In the final episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"(CBS-TV:1970-1977),when everyone but idiotic anchorman Ted Baxter was fired from station WJM-TV in Minneapolis in 1977,Mary Richards and her fellow casualties were left reeling. It was a bittersweet finale for the beloved series after seven seasons. Then Mary's old crusty boss,station news director Lou Grant,made a smooth transition. Within weeks,he had blown Minneapolis and snagged a good job in Los Angeles as the city editor of The Tribune. That's right:Lou Grant went from the glamour and glitz of TV news(such as it was at bumbling WJM) to embrace print journalism. At The Tribune,the formerly comic Lou(still played by Edward Asner)got serious about news. What resulted was "Lou Grant," a superlative drama series that became one of the greatest dramatic shows ever to embrace the mid-1970's. This was a grand series that arrived in the blazing afterglow of Watergate coverage and the rehealing from the aftermath of the Vietnam War. The bracing message of that era: Two dogged reporters(and a newspaper that backed them up)could change the world-and earn the public's adoration.
Anti-press fulminations from the Nixon administration were largely nullified by scandals and disgrace in the White House. It was only later that an anti-media crusade took hold,drawing the battle lines between the press and the government,and breeding suspicion among much of the citizenry. It was later,as well,that newspapers were obliged to adapt to emerging,unimagined challenges:new media platforms,"citizen journalists",and information-dispersing gadgets with global reach that anyone could buy. The Trib reporters were spared these distractions and identity crises. For them,news still took the form of ink on paper,preferably with comics,crosswords puzzles,and horoscopes were part of the deal. The zeitgeist of "Lou Grant" was set forth in the clever opening sequence and this show celebrated it. Sure it may seem primitive that,in its first season,Trib reports were getting information and their sources with pencil and paper and banging out their stories on the typewriters. But "Lou Grant" was breaking ground from its debut on September 20,1977 producing 114 episodes for CBS-TV until the series finale on September 13,1982. Produced under Mary Tyler Moore's production company,MTM Productions.
Reconfiguring a half-hour sitcom into a hour long drama was risky. The show dared to populate "Lou Grant" with a full-out ensemble cast which not only included Ed Asner,but also Robert Walden who played driven young investigate reporter Joe Rossi;Mason Adams as Managing Editor Charlie Hume;Linda Kelsey as reporter Billie Newman determined to make good in what was at the time a male-domination profession along with another ambitious young girl reporter Carla Mardigian portrayed by Rebecca Balding(who lasted one season). Also on board was the glorious Nancy Marchand(later,of course Tony's craven mother on "The Sopranos")was Mrs. Pynchon,who was the genteel owner of the Trib. Taking full advantage of its news-oriented setting,this was a brilliant series that dealt with issues ranging from nuclear accidents to religious freedom,media ethics and civil and social rights. This was a big-hearted series that won 13 Emmys,two Humanita Prizes and a Peabody award among many honors. This was drama-comedy hybrid that emerged from the series creators:James L. Brooks and Allan Burns(the writers-producers from "Mary Tyler Moore"),along with Gene Reynolds(who was not only the principal behind the TV incarnation of "M*A*S*H",but also was the producer of such shows as "Room 222"). This was a series that broke ground in the way television dramas are depicted and to this day it still holds the title some 30 years later.