Today, the great actor Ed Asner is 85 years old. It is very easy to call him “Lou Grant.” He played the character for seven seasons on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and then for another five seasons on the drama Lou Grant. That switch from a supporting character on a comedy to a primary character on a drama has always struck me as one of the great television stories. I’m a little young for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and I didn’t especially like it. But I was crazy for Lou Grant in junior high (they call it “middle school” now, I’m told) and high school. I’ve always had a thing about writers and reporters.
One interesting thing about the show is that it had good ratings all the way through its fifth season. Asner thinks the show was canceled because of his liberal politics and, to a lesser extent, of the show itself. I’m not sure I agree. I think it is at least as likely that the show was canceled due to pure incompetence by the CBS executives. That is what happened at CBS with Gilligan’s Island. But you can’t underestimate just how small minded executives can be in general, but most especially in Hollywood.
There are lots of whole episodes on YouTube. The following one is from the first season, “Aftershock.” In an absolute sense, it isn’t great. But for its time, it is pretty good. This was the year of Three’s Company and CHiPs and Charlie’s Angels. This episode tries a little too hard to be funny, but the whole thing about a Minnesotan freaking out about earthquakes while Californians do their lackadaisical thing is very good. The bets were a nice touch.
At this point, Asner is known more for his liberal politics. The only issue I disagree with him about is 9/11; he seems to think there is more there than meets the eye. But otherwise, he is a good right-thinking American. In 2012, he created a bit of a stir doing the narration for a video for the California Federation of Teachers. (I wrote about it at the time: Tax the Rich Fairy Tale.)
Happy birthday Ed Asner!