1970s Fun Flops: “The Associates”

In our earlier exhilarating installment, we found that Fred Silverman’s endeavor to carry MTM to ABC, as seen within the first season of The Tony Randall Present, didn’t yield the specified outcomes.

Nonetheless, a contingency plan was in place: transferring MTM’s invaluable writer-producers to ABC’s major content material supplier, Paramount TV. Paramount, famend for producing Comfortable Days and its quite a few spinoffs, struck a deal in 1978 with a number of distinguished figures from MTM, together with James L. Brooks, the mastermind behind The Mary Tyler Moore Present, and the dynamic duo of Ed. Weinberger and Stan Daniels, who each produced Mary and crafted Phyllis and The Betty White Present.

Though the fin-syn regulations prevented networks from owning their own shows, ABC and Paramount maintained a particularly shut relationship. Paramount’s high executives, Michael Eisner and Barry Diller, had beforehand labored at ABC, and ABC appeared to have the primary alternative to amass something produced by Paramount.

Below the settlement with the previous MTM expertise, as David Shaw of TV Information articulated, ABC assured Brooks and his crew that they may “create, write, and produce three specials and two sequence—with out having to make a single pilot.”

In a way, this settlement might have marked the decline of impartial TV corporations like MTM, though impartial entities would nonetheless expertise some success in the course of the ’80s. Unbiased corporations lacked the backing of film studios or many different various multimedia ventures.

Consequently, as soon as somebody like James L. Brooks had developed a TV sequence for MTM, there have been restricted avenues for additional inventive expression. Paramount, nevertheless, introduced Brooks with an attractive alternative to write down and produce characteristic movies and even perhaps enterprise into directing them down the road. Brooks informed Shaw that this was his major motivation for aligning with the studio.

Lots of Brooks’s colleagues shared an analogous aspiration to delve into characteristic movies, not solely as a result of elevated status and better earnings potential but in addition as a result of there’s a pure inclination to discover new inventive horizons after writing a finite variety of TV episodes.

Nonetheless, James L. Brooks’s preliminary precedence was tv manufacturing upon establishing his newly-founded Paramount firm, John Charles Walters Productions (identified for the long-lasting emblem that includes a disgruntled man being unkind to his secretary).

Following a much less noteworthy particular—a rendition of Cinderella that includes an all-black forged led by Charlayne Woodard—they delivered Paramount and ABC their inaugural sequence, Taxi. This present ought to ring a bell. In its debut yr, Taxi clinched the Emmy for distinctive comedy, demonstrating that the distinctive MTM/CBS fashion may very well be seamlessly transplanted to a significant studio and ABC.

This achievement hinted at the potential for a complete MTM-style enclave of refined comedy taking root at Paramount, historically acknowledged because the studio most carefully related to lighthearted, family-oriented humor.

How The Associates Got here Into Existence

Expectations had been using excessive for “The Associates,” John Charles Walters’s second tv mission. This sequence debuted on ABC in September 1979, a yr following the launch of “Taxi.

It drew inspiration from a novel penned by John Jay Osborn Jr., the identical writer chargeable for “The Paper Chase,” basically serving as an unofficial sequel to that literary work.

Brooks, Weinberger, and Daniels determined to depart from many of the supply materials, retaining solely the basic idea of monitoring a younger man’s journey as he navigated the challenges of sustaining his integrity throughout his inaugural yr as an affiliate at a distinguished regulation agency.

They did pay homage to the unique materials by that includes Professor Kingsfield (John Houseman) in a single episode.

Charlie Hauck, a former employees author for Norman Lear, collaborated as a co-creator on the mission. Nonetheless, the duty of growing the sequence, crafting the pilot episode, and overseeing its manufacturing fell to one of many crew’s most well-liked writers, Michael Leeson.

Leeson had beforehand earned a Humanitas prize for his work on the “Angela” episode of “Taxi” and was identified for his inclination towards darkish humor. He had scripted a “Phyllis” episode centered on suicide and later penned “The Struggle of the Roses” for Brooks.

