is to sue the Trib for $60,000,000 for malicious intent and irreperable harm to reputation (manifesting itself in increased cirulation, hah!). The rest of the half-episode was all about the legal aspects of handling such a serious case, culminating in Lou exploding in deposition and refusing to answer questions about his state of mind, his doubts, etc., when editing the story.

It was a matter of principle, a refusal to let outsiders into his head, on behalf of editors everywhere. It would cripple journalism. It even had Adam Wilson second-guessing and self-censoring himself. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a legal defence. Lou ended up being fined $100 a day until he agreed to answer these questions, and the paper not paying for him.

So, after five days and $500 he couldn’t afford, Lou backed down, told the paper’s legal representative that he’d testify, but under protest, slammed down the phone and it was fade-out, closing theme music, end of episode and an immense feeling of being cheated. I checked: the story does not continue next week.

All the issues the story raised, and in particular a lawsuit that could close the Trib for good if it were won, not to mention confirm that the bad guys win (as indeed they have done in real life), vanished like that, never to be resolved or mentioned again.

Whatever possessed the show to imagine that this was in any way a satisfactory story, I have no idea. The best I can think of is that it was planned as a two-parter but the National Enquirer got wind of it and threatened, the perfect irony, a massive libel suit if the second half, in which they got chopped down, was made. That would explain an episode that, on any kind of artistic or even professional level, is incomplete, badly-structured and just plain inadequate.

Seriously, if anyone’s following this series and watching the episodes for themselves on YouTube, don’t bother with this one.

Lou Grant: s04 e05 – Goop

Guest star

Let’s face it, you’re on an uphill struggle trying to sell an episode with the title of ‘Goop’, and the more so with a light-hearted – here being a word that means trying to be funny but not being – open about a bubble of earth appearing overnight in the backyard of a property in a smell-ridden town called Sackett. As a twist, we had word processor lettering crossing the screen representing the story writing itself.

Nevertheless, there was a serious story to be had from this unfortunate scenario.As well as the bubble, and the all-pervading stink (reminding me of the day my family and I visited Halifax, when there was some sort of massive sewer problem), there was a tarry, black goop seeping through someone’s basement wall. When analysed, it was shown to contain the highly toxic substance, C84, a petrochemical by-product responsible for brain-tumours, birth defects and cancer.

The nearest possible source of this was Diller Chamicals, in Alta Mira, but tht was more than 100 miles away. And according to their Press Officer, to Rossi, they had a neutralising plant on site, and complied diligently with industry Regulations.

But then there’s the truck found abandoned on the highway, full of drums of pure C84, one of which was leaking (hence the abandonment). And the ones pouring the goop directly into streams a hundred miles from Alta Mira. No, the show didn’t allow doubt as to Diller’s guilt to creep into the mind.

Where it made its mistake was in conflating this straightforward story with another issue, that of misrepresentation. To get the story, Billie applies for and gets a job at Diller, in the office. She does it under her real name, and with the LA Tribune as her previous employer, but nevertheless there is much earnest argument about the ethics of getting a story – any story – by deception.

As a side issue, it was not of itself a bad move. Lou’s all in favour. Charlie Hume has concerns about the issue in principal, and Mrs Pyynchon is dead set against it and wants Billie recalling, but is persuaded otherwise by Charlie’s insistence that these matters have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and this story is too important to be ignored.

Billie, naturally, gets the story. Rossie confronts the Press Officer, who blusters weakly that the public want the luxuries that the petrochemical industries bring, that the Press is trying to harrass the industry out of existence, but doesn’t deny the charge, a fact duly noted in the word processor screen type.

But Billie is conscience-stricken throughout. Everyoine at Diller’s so nice to her. They like her, and she likes them. It makes her feel rotten, fooling them like this. and the episode loses its head and shoves the issue of toxic waste threatening people, land, livestock and birds into the corner to symbolise this in the form of work programme student Teri Wilk (Dominique Dunne), a sweet-faced, quasi-confident young woman, who likes Billie immensely, confides in her her interest in a truck-driving hunk and, you couldn’t have guessed this, has a downer on reporters.

