A spin-off from the very popular sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Lou Grant creators Gene Reynolds, James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, made the unusual choice to transform the previously comedic Grant into a serious, thoughtful, deeply committed newsman working at a major metropolitan newspaper, The Los Angeles Tribune. This dramatic series has little in common, save the main character’s name, with its sister series. This was a show that sought to tackle difficult issues each week.

The first episode, “Cophouse” deals with Lou Grant’s (Ed Asner) difficulty finding a job after getting laid off at Minneapolis’ WJM. Young executives aren’t exactly eager to hire the older man. He returns to the world of newspapers when old friend Charles Hume (Mason Adams) convinces him to come out to Los Angeles. The managing editor, Charles doesn’t have the power to hire Lou himself. He has to make publisher Margaret Jones Pynchon (Nancy Marchand) believe she’s doing the hiring herself.

Given the job, Lou feet are immediately put to the fire. Lou has to deal with hotshot reporter Joe Rossi (Robert Walden), who refuses to be edited. Things come to a head when they uncover a police scandal involving underage girls. Rossi accuses the papers veteran police reporter of helping to cover things up, but refuses to reveal his own sources. If that’s not stressful enough, “Hostages” finds familiar face John Rubinstein waving a gun and demanding a follow-up article be written up about his brother that was killed by a store owner. Lou must keep his cool as his employees are held at gunpoint.

“Psych-Out” has Rossi in a mental ward in order to write a first person account of how patients are treated. “Housewarming,” has reporter Billie Newman (Linda Kelsey) working on a story about spousal abuse. Things get personal when a co-worker at the paper is suspected of being a baterer. Things don’t get any easier as the season ends. “Spies” has the staff concerned that someone on the staff is feeding their stories to CIA operatives and the season finale, “Poison” sees a reporter friend of Rossi’s killed while working on an expose about nuclear power plants.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show had already established that Lou Grant had a newspaper career in the past and when creating a spin-off for the character, co-creators and producers, James L. Brooks and Allan Burns were influenced by the 1976 film, All the President’s Men and its depiction of how a major newspaper operated. Given the full hour of a drama series, Lou Grant does a wonderful job of putting Lou Grant in dramatic setting without losing the qualities that made him a compelling character. He’s still rough and gruff around the edges, with a heart of gold on the inside. Ed Asner is a top notch actor, be it comedy or drama. Even while dealing with tough issues such as spousal abuse, mental illness, hostage crisis’ and the like, there are plenty of small comic exchanges between Lou and his co-workers to relieve the tension. The series writers deserve credit for avoiding the urge to fall back on anything having to do with The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Lou Grant gave us a fresh set of characters dealing issues and ethics of journalism, many of which are still relevant today.

Though Lou Grant never ended any season among the top-20 in the Nielsen ratings, the show received 13 Emmy Awards during its 1977-82 run.  Asner won the Emmy Award for “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series” in 1978 and 1980. By doing so, he became the first person to win an Emmy Award for both “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series” and “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series” for portraying the same character.

Framed in 1.33:1, the video looks appropriately grainy. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. Dialogue is clear.  You hear a lot of typing in the background.

The following extras are available:

  • The Lou Grant Story (26:02) In this new interview, Ed Asner discusses the role and the process of going from comedy to drama.