Whereas a couple of younger employees writers had been on board, they’d restricted alternatives to contribute considerably to the sequence, as David Lloyd wrote a good portion of the 13 episodes.

Lloyd, identified for his virtually superhuman writing output throughout his tenure at MTM, had lastly been enticed away to Paramount.

The Associates: Briefed

The Associates” might be briefly described in a single sentence: it’s near a white-collar model of “Taxi.” This comparability encapsulates its look, ambiance, and sure authentic idea. “Taxi” represented the John Charles Walters crew’s foray into blue-collar storytelling after years of crafting narratives centered on white-collar settings.

Moreover, it marked their shift in direction of a male-dominated present following a historical past of predominantly producing automobiles for feminine stars. With “The Associates,” they returned to the white-collar world however in a extra intense setting than the newsroom in “Mary Tyler Moore” or the images studio in “Phyllis.

The present’s theme track, composed by Albert Brooks, a buddy and frequent collaborator of James L. Brooks (though not a relative), successfully summarizes the sequence’ premise. It revolves round younger legal professionals on Wall Road who earn substantial incomes, gown impeccably, and possess promising futures, but grapple with the sensation that “one thing isn’t fairly working” of their high-pressure jobs and complex private lives.

The central character was Tucker, portrayed by a youthful Martin Quick—so younger that he nonetheless pronounced “about” as “aboot,” reinforcing all of the Canadian stereotypes.

Within the sequence premiere, Tucker will get plucked from Harvard Regulation College to function an affiliate at a distinguished regulation agency. On his first day, he encounters his fellow new associates: the beautiful blonde aristocrat Sara (performed by Shelley Smith) and Leslie (depicted by Alley Mills), a working-class lady from Hollywood homely with a mountain of pupil loans.

This dynamic units the stage for a basic Betty and Veronica situation all through the present, as Quick’s character ardently pursues the seemingly unattainable Sara whereas largely overlooking Leslie’s affection for him.

Tucker additionally crosses paths with Mr. Marshall (portrayed by Wilfrid Hyde-Whyte), the aged, eccentric, rambling, but surprisingly astute senior accomplice. Mr. Marshall resembles a mix of Latka and Reverend Jim, remodeled into an aged British man. Every time a scene requires a lift, Whyte’s character is there to ship a humorous quip or a meandering monologue.

The position of the Louie DePalma-esque unsavory character is inhabited by the slick and obsequious Elliot Streeter (performed by Joe Regalbuto), who wholeheartedly embraces all of the morally questionable points of being a lawyer that the opposite characters wrestle with.

Lastly, because the token blue-collar determine, there’s Johnny Danko (enacted by Tim Thomerson), the sharply dressed gofer and workplace heartthrob.

The pilot episode additionally springs a shock paying homage to a nonviolent precursor to the character Jesse within the pilot of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” It initially establishes a personality portrayed by John Getz because the possible lead of the sequence, a witty and amiable man with a delicate edge.

Since Getz had beforehand starred within the short-lived sequence “Rafferty,” whereas Martin Quick was comparatively unknown, it ought to have been a significant shock to the studio viewers when Getz departed the agency in Act Two. Mr. Marshall selects the much less nice Elliot as the brand new accomplice as an alternative.

(Just like “Buffy,” the impact is considerably diminished for the house viewer as a result of Getz isn’t featured within the opening credit, making it clear that he received’t keep round.)

This second immediately units “The Associates” other than different office comedies, the place job stability isn’t in query until it’s the sequence finale, and from different authorized dramas the place the virtuous legal professionals usually prevail over the evil ones.

By selling Elliot and dismissing the moral and charming lawyer, “The Associates” conveys the message that office dynamics aren’t all the time simple. On the conclusion of the pilot, Mr. Marshall seizes a possibility to elucidate that the heroic particular person isn’t essentially the most effective match for the job.

Such nuanced portrayals are a rarity in tv, typically leaning towards ethical certainties.

Brooks later talked about one thing just like the present being forward of its time in capturing the essence of the “yuppie” phenomenon. Whereas they weren’t known as yuppies in 1979, that’s undeniably the theme on the core of “The Associates.

