7 February 2006 | theowinthrop
A Good Transcription From the Large Screen to the Small Screen
In 1978 Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson, Art Carney, and Richard Benjamin appeared in a comedy about the medical profession in a big city hospital called HOUSE CALLS. It was a good comedy, and would lead to one of the film partnerships of Matthau's career - his two film partnership with Jackson. But it also was so well liked it was transformed into a briefly successful television show starring Wayne Rogers, Lynn Redgrave, David Wayne, and Ray Buktenica, and (when Redgrave left the show) Sharon Gless.
The television show was unique in it's way, not only from being a successful transcription from the movies. Matthau's Charlie was a man in his 50s, and the role was reduce by about 15 years for Rogers. Rogers, who made a name for himself as Dr. "Trapper John" McIntyre on the television show M.A.S.H. had left that show in 1978. Yet he was not hired to play an older version of the same character in TRAPPER JOHN (Pernell Roberts was - quite successfully too). Instead he ended up as Charlie. Redgrave, British born and raised, replaced Jackson, British born and raised. Buktenica replaced Benjamin. Of the leads, the most interesting change was Wayne from Carney. Dr. Amos Weatherby was usually senile and incompetent, but he had a mean, opportunistic streak occasionally. At first Wayne's character was written like that. The habit that Carney had of calling Benjamin's character by the wrong first name was continued by Wayne towards Buktenica. But it turned out that in one of the episodes, Buktenica (who was getting upset at this habit of Wayne's) discovered that it was meant well - Wayne's dead younger brother was like Buktenica, and that was why he called him by that name.
In short Wayne's character was allowed to show more humanity than Carney's. In later episodes his competence, while questioned, turned out to be far more realistic than Carney's. In one episode, when a supposedly botched operation took place Wayne is being forced to resign by the head of the Board of Trustees. It turned out that the wife of the head of the Board starts choking while Wayne is giving his resignation speech. Without stopping he walks behind her and gives her the correct Heimlich maneuver. Carney's Amos would not have done that.
The romance between Charlie and Ann continued, but more discreetly than in the film. In 1981 Lynn Redgrave left the show in a contract dispute. She was replaced in the last year by Sheron Gless. Gless did well in the part, but the audience used to Redgrave never quite caught onto Gless. The show ended in 1982, and Gless would soon find her niche in television history as Tyne Daly's second partner in CAGNEY AND LACEY.
There were also two other characters who popped up who were new to the story. There was Mrs. Phipps (Deedy Peters) and Conrad Peckler (Mark L. Taylor). Mrs. Phipps was the chief Candy Striper, a sickeningly sweet lady who got into the hair of the patients and doctors - but tended to be sharp when she wanted to be. Peckler became the bete noir of Rogers, Wayne (in particular Wayne, who never has any patience for him), Buktenica, Redgrave, and Gless (the latter two as office workers are under him - Peckler is the hospital administrator). Officious, business like, and totally without any sympathy for anything that does not benefit the hospital, Taylor's Peckler always was taught a lesson by the others. Usually it was Wayne who taught him the lesson.
The show was actually quite good - it certainly deserves a revival.