Teri’s devastated by Billie’s betrayal. Her uncle might lose his job, her would be boyfriend drove the truck that Rossi and Animal follow and report on, and she is deeply wounded by being used, by Billie pretending to like her to get her story. she can’t accept that Billie did like her, does like her, and somewhat obtusely hopes to stay friends.

And that’s precisely where the episode veered off course, by making Billie’s relationship with Teri the focus, instead of the more important toxic waste story. It was a failure of moral imagination on the show’s part.

Overall, the issue of misrepresentation was one of those matters that pointed up the gulf between 1980 and 2020. There was, as I said, weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over Billie going overcover, gentile protestations that the ‘deception’ had to be made explicit in the story, proclamations that doing so automatically made the reporter the focus of the story, not the fact. Yeah, I know, the irony, right?

Forty years later, nobody would blink. I certainly didn’t. To me it’s obvious: when the story is as important as this, going undercover to get it as not merely acceptable but practically mandatory, and to have it discussed as virtually a greater moral wrong than fly-tipping poison was eye-rolling.

One other point. I’ve only mentioned Dominique Dunne among this week’s guest stars because she was central to the story and the other guests were interchangeable. There was something familiar about the name, but it was not what I expected to see when I googled her. Ms Dunne appeared as a significant guest star in an episode of Hill Street Blues, broadcast two years to the month after this appearance in Lou Grant. It was her final appearance and it was posthumous: two weeks earlier she had been killed by an abusive boyfriend. The bruises in Hill Street were not make-up.

Sometimes the real stories are worse than the fictions.

Lou Grant: s04 e04- Sting

I’m at a loss to decide whether my general lack of interest in this week’s Lou Grant is down to me and feeling incredibly dull,or to the story being slight at the best, and uninvolving.

The plot attempts to be complex but is actually very simple.Fed-up of a two-hour freeway drive to work each day, Charlie Hume moves himself and his wife Marion into an apartment in town that’s 15 minutes away by bus and rents his house out to a ‘Mr and Mrs Thatcher’. The Thatchers make extensive changes, have visitors all of the time and generally act suspiciously.

Instead of being crooks, they turn out to be Law Enforcement. Charlie’s house has been fitted out with elaborate, concealed but comprehensive surveillance and is being used to offer bribes to City Councillors and Zoning Commissioners to vote a certain way over prestigious undeveloped land.

There’s a degree of confusion over the truth of this, necessary only to extending the story to last 46 minutes and doing little to puzzle the audience over what to actually believe (or, in at least one case, interest the audience enough to care all that much), but ‘Thatcher’ is not ‘Thatcher’, nor is he ‘Dylan’, as he claims to be when he shows the upset Charlie and Lou what they’ve done to keep Charlie from voiding the Lease, he’s actually Collins of the State’s Attorney-general’s Office, not LAPD as he let them assume.

Lou Grant being Lou Grant, it had to have it’s liberal viewpoint, here represented by Rossi, angry over the whole concept of Police entrapment. It’s a valid point: on the one hand, Law enforcement believes these people are dirty and willing to go on the take, and are setting out to get hard evidence of that, on the other these people have only committed bribes because Law enforcement has offered them the money. Would the crime exist if the ‘Police’ hadn’t sought it out?

You’re not going to get answers here, and it’s infuriating to have a question like that, which is a serious issue in a modern society, being raised in such a wishy-washy fashion, with one simplistic argument on each side and withdrawing with a determination to to reach a conclusion.

The show does try to hint at where its instincts lie but in an oblique manner that doesn’t begin to work. at the top of the episode, Rossi is sent out to Hollywood Boulevard after a sighting of a missing woman. Trying to get information, he speaks to a long-legged, blonde-haired, short-dressed woman who’s actually an undercover Policewoman. So he’s sensitive to the appearance of malfeasance that might not actually be malfeasance, but rather be unfortunate circummstances.