If “Taxi” revolved round people striving to assemble higher lives whereas caught in unfulfilling jobs, then “The Associates” delves into the lives of individuals totally consumed by their work. Quite a few episodes deal with the repercussions of working such lengthy hours that you just scarcely have the possibility to fulfill anybody past the confines of the workplace.

It additionally explores how your job can generally pressure you into making selections that battle together with your values.

Within the second episode produced, authored by Earl Pomerantz (identified for specializing in second episodes that display a sequence’ potential past the pilot; he additionally scripted the second episodes of “Taxi,” “Cheers,” and “The Cosby Present“), Leslie finds herself in a brand new romantic relationship with a left-wing activist who ends issues as a result of he can’t reconcile her affiliation with what he perceives because the “dangerous guys.”

In one other episode, Tucker is dismayed when Mr. Marshall turns into his neighbor within the condominium complicated. That is regardless of his real fondness for the aged man, just because he has so few hours away from the workplace that his moments of leisure grow to be exceedingly treasured to him.

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So, Why Was It A Flop?

The present’s efficiency was removed from spectacular, to place it mildly. Actually, it seems to have been a convincing failure. It survived for under 5 episodes throughout its preliminary run within the fall of 1979 earlier than ABC determined to yank it from the schedule.

Nonetheless, ABC made an try and salvage the state of affairs by bringing it again in March 1980 with a brand new time slot, primarily to appease James L. Brooks. As reported by the Boston Globe, “ABC doesn’t essentially suppose ‘The Associates‘ will do higher, however the community needs to maintain writer-producer Jim Brooks glad.”

The revival endured for 4 extra episodes earlier than going through cancellation once more simply earlier than the sweeps interval. Astonishingly, 4 out of the 13 episodes by no means even aired on ABC.

Following this setback, Brooks opted to take a step again from tv work for a couple of years, focusing his efforts on growing film tasks.

Except ongoing involvement with “Taxi,” this marked the conclusion of John Charles Walters Productions and the tip of the Brooks-Weinberger-Daniels collaborative crew.

Essentially the most simple rationalization for the downfall of this present was its unlucky timing, because it aired throughout a particularly disastrous season for ABC. It was slated to comply with “Mork and Mindy,” a large hit the earlier yr, with the hope that this time slot would work its magic, very similar to the impact of “Three’s Firm” on “Taxi.

Nonetheless, this was the yr when “Mork and Mindy” underwent modifications to attraction to a youthful, extra hip viewers, which in the end resulted in a decline in scores, even in opposition to a present it ought to have simply outperformed ( “Archie Bunker’s Place“).

Within the tv panorama of 1978-79, there was a palpable demand for clever ensemble comedies. But, by 1979-80, the comedy style started to expertise an general decline in scores.

This downward development in comedy scores would persist into the early ’80s, marking an period when “the sitcom was useless,” because the style confronted vital challenges in sustaining its viewers attraction.

When a present faces failure, it undoubtedly displays on the present itself. “The Associates” acquired distinctive opinions from critics who had been lamenting the proliferation of risqué, lowbrow comedies on tv.

They had been thrilled to see a extra refined and complicated present, and plenty of of its shortcomings might have been addressed with the chance to supply extra than simply 13 episodes.

One of many later episodes produced, “Tucker’s Co-Op,” tried to rectify a few of these points by permitting viewers to glimpse Tucker’s dwelling life, hinting at the potential for seeing the characters exterior the confines of the workplace extra continuously.

Nonetheless, it’s difficult to disregard the truth that the present’s premise carries a considerably melancholic undertone. Because the theme track suggests, these characters are younger, engaging, and maintain promising positions with alternatives for development. But, they don’t appear content material.

They don’t take pleasure in self-pity because the yuppie tradition would later depict on tv, however there’s an absence of real enjoyment of their luck. In its personal method, this side is much more disheartening than a present like “Taxi.

In “Taxi,” the characters persistently face setbacks however handle to make the most effective of their circumstances, adhering to a basic comedic custom that may be traced again to Charlie Chaplin.

