Two greats, one known for his portrayals of flinty no-nonsense men, the other for his congeniality as a TV personality, passed last week.Both Ed Asner, age 91, and Willard Scott, age 87, were unique in their styles and beloved because of it.
Asner had a long career that brought him many acting challenges, all of which he met with an ability to connect to his audience.His most famous role, of course, is Lou Grant, introduced as a gruff comic local TV news director on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and morphing into the commanding editor of a metro daily in Mr. Asner’s own series, “Lou Grant.”
For each of these CBS shows, Mr. Asner earned Emmy Awards, three as Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for the “Moore” show and two as Best Lead Actor in a Drama for “Lou Grant.” He was given two additional Emmys for single roles in the ’70s mini-series, “Roots” and “Rich Man, Poor Man.”
Although many of his characters came from the same mold – tough, crusty, and sarcastic – Mr. Asner was skilled enough as an actor to create a canon of work that shows a lot of variety, attention to detail, and a knack for making each person he portrayed someone who grabbed your attention.
As mentioned, Lou Grant begins his fictional life in a comedy. Grant’s wisecracks, world-weariness, misanthropy, and bad-tempered veneer become a mechanism for triggering lots of laughs on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” where Lou was a pussycat underneath his gruff, grouchy exterior.
The character took on depth when the “Moore” show ended, and CBS moved Lou Grant to his own series, a drama in which we see Lou as the seasoned, unimpressed newsman that is a staple of Hollywood movies about newspapers but one that rarely makes it to television.
“Lou Grant” had a grit to match the character. While the show veered off into episodes emphasizing human interest, Asner could always keep Lou’s edge while showing compassion or otherwise revealing the humanity under the dedicated newsman’s armor.
Even when you couldn’t see Asner, for instance in the 2009 Oscar-nominated animated film, “Up,” you could hear his way with a line and his ability to juxtapose the warm with the crochety.
Few actors in this era leave the great body of work that Asner does.
Despite being constantly busy for the last 50 years of his career, Asner was active in fighting for his professional and the people who practiced it. Among his involvements was a term as President of the Screen Actors Guild.
The cast of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” is one of the most iconic and well accomplished in television history. Most of its nuclear members – Moore, Asner, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Ted Knight, and Betty White – received Emmys for their work on the show. Georgia Engel was nominated more than once, but she was never given the Emmy. Of the principals, only Gavin MacLeod earned no nominations. Leachman and MacLeod preceded Asner in 2021 deaths. Their passing leaves the oldest member of the “Moore” cast, Betty White, as the survivor among its leads. Some major actors who had smaller roles, such as John Amos who played Gordy, the weatherman, also survive, but they received their fame in other TV programs.
Asner, in addition to acting, appeared regularly as a guest on talk shows.
Willard Scott had a contagiously happy demeanor and, as weatherman on NBC’s “Today Show” for decades, exuded what is quickly becoming a lost art, the ability to be a total broadcaster, able to handle any on-air assignment and doing it in a way that earns the admiration, and in Mr. Scott’s case, the affection, of the viewer.
Day in and day out, Scott charmed “Today” viewers in a way that won him a following. He was the epitome of the friend fans invited into their living rooms.
Sure, he was an able weatherman who came through the ranks before it became fashionable, then de rigueur for the person delivering a forecast to be a meteorologist.
I’m sure no one cared whether Scott had science credentials, when he was on “Today” or before that at NBC’s Washington station, WRC, where Mr. Scott played several roles including weather anchor.
Personality was the key when Scott was coming up. The most important ability was communicating with the audience.Willard Scott set a continuous example about how to do that.
He was always affable and upbeat. He didn’t mind being silly when the occasion allowed. He knew his subject well enough to write and present a script, and he contributed to the station’s or show’s weather person, meteorologist or not, being a character of sorts, with permission news anchors and reporters did not have to take viewers on visual trips or create warm, funny moments.
