Transcript of the interview with multiple Emmy award winning actor
Ed Asner

Best known for his role as Lou Grant on two television series,
and its spinoff
At the time of the interview he was starring in ABC sitcom THUNDER ALLEY
The interview was aired on Friday, May 12, 1995 at 10pm eastern by
Peter Anthony Holder, the evening talk show host on
CJAD 800 AM, Montreal

CJAD: The one thing I'd like to start off with is the fact that you have had an interesting career where you have had the chance to do both comedy and drama, in some cases with the same character. That doesn't happen very often. How do you answer to the fact that you have quite a rarity happen in your career this way?

ED: I guess I'm schizoid! (laughter). Looking to be who I am, which a great number of actors are, of course. I avoided comedy when I first came to California. The way to be discovered in those days, was to guest star on an hour drama show and become the next leading man, or whatever. I didn't really put my toe into the water of comedy until I went up to read for MARY TYLER MOORE. I was afraid of it. Not that I couldn't do an initial spark of humour, but I didn't know how to maintain it. I was afraid of not being able to maintain it.

CJAD: When you did a lot of drama....if I recall you had a chance to play a lot of villains. Did that pose a problem?

ED: No because I just played myself!

CJAD: Are you saying that you're a villainous character yourself?

ED: No, I think we all fancy ourselves as deep dyed in some respects, and I'm no different in that respect, but actually not that many villains. There were a few nice ones, but for the most part it was the police captain, the police lieutenant, the stock support character to the leading man.

CJAD: Usually in the form of authority, correct?

ED: Right.

CJAD: Your new television show THUNDER ALLEY, on this character you play a retired race car driver, and again it is a comedy. How do you go about choosing the roles. For instance, who did you go about choosing this role?

ED: Well, certainly I felt it was me. That it was the type of character that would be quite easy for me to step into the shoes of. I have to like the script. Being a wonderful character in a terrible script would not appeal to me. The script appealed to me. It felt that there were the seeds, the buds of a potentially charming comedy. And I think we've begun to approach that.

CJAD: The show has had some growing pains. First of all, it has been bumped around the schedule and spread out over two years, and you've even had some cast changes, is that correct.

ED: That's correct.

CJAD: Does that pose a problem? Does that make the road more difficult?

ED: You're never able to relax. We changed the initial actress in the pilot and worked with Diana Venora. That didn't work out after about eight episodes. Then Robin Riker was brought in as the daughter. We also had a change of an Executive Producer, who's very talented, but seemed to rub up against the network. Each time that happens, it makes you feel very strongly that you're not out of the woods. You're not set. You're not prepared to role, because you don't have the full fledged combination that people want from you.

CJAD: Are you involved in the production of the television show beyond your role as the lead actor?

ED: I offer my opinion. I mildly struggle, because you don't have to struggle too hard with our very generous producers, in the way a particular script may speak or tend. If I feel a pattern that I'm not happy with over a series of shows, is not going the way I want my character developed, or if I feel that certain areas are not being paid attention to, then I'll talk about it and hopefully it will be addressed.

CJAD: Was there a difficulty in playing Lou Grant for so many years and then trying to do other things. Were people trying to type-cast you in other Lou Grant type roles.

ED: They will type-cast you no matter what happens and I realized I do the same thing in observing other actors that I come to expect certain types of work from and kind of rear back when I see them stepping out of that mold. But fortunately for me, my agent and I pursued contrasting roles as much as possible, trying to stretch whatever I represent as much as possible. That helped in gaining other casting beyond Lou Grant.

CJAD: For a little while you had a nice little role there as Markie Post's dad on HEARTS OF FIRE.

ED: That was enjoyable.

CJAD: That was fun to watch. Was there not a possibility of you becoming a regular on that particular show at the time?

ED: Well, I think they either ran out of material for me or they felt like I was a 600-pound gorilla perhaps, and would be crowding the two wonderful stars of that show, Markie and John Ritter, making it difficult to write for them. So they began to peter out in terms of writing for me. Since I was only a momentary....I was only on for about a year...and informed them that I would be leaving eventually to get my own series off the ground, they probably decided that they had spun out what they wanted from my character and then began to soft peddle it

CJAD: In the new ABC sitcom THUNDER ALLEY, you play a grandfather and you are surrounded by kids. Sometimes actors are concerned that they get lost in shows where kids are on. Did that not concern you?

ED: It has in a way, particularly when we were at the 8 o'clock slot. They pushed very heavily to focus on the kids. However, I must say that these are wonderful kids. Very bright and very talented. The producer and the network also want to make me happy. This is my first intense experience working with kids. I'm not saddled with getting the performance out of them. Robbie Benson, our director, or whomever is replacing him at the time; the assistant directors, the parents, even the teachers, work very hard the with the kids, so I'm spared a lot of that grunt work. I get to enjoy the cream of them.

CJAD: How is it different in this sitcom situation, from the other two sitcom situations. I mentioned HEARTS AFIRE and THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, where you are the focus of the show as opposed as to being one of the supporting actors involved with the lead. Does that change? Does it make it more difficult for you? Is it a bigger challenge, or is it the same as far as acting skills are concerned?

ED: Well, bear in mind, I was not the focus on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, Mary was......

CJAD: Well that's what I mean

ED: ....and a number of zanies that surrounded her. Also I was not the focus on HEARTS AFIRE.

CJAD: That's my point exactly, that you're the focus on this particular sitcom. It's a different situation then what you have been in, in the past.

ED: No, because I did a short a short-lived comedy series called OFF THE RACK with Eileen Brennen. I was the focus there. It is different. I guess it creates a mind set in you wherein if you're not heavy in one week or a couple of weeks you're more patient. When you are a second or third banana, you start wondering how long will this trend keep up.

CJAD: Let's go back to THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW for a little bit. When you first got that role....when you audition for the role, did you have any inkling, did anybody have any inkling that you were on the threshold of something.....I can't say greatness, because who knows what that is going to be.....but a show that definitely had a chance to run for a certain number of years and looked like a hit from the start.

ED: Well it's one of the few times I have surmised correctly. When I got that script and read the character and read the script, I said, "God is this gold! This is the best thing I've read since Hector was a pup!" It doesn't matter what happens to it. The joy of being able to do this character in this script would be enough to satisfy me. When I got it and when we were guaranteed thirteen on the air, most of the other actors were worried, "will we be picked up?...will we be picked up?" I had a wonderful out clause for myself. I just said, "Who cares! This is the best stuff I've ever done in television!" It gave me a great deal of security.

CJAD: Did you originally audition for that particular role or was there the possibility of other roles for you in that show, because I know....back just before Christmas we had in studio with us, one of your co-stars, Gavin McLeod, who was here doing a show, and he said at one point he was auditioning for the role of Lou Grant.

ED: That's right, and I think he even suggested that he would be more suited to Murray. No I only went up for Lou, and after going up for him, that's what I kept returning as.

CJAD: How much of Lou is you, or vice versa.

ED: Well, I used a lot of my brothers as Lou. They're rye sardonic twisted look types. I kept digging into my ditty bag and envisioning my brothers a great deal of the time.

CJAD: How much of an adjustment was it for you to go from Lou Grant the comedic role to Lou Grant the dramatic role with your hour-long series?

ED: It was not only an enormously difficult adjustment for me, it was for everybody involved. Everybody thought that...because I asked the two producers, Alan Brooks and Jim Burns of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW be my producers on LOU GRANT. They were happy to do so, and it was their idea to extend it into an hour drama. Everybody at the MTM organization, none of them had really put out an hour drama show. When we started....I mean in terms of crew, in terms of executives, nobody knew what they were doing. When we debuted on the air, CBS was so non-plussed that they had us billed in TV GUIDE as LOU GRANT, a comedy. I think the public was quite shocked too, because I think when they tuned in on LOU GRANT they expected to see just another continuation of MARY TYLER MOORE with slightly different guys. It took awhile. A great long while, a year or two, for the public to adjust. Fortunately CBS didn't have any instant replacement for us and we won awards in the first year. That gave us time to grow and really find our niche.

CJAD: Speaking of awards, you have quite a few of them yourself. A lot of them for the character of Lou Grant. You have, what, three Emmys on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW?

ED: Three on the MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and two on the hour show.

CJAD: Did you ever anticipate that your mantle would look the way it does right now. You also have Golden Globes, I understand?

ED: Right!

CJAD: And how many Emmys total?

ED: Seven.

CJAD: Seven Emmys and you have Golden Globes. Did you ever anticipate when you first started acting that this was where your career was going to take you?

ED: No. The first night back on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW in the second year, I was waiting in the wings, having won my first Emmy, with Gavin and Ted. As they played the music to make our running entrance onto the stage, I looked at them and my heart was bursting and I said, "boy, I could die now!" They looked at me as if I was nuts, and said, "you go ahead, we have yet to win ours!"

CJAD: One of the things that also gets your name in the news is the fact that you are involved or have been involved in several causes and organizations and have been very outspoken in certain regards to some things you have said in the past. I'm just curious to know if that has ever gotten in your way as far as your acting career is concerned because sometimes you get people out there, either people in the audience, or maybe the movers and shakers in Hollywood who just want actors to be actors and nothing else.

