Ed Asner’s grizzled newsman Lou Grant has a unique place in history. It’s one of the few roles that was created for a sitcom, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and was spun off into a drama, the eponymous series “Lou Grant.”
And until last year, Asner was the only person to win a comedy and drama Emmy for the same character. (Uzo Aduba won one of each for “Orange Is the New Black.”) He won five total Emmys for playing Lou.
The seminal series, which ran from 1977-82, is finally getting released on DVD, with the first season out now and the second due in August.
In the show, Grant left the TV news world of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” to take a job as the city editor at a Los Angeles newspaper. The hard-hitting show provided a fascinating glimpse into the newsroom, touching on many hot-button topics of the day.
The show was the center of controversy in 1982 when it was abruptly canceled, despite solid ratings. Many attribute it to Asner’s liberal political leanings, though it was reported at the time that it was because of a “decline in audience response,” a CBS spokesman told The New York Times in 1982.
amNewYork spoke with Asner about the role.
What do you see as the legacy of Lou Grant?
The world for me is divided into three spaces. Lou Grant — for the 12 years I did him in one form or another — “Up” and “Elf.” I’m in most people’s mind as Lou Grant, and I’m delighted that the show is out on DVD now and I hope people can get it and watch and relive it. I think the show stands up beautifully.
Do you ever revisit the series?
No, I don’t. I haven’t seen an episode in years. It was a dark spot for me to have it abruptly canceled as it was, and there’s guilt by me for all the people who were involved in this precedent-setting show; this fairly good re-enactment of journalism; this excellent dealing with modern-day problems of the time. And I was blamed for causing it to disappear.
How do you think the show changed television?
I don’t know if it changed television. It dealt with meaningful matters of the day. As I said at the time, there’s only a few things we didn’t deal with, [such as] gun control and abortion. You’d still be safe to say that … abortion and gun control are still not dealt with in everyday terms. There you have it. And I think that you probably won’t find those things discussed now.
How do you think Lou would do in today’s news environment?
[Laughs] My first response is, “I don’t know.” If I’m forced to think about it, I could say, if you would start it up again, you’d have the same show, the same problems. The present electoral situation creates some new fodder perhaps. I don’t know how they would deal with that. It would be very interesting.
As a journalist, I found “Lou Grant” to be very inspirational. Have you had a lot of journalists telling you that over the years?
When a young journalist, such as you, comes up to me and says, “I went into journalism because of you,” I say, “Don’t blame me! Please, please don’t blame me.” I’ve doomed them to a life of insecurity. … I heaped on the insecurities and I don’t know where that insecurity will stop. As filled with rancor as I am — rancor is such a good replacement for hate, isn’t it? It’s such a nice euphemism — I’m filled with rancor for all those producers and production companies that fall prey to popular whim and whams and cancel right and left on the slightest threat to economic profits. Journalism is even worse.
You still work a lot. What kinds of roles do you look for?
First of all, I look at whatever’s offered and if it pleases me, I say yes. And I’m afraid, in terms of my diminishing access to money, I accept more and more crap. First of all, I tour with a one-man show called “A Man and His Prostate.” And it’s been very successful. … I’m going to Columbia, Maryland, for a TV pilot for a comedy. On completion of that, I go to Canada, to Ottawa, and I spend about a week there filming in a series that I did before it was canceled, and now it’s been revived. It’s called “Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays,” about a psychiatrist, and I’m his psychiatrist. It’s a very intelligent show and [I take] great pleasure in doing it. Other than that and my one-man show, that’s what the future has to offer right now.
“Lou Grant: Season One” is available now on DVD, $39.97. Season Two is due out on Aug. 16.