Which is then echoed, ineffectually, at the bottom of the episode when Rossi interviews the soon-to-be-indicted Councilman Garvey, who presents his intended defence as his having heard of corruption and been conducting his own investigation, taking the money to help iidentify who is behind this. It’s ineffectual because we see Rossi fall into the sting innocently, but Garvey only comes up with this excuse after he’s denied things utterly, and John Considine plays him as shifty.

Speaking of actors, Thatcher was played by Larry Linville. I very rarely recognise guest stars’ in the credits but Larry Linville played Major Frank Burns in the early series of M*A*S*H*, so it was nice to see him again.

So, no, not for me this time. And I think it was the episode that’s at fault, not the blogger.

Lou Grant: s04 e03 – Pack

Frat buddies

To begin with a minor point, this episode was clearly shown out of production order as it’s the second of two for which Robert Wa;lden was missing, on strike, in a failed attempt at more pay. In his absence, Kinda Kelsey as Billie Newman takes the lead in what’s virtually a solo story for her.

It’s 1980. There’s a Presidential Election going on in which, in real life, Ronald Reagan will defeat the well-meaning but ineffectual Jimmy Carter, who will only go on to fulfil his abilities after his Presidential term is over. We’re not covering that, oh goodness me, no: too many vote-losing traps in that, vote here being a word meaning audience share-points.

Instead, the show is covering the Senatorial election, and the campaign of challenger ‘Gentleman Jim’ Carlisle (Ed Nelson), which is running at high momentum. The Trib’s veteran political reporter, whose work has gone stale, is dragged back to the office and Billie is thrown to the dogs, in the form of the Press Pack, principally nationally famous reporters like Avery Stephens (James Callahan), Sturbridge (John Hillerman) and Flo Meredith (Eileen Eckhardt).

(I didn’t know this until I checked imdb but Eckhardt is the only instance in the entire series of Lou Grant of a crossover with his original series, The Mary Tyler Moore Show: she was Mary Richards’ Aunt Flo, and obviously knw Lou, but the episode doesn’t mention Mary at all, nor does Flo feature with Lou at any time.)

Until it’s end, I foumd the episode to be flat and unengaging. Billie, as the new girl, undergoes some fairly obvious runarounds from both the veteran reporters – a college initiation-style rite but withut the paddles – and the campaign manager. At first her stuff is identical to both their’s but also, disastrously, her poredecessors. Then she files a story they don’t, with a potential campaign-damaging effect, which gets her squelched by the veterans who simply saw it differently (cue reference to the failed Presidential election campaign of Ed Muskie).

But Billie’s right and they’re wrong, giving her the chance to castigate them for their smug complacency, to the point where, shamed by her naive enthusiasm for the basics of their job that they’ve forgotten (cliche drawer alert!), they back her up on the awkward point she pursues, about Carlisle’s attitude to gun control that he’s been avoiding defining.

It’s an irony that a cheap scene like that should play into the episode’s one genuinely strong moment, as Carlisle bruhes off political mangement, visibly relaxes and, in a beautifully played moment by Nelson, explains his beliefs by reference to an evidently painful experience (it helps that I’m on his side: I’d like to hear the reaction of a gun ownership proponent, out of curiosity).

Thats the end of the story, basically. There’s a coda in which the campaign continues, clearly downhill, and the veterans pull out but Billie sticks with it until the (unseen) end. Carlisle’s going back up in the polls, his latest rally’s a big, booming affair, who knows, maybe honesty works?

A mixed bag, with not enough of the good stuff for 49 minutes, but the good stuff, when it came, was worth waiting for.