ED: That's quite true. My presidency of the Screen Actors Guild, coupled at the same time being one of the founding members of MEDICAL AID FOR EL SALVADOR created a conflict which eventually lead to a good deal of controversy and I think achieved the cancellation of the LOU GRANT show.

CJAD: The cancellation of the show itself?

ED: Yeah.

CJAD: At a time when CBS could have probably used a hit, it seems to be rather harsh to do something like that without realizing that....put it this way, LOU GRANT was bringing in a certain amount of money to CBS.

ED: Well, I feel the same way. We were still a prestigious show. It created demonstrations outside CBS and all of that. It was 1982, the height of Reagan power. I think it was primarily in the hands of William Paley (former CBS Chairman), to make the decision to cancel it.

CJAD: Are there any hard feelings, or is that water under the bridge now? Could you go back to CBS?

ED: Oh yeah. I think I've done a show or two for CBS.


ED: That's right!

CJAD: Where do you see this particular character taking you? Do you anticipate that the show you're doing now could conceivably run another five years like LOU GRANT or seven years like MARY TYLER MOORE?

ED: As long as we continue to grow. As long as we continue to develop and know who we are and stay intelligent. Kids love us automatically. They really identify with the show. It's to our purpose to try to make it as "catholic" with a small "c" as possible.

CJAD: The other roles you've've also had a chance to do made-for-television movies and mini series, off Broadway. Let's talk about the big screen. More and more you see actors making that jump from the big screen too the little screen. Would you like to do more major motion pictures or is it the role that is most important to you and not necessarily the venue it's shown on?

ED: Well that certainly remains true, but that doesn't mean that I wouldn't love to do movies. I still find resistance to putting me in movies.

CJAD: Why do you think that is?

ED: I'm not sure whether it's a combination of so much TV in my life or my recognition as Ed Asner so intensively that they're hesitant to hope to bury me within the wrappings of a character. They're much more afraid to cast me then they are in television.

CJAD: With all that you've done and a certain amount of power and clout that you've achieved, is it not possible to go out there and create your own roles, as some people have done in the movie industry?

ED: Oh yeah. I must bow to the cleverness and the wit and wisdom of Mr. Stallone and Mr. Schwarzenegger and a few others who have been able to do that. I think it's that mentality of thinking of themselves as stars and I haven't been able to incorporate that into prodigious work in creating a character and selling it. Also, I'm not a leading man, so it would be a harder sell for me.

CJAD: With reruns and cable channels out there....right now A&E for instance is showing LOU GRANT, you can see LOU GRANT every day. You can see MARY TYLER MOORE some place every day. Do you look back at those old shows? I know there are actors who cannot watch themselves. Can you watch yourself and think back to the fond memories of doing those show, or do you just look at them like we do, as an audience?

ED: Oh, I certainly do that, when I can. I must say, I watch MARY TYLER MOORE and I'm amazed. I tend to joke with people and say, "I like to watch THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW to improve my acting.

CJAD: How does it feel to be, not only in a television show like that, which is considered to be probably one of the finest comedies ever to come down the pike, but also when people talk about the funniest episode of anything they've ever seen on television, they always come back to THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW episode of CHUCKLES THE CLOWN.

ED: And that's a story in itself. A number of people associated with the show did not have confidence in it. The actors loved it and so when got to work on it, and as we approached Friday night and the performance, we had a fairly aged crew on that, and with so many death jokes, we never got many laughs when we were in rehearsal all week on stage. We began to get a little nervous. At our final run through the producers said, "we're in trouble, because we are about five, six minutes short. We may have to come back after hiatus and shoot an added scene." We felt the script and the story were perfect the way they were. We hated that thought. I don't know who said it first, but we said we have to get out there and play the hell out of it, which we did in front of that audience. For the first time in my life, when I laughed, I really tried to create the most intensive, loudest laugh and more continuous laugh. I kept pumping up the show with energy and adrenaline of that type. And lo and behold, when we finished, the audience loved it. When we finished we had stretched the show the requisite five or six minutes it needed.

CJAD: It's a classic piece of comedy. I'm sure you must be very, very proud of that.

ED: I am.

CJAD: with all the work you have done. Thank you.

ED: I also want to thank you for hosting my son who is in Montreal now acting as creative consultant on the HIROSHIMA project that's shooting there.

CJAD: Oh with (producer) Robin Spry. That's a big project here in Montreal.

ED: Right!

CJAD: Ed, thank you for talking with us this evening.

ED: It's been my pleasure. Thank you

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