One of Scott’s memorable gambits was wishing centenarians a Happy Birthday, live on “Today,” when their 100th came. Not only did Scott announce each person’s name on national television, but he presented them with a Smucker’s jelly jar with their picture on it.Aging Americans looked forward to the day when they could be cited by Scott. As my sister-in-law’s aunt’s 100th approached, she constantly talked about wanting to be recognized by Willard Scott and having her face on the Smucker’s jar.
Ed Asner and Willard Scott each had remarkable careers. One wonders if either of those careers could be duplicated today.
Scott was a living example of all a broadcaster, personality, and deliverer of information should be, but today, he may not have the credentials, or looks, television stations want when they hire folks to do the weather or take any news roles.
With all of his talent and appeal, would he be hired by a news director, a follower in Lou Grant’s footsteps today?As for Lou Grant, it is conceivable that another could have a career similar of Ed Asner’s. J.K. Simmons may be doing that right now.To me, the question becomes whether a character like Lou Grant would be welcome on television today. Grant’s free-speaking, often insulting way of talking to his staffs at the fictional WJM-TV or the Los Angeles Tribune, could rankle the Puritans who want to censor via “cancel culture.”
I often watch vintage television, including game shows of bygone eras, and marvel at what people could say and how no one got so offended that they insisted on dismissal or other severe measures.
Lou Grant was good to and for Ed Asner. The opposite is also true. I wonder how welcome that marvelous character, portrayed so brilliantly, would be to the viewer forever on the lookout for the next molehill he or she can build into a mountain on social media.
Richards totally gone from ‘Jeopardy!’
Of course. Of course.
It wasn’t good enough for the torch-and-pitchfork folk to run Mike Richards from the “Jeopardy” host job powers that be at Sony offered him after a season of viewing guest moderators following the death of longtime emcee, Alex Trebek.
Richards was also driven from his job as executive producer at “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune.”
The controversy surrounding nine-year-old podcasts no one cared about until Richards attained something worth coveting, a job he demonstrated he could do better than anyone else who tried. What amazes me is how a style of humor that was accepted when Richards used it in 2012, and is far less harmful that the way opponents make it sound, should have so much weight.
Television may be a democracy, but it should be the viewers that vote via ratings and not social media or petitions or any other means that can include people who do not regularly watch “Jeopardy!” that lead to decisions.
I, a dedicated “Jeopardy!” watcher, would have been glad to have Richards as the show’s host.
Maybe I am not as sensitive as some others about what humor goes too far. Maybe I can shrug off certain kinds of jokes and skits, even when they refer to traits I have, such as being gay or Jewish, easier than many.
Whatever I am, the quest to remove people from their jobs for things that have nothing to do with that job has to stop.
I am open to whomever is the host of “Jeopardy!” One thing the guest host era proved was the game, and not the host, is supreme. Richards was the best, but Mayim Bialik, who is stepping in to be the host, was quite good.
Yes, a host of a television programs needs a kind of mass approval to succeed. That approval should be based on performance. If there is any alleged offense, the degree in terms of perspective and proportion may be taken in consideration. Mob rule, however, is wrong. It doesn’t represent the will of the majority. It represents the complaint of the loud and usually a small band of the loud.
Mike Richards, I hear you’re taking Sony to court. I hope you win big and finance your life with a bundle of Sony money. I also hope you get the chance to fulfill your dream of being host of a major game show like “Jeopardy!”
Preston and Steve in HOF
I am pleading guilty to being among the few in the Delaware Valley who have never listened to Preston and Steve’s morning program on WMMR (93.3 FM).
I do not admit this happily. Preston and Steve have been doing their show for a long time, two decades, and have a great following. I am usually watching TV or at work when Preston and Steve are on the air from 5:30 to 10:30 a.m. weekdays.
Preston and Steve have done such a good job, they were nominated in July to the National Museum of Broadcasting Hall of Fame. On August 16, they found out they were among performers who won the fan vote. They will be inducted into the Hall of Fame as one the best morning duos in radio history.
Regular listeners, I’m sure, are pleased. I am going to start listening to see if I can catch up with the greatness.In my case, it’s about time.
In any case, congratulations Preston Elliott and Steve Morrison. You do Philadelphia proud.
Neal Zoren’s television column appears every Monday.
Source: Berkshire mont