Lou Grant: s04 e02 – Harrassment

Secretary and Sleaze

Ladies and gentlemen, our subject for today is the sexual harrasment of women in the workplace, 1980 style. We will examine it from several angles, both by direct reportage and indirect depiction, showing it as both conscious and unconscious, we will show its effects on the two reporters dealing with the issue and along the way we will fail to bring everything together as a cohesive story. And, though a subtle conclusion will be depicted, the only actual outcome we will show is a failure. However, in not ‘solving’ the problem we will at least be true to life.

I’m not really sure how much detail I need to go into about this episode of Lou Grant: the somewhat didactic paragraph above basically says it all. The episode began with the quasi-comic scenario of a guy in a pick-up running over garbage cans to frighten the man putting his out but crashing into a car and getting badly injured.

This was Warren, over-emotional, heavily jealous, defending his wife Lorraine (who was not quite the beauty she was in his eyes), who’d been fired by her boss for ‘developing a bad attitude’, the bad attitude including resenting said boss grabbing her breast.

Rossi’s on that side of the story, taking seriously the aspect of the effect on the husband of a sexually harrassed wife, growing to hate the story because of what he’s learning about his fellow man.

Closer to home, the rest of the episode revolved around the Trib itself. The new reporter – actually an old one returning after leaving to have kids – is Catherine Marks (Lynn Carlin). At first Lou resents her for Charlie hiring her over his choice, but her no-nonsense attitude and obvious ability wins him over and they start dating, until the sexual harrassent story gets in the way and both are forced to confront the extent to which the boss-employee relationship may influence them: didacticism 101.

Then there’s Heidi. Heidi (Cassandra Foster) is the City Room hottie, whose desk must always be kept within sight, and who the men, Lou included, get up to watch leave in  her tight pants, bending over.

Of more importance is Karen (Marilyn Jones), a fresh faced, blonde girl with a hint of a young Laura Dern, newly employed in advertising under boss Lloyd Bracken (David Spielberg). Lloyd’s your basic sleazebag boss. Karen’s obviously been employed for her looks and the expectation she’ll sleep with him. He’s full of suggestiveness, touchy-feely hands on shoulders or hugs. Karen hates it, but can’t break the cycle because she’s one of the many many women who go through this thing feeling helpless: unable to protest, unwilling to fight, to create the hassle.

Billie’s on her part of the story. Billie is intially cool. Billie doesn’t stand for foolishness, she striks back immediately, and she has a lack of empathy for why other women don’t/can’t do what she does that’s surprising in a reporter. but Billie is seeing Karen’s story at close range, trying to be supportive, but not quite gettng why Karen puts up with it.

There’s no ending to a story like this, no credible way of saying we’ve won over this kind of male-domain privilege and entitlement. The Trib runs the story. Mrs Pynchon sets up a Grievance Comittee where Karen and her ilk can raise complaints. Karen won’t use it though, Karen’s quitting, in the hope (no doubt vain) that she can find a job where her looks won’t count against being allowed to get on and work.

Rossi, given the chance to quite legitimately get his hands on Heidi, passes it up and even averts his gaze from her raised-to-his-eye-level bum.

The only end we get is Billie getting exasperated at Lloyd’s win and shopping him to Lou, who, now he knows what he wanted to know no longer wants to know it. But Lloyd’s after a reporter to assist in designing an a. It’s pretty clear where his thoughts lie as he names Heidi first (I need her for something), then Susie (she’s busy). Then Lou gets that sneaky look on his face and offers Billie, who Lloyd accepts. We’re being offered the offscreen solution that Lloyd will try it on with her and wind up out on his ear as Billie will not back away from a complaint, but it’s a weak ending that hopes we’ll overlook all the reasonable objections Lloyd would be able to mount.

No, not an episode that works, for all that it bravely Shows instead of Telling. It was defeated by the complexity of the subject, even though the subject is devastatingly simple: it’s Wrong, all of it. And somehow that basic point, the wood, if you like, was not really visible for all the trees.


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.

Lou Grant: s03 e24 – Hazard

Another series comes to an end, this time with a bit of a jumbled ending as the various aspects of the story failed to completely gel, and once again the question arises as to wthether it might not be time to take a break. Hold that thought.

