If someone asks me a Friday Question that I don't know the answer to but do know someone who DOES I try to get that person to graciously share the information with all of you. Today is one of those times. Here's a Friday Question that became an entire post. And to answer it, please welcome Arlen Peters. He'll explain who he is. Thanks, