31 August 2009 | Cheyenne-Bodie
Hal Holbrook in peak form
Forty-five year old Hal Holbrook played Senator Hays Stowe with great style, grace, and intelligence. It was a stunning series performance. Holbrook reminded me of Henry Fonda in "Twelve Angry Men" and Gregory Peck in "To Kill a Mockingbird". All three men projected quiet decency and great humanity. All three gave hints of what an American man could be at his best. Hal Holbrook became my favorite actor.
"The Senator" didn't quite look or sound like any other show on television. There was no background music which was fascinating. The show was visually interesting and skillfully edited. There wasn't the usual over-lighting. And they seemed to avoid the tired old Universal sets or at least made them look a little less like sets.
The producer of the series was David Levinson. Levinson's ambition was amazing. "The Senator" was head and shoulders above any other drama series on television. The series was tops in all departments: acting, writing, directing, editing and art direction. Somehow this great show came out of nowhere. It was far above the usual Universal product. The unofficial executive producer was William Sackheim, who was the godfather of many fine writers and many interesting projects at Universal.
John Badham was the associate producer. He became a director for the first time on this series. Badham's two episodes were brilliantly directed and he got an Emmy nomination for his second episode. Other fine directors included Jerrold Freedman, Daryl Duke, and Robert Day.
But what really made "The Senator" stand out was the superb writing. The brilliant writers included Joel Oliansky, Ernest Kinoy, David Rintels, Leon Tokatyan, and Jerrold Freedman.
Michael Tolan was excellent as Jordan Boyle, Stowe's tough adviser. Sharon Acker was delightful as the senator's beautiful wife.
Strong guest star performances were given by James Wainwright, Gerald S. O'Loughlin, Will Geer, Burgess Meredith, and Logan Ramsey.
Holbrook had beautifully played a beleaguered university president in the Universal TV movie "The Whole World is Watching". He got an Emmy nomination for best supporting actor. That must have given Universal the idea to put him in a series.
Holbrook won the Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama Series for "The Senator". The series won as Best Drama Series. Daryl Duke won for directing and Joel Oliansky won for writing. Michael Economou won for film editing. There were several other nominations.
The series had already been canceled. But after the many Emmy wins, NBC wanted Universal to make a couple of World Premiere movies of "The Senator". However, Hal Holbrook (who was always terrified of type casting) turned the offer down. Very disappointing. It might have been fun to watch Hays Stowe run for president.
Director John Badham, writer Joel Oliansky, and producer William Sackheim later reteamed for the fine TV movie "The Law".
The only other drama series in the same class as "The Senator" that season (70-71) was "The Psychiatrist" with Roy Thinnes. "The Psychiatrist" was produced by Jerrold Freedman. Freedman also made big contributions to "The Senator" as the director of one episode and the writer of another.