‘Hazard’ used the familiar A-and-B story format to run in tandam two stories of minimal relatedness and weight. The B-story featured Dave Marcus (Philip R. Allen), a bright, witty top-notch editor brought back west from the Trib’s Washington Bureau to head up the National Desk. Marcus got in well with everyone except Charlie Hume. Did this have anything to do wth his being talked up as Charlie’s successor as Managing Editor? Though this was red-herringed at us, it was just personal dislike but it made for much concerned gossip when Charlie abruptly sacked Marcus.

You,me and the gatepost knew it was because Marcus had been fiddling his expenses long-term, but Charlie did the decent thing and kept schtum on the reason, despite the damage it did to his reputation. Only at the end did Lou know, let in by Betty from Accounting who was also suppsedly sworn to secrecy, and even then Charlie’s maintaining that it was between him and Marcus only, and it was.

The A-story was also about money, in the end. After Lou witnesses a young lad come off his motorbike, he puts Rossi onto investigating the model, which the industry regards as a joke, a single flawed product from an otherwise reputable and reliable Company.

At the same time, in what was almost a C-story, Billie was assigned to cover the release from prison of a minor Washington bureaucrat imprisoned for unspecified crimes, and staying completely mum about what he did and what his book about what he did is going to be about. This seemed an oddly detached and slender aspect to the episode but it was there to provide a contrast to the A-story.

Because Rossi, digging deep and digging hard, locates senior design engineer Paul Kramer (Tom Rosqui) who not only confirms the design flaw affecting the bike’s braking but that management have decided that it’s more cost effective to settle insurance claims for injury and death than to recall and fix the product. Moreover, he’s got the memos but, because they will make his job precarious, refuses to release these without payment of $4,000.

Mrs Pynchon refuses. The Trib will not indulge in checkbook jurnalism, that’s absolute. A desperate Rossi takes out a bank loan at 21% interest to put himself in serious financial trouble by paying it personally, but Kramer double-crosses him and sells the story elsewhere.

Rossi, personally extremely pissed off as who wouldn’t be, attends a Company Press Conference at which Kramer is put forward to defend the bike’s design. An Executive plays on his sense of betrayal to get him to reveal his source, but though Rossi thinks Kramer stinks, his principles are paramount: he keeps Kramer’s name hid.

As for that C-story, it turns out that the bureaucrat’s book is to be serialised in, of all places, the Trib. For $70,000. Lou takes Mrs Pynchon to task over what he sees as double-standards but which she tries to distinguish as something else entirely. Not very convincingly.

So we’re here at the end of season 3. The Thursday slot was originally intended for older series, looking back, and short run series at that. There are 44 episodes remaining over the last two seasons, more than any other series I’ve watched in this slot in total. Over the next week, I’m going to consider whether to work straight on or to substitute something else, just for a change. In the current COVID-19 crisis, spending mst of my time indoors alone, I’m getting more than a bit tired.

Lou Grant: s03 e23 – Guns

A patriot

Oh boy.

That was my reaction to this episode’s title, knowing America’s relationship with guns and the right to bear arms. But this story wasn’t about gun control, despite the programme showing its hand with on, deliberately comic line.

No, this was about something bigger than that, and about something a lot closer to our home, because it was about the IRA, and the ongoing Troubles.

The episode began with a break-in at a gun shop and the methodical theft of eleven automatic rifles, banned from sale but part of the owner’s private collection. His was the positional statement that got slipped in: challenging Rossi’s lack of interest in his position on gun control, his answer was, ‘Like any sane person, I’m against it!’.

The first real giveaway to the story’s true aim came in McKenna’s at lunch. Owner Maggie McKenna (played by future Golden Girl Rue McLannahan) is over from Ireland for the night’s big St Patrick’s Day party, and she’s shaking the collection tin for starving children back there. The wives and children of the men held in prison in the North.

