Weekend Viewing: THE TONY RANDALL SHOW - Macleans.ca

Weekend Viewing: THE TONY RANDALL SHOW

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Here’s a genuine rarity with an all-star writing staff. The Tony Randall Show was his first show after The Odd Couple was canceled. It was produced by MTM, though unlike most of MTM’s other shows, it was on ABC rather than CBS. It followed the same pattern as MTM’s previous hits like Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart: take a star, put him or her in a different city (every MTM show had a different locale; in this show, it was Philadelphia), and go back and forth between the lead character’s home and work lives. Randall’s character was a judge and a widower with two kids, so the show’s two home bases were his house, where he lived with his kids and his wacky, bad-cooking  English housekeeper (the famously troubled Rachel Roberts), and the courthouse, full of wacky co-workers played by terrific character actors like Allyn McLerie and Barney “Seinfeld’s TV Dad” Martin.

As I said, the show’s writing staff was in some ways even more impressive than the cast (perhaps more impressive than the show itself). The creators were Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses (Buffalo Bill), creating their first original show for MTM after several successful years producing Bob Newhart. As their main writers, they brought along two young writers they had hired on Newhart’s show: Hugh Wilson and Gary David Goldberg. Two young writers who got their first staff jobs on the show were Ken Levine and David Isaacs, and two of MTM’s top freelancers contributed scripts: David Lloyd and Earl Pomerantz.

The show was not a particularly happy experience for Randall, who clashed with Patchett and Tarses over material that he felt wasn’t right for him and apparently found them unwilling to consider his input. Grant Tinker, the head of MTM, had these thoughts on the show in his autobiography:

It was well above average in the three-camera category. Tony was born to work in front of a live audience, and the writing was largely first rate. Ultimately, however, three strong egos could not live together. Since Tony was obviously essential, Tom and Jay retreated to their office and oversaw from a distance, giving two of MTM’s younger writers, Hugh Wilson and Gary David Goldberg, (just plain Gary Goldberg then) their first chance to produce.

It wasn’t a good fit on ABC anyway — this was the 1976-77 season, when ABC was having its greatest success with Charlie’s Angels, Happy Days and Three’s Company — and when ABC dropped it after a season, CBS (MTM’s regular home) picked it up for a second season with Wilson and Goldberg producing. (CBS put it on after The Jeffersons.) To give it more youth appeal, the second season added a subplot about Randall’s character teaching a law class at night school, and also re-cast the role of his teenage daughter, played in the first season by George C. Scott’s daughter Devon, with someone cuter. Not having seen any episodes from the second season, I don’t know how the re-tool worked out creatively, but the show was canceled for good after that.

This episode is the only one online and therefore the only one I’ve seen all the way through; it is the tenth episode of the first season, written by Patchett and Tarses, where Randall contemplates marriage with his recurring girlfriend, Eleanor (Diana Muldaur). This upload even includes the original commercials (there aren’t many of them — this was 1976, remember).

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