In distinction, “The Associates” presents characters who’ve achieved what many individuals solely dream of, but they don’t appear to derive a lot satisfaction from it. This situation is healthier fitted to a cable sequence like “Mad Males” or “The Larry Sanders Present,” the place nuanced exploration of complicated feelings is the norm.

Nonetheless, in a mainstream community comedy, the viewers usually expects to witness characters both relishing their success or sustaining a constructive outlook regardless of their setbacks.

Lloyd’s episode titled “Is Romance Lifeless?” was chosen to be the second to air, most likely as a result of it featured a scene during which Shelley Smith undresses, making it an ideal match for ABC’s famously sensationalized promotional division.

(You possibly can simply think about Ernie Anderson’s voice saying one thing like: “After which on ‘The Associates,‘ Sara bares her soul to Tucker!” or one thing alongside these strains.) This episode is a reasonably consultant instance of the strengths and weaknesses evident within the preliminary 13 episodes.

One of the notable weaknesses, except for the prevailing gloomy ambiance, is that the characters typically come throughout as fairly unkind: Tucker shows unkindness towards Leslie, Sara is unkind to Tucker, Mr. Marshall is portrayed as a peculiar particular person with arbitrary authority, and oddly sufficient, Elliot, who is supposed to be the token antagonist, appears considerably affordable as compared.

Conversely, this episode incorporates a number of noteworthy components of David Lloyd’s trademark humor. As an illustration, there’s a scene the place he cleverly subverts the frequent sitcom conference that individuals can’t hear conversations taking place exterior a closed door.

Whereas Lloyd had penned some glorious episodes for “Taxi,” he appeared to have a stronger reference to the world and characters of “The Associates.” He notably excelled in crafting materials for Wilfrid Hyde-Whyte, who was infamous for being a difficult actor to work with.

Hyde-Whyte had a bent to change strains in the event that they didn’t meet his approval freely, and very similar to Andy Kaufman, he persistently appeared that he was improvising strains on the spot, even when he wasn’t.

The climactic comedy scene exterior Sara’s window serves as a splendid platform for Martin Quick’s fascinating but irritating appeal and his bodily comedy prowess. The present’s creator, James L. Brooks, meets this sequence with hearty laughter.

Furthermore, it incorporates a type of trademark moments typically present in Brooks’s productions the place an surprising line out of the blue injects a way of actuality or emotional depth right into a comedic scene.

On this occasion, when Sara confronts Tucker about his stalker-like habits and candidly discusses her historical past of being harassed by boys “since I used to be within the eighth grade,” David Lloyd, James L. Brooks, and the opposite writers successfully flip the scene inside out.

They compel the viewers to view a typical “innocent” comedic state of affairs (the Good Man pursuing the unattainable lady) from the lady’s perspective, revealing that it’s something however humorous for her. This shift in perspective is temporary, and the scene shortly returns to its comedic tone, which is why it continues to be humorous.

Nonetheless, the flexibility to infuse small glimpses of depth and hints of actuality right into a comedic scene is likely one of the qualities that units a Brooks manufacturing other than the remainder.

I’m strongly satisfied that “The Associates” might have advanced right into a top-notch sequence if it had been allowed to proceed. My confidence is rooted in the truth that my assertion can’t be disproven.

Nonetheless, the 13 episodes, which had been replayed on a couple of cable channels in the course of the ’80s (the marginally edited textual content above is sourced from the classic, unbelievable model of USA Community), are properly price searching for out as a snapshot of the rising ’80s yuppie tradition.

In addition they supply a glimpse into the form of reveals the “Taxi” crew might need crafted had they achieved higher success at Paramount.

Finally, the duty of upholding the “Taxi” legacy—and attaining the numerous mainstream success that had eluded the present—fell to a little bit sequence generally known as “Cheers.”

Evidently, if we’re going to spend 11 years within the firm of considerably disheartening characters, we’d choose them to be bar regulars fairly than legal professionals.

The put up 1970s Fun Flops: “The Associates” appeared first on thiswastv.com.

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