It’s an old story now, swept thankfully to the pages of history and, we fervently hope, confined forever there, but this was about the support given to the IRA by Americans, support in money, support in guns, support in money-for-guns, bought in Los Angeles and smuggled back to the old country. And the programme trod carefully, allowing the Freedom Fighters their say about what they were doing, justifying their actions, their use of force as unwelcome but necessary, as force was the only thing the Oppressor understood, without condemning them in any but a polite, cautious manner.

In its way, it was a history lesson, a pertinent reminder to those of us who lived through those times. There was a reminder of the death of Earl Mountbatten that brought back in an instant where I was and what I was doing when that news broke, in 1979, on Anglesey, and there were two women, housewives and mothers, one Protestant, one Catholic, to recall the Mother’s Peace Process, wanting nothing but an end to fear and death.

The programme allowed those who represented the cause to make their argument a point of principle whilst allowing the viewer to make up their own mind on the extent to which the death of ordinary people was justifiable by any principle. It allowed the supporters to condemn themaselves out of their own mouths via the passionate but unthinking Maggie, at one point relishing the takeover of the North and showing the protestants what it feels like, and at another refusing to even think about how the British could be removed from Ireland without the very real damage a precipitate withdrawal could cause. Yet Maggie would also be the means by which the episode offered its sole hope of minds changing.

First though, there was Francie Fitzgerald (Redman Gleeson), intrduced by Maggie to Lou as a fellw journalist. Francie was one of those easy-going sons of the blarney and it’s to Gleeson’s credit that, whilst playing him to the hilt as an Irish charmer, he kept him the right side of an Oirish caricature. You liked Francie, you’d have a beer and the craic with him any day, but he was the militant, the gun-runner, stealing Lou’s Driving Licence and Social security card to set up a fake, gun-buying identity.

Francie also turned out a target at the last. He had doubts, or so he said, he wanted to resign, or so he said, but you don’t get to resign. Besides, he was too sloppy, known to the FBI and the Police. So a bomb was planted under Francie’s car.

But this was the show’s only serious failing, and that because of what it was and when this was, and what it couldn’t show. Two kids were throwing ball in the garden. One threw it too hard and it rolled under Francie’s car. The other went scrabbling for it. The show underplayed it too much, neither taking you by surprise nor tightening your stomach with tension of the ‘oh no, they’re not going to…’ kind. We didn’t even hear a bang. Just Police sirens, Rossi arriving to see a totalled car, and a far too offhand resigned line from a Detective to tell us the kid was killed. The moment was thrown away.

At least it had its decent aftermath. The epilogue took place in McKenna’s where a drunken buffoon announced Francie’s death in sententious tones of faked regret. Rossi corrected him: Francie got away, to which the buffoon cheered. Lou told him to tell the rest: our barometer buffoon sighed about it always being the innocent suffer in this war, but in the only shaft of light possible, Maggie herself, the unthinking patriot, told him to shut up. And she tok the collecting jars from the tables and put them away in back.

Back in 1980, that was pretty much the only hope anyone ever dared have about the Troubles, that minds be changed, one by one. I thught that the episode suffered from not once giving the viewpoint of the North, coming closest with Art Donovan’s refusal to be co-opted by reason of his Irish roots and making the practical point that the British simply can’t be thrown out bag and baggage on the next boat, much as the simplistic Maggie wanted.

It was a strong and memorable episode, my choice for the best of season 3. It did its best to stay neutral from an editorial perspective, concentrating upon death and misery rather than the politics, and I’ve tried to do the same today. My curse has always been to see the rights and wrongs of both sides in such situations as this, and whilst my instincts always come down against the users of violence, I do know that sometimes it is necesary, in the same way that Hitler and Nazism could, in the long run, only be overcome by blood and destruction. All I can say is that it is complicated and blessed are the peace-makers of every stripe.

I am so glad that this story is, for now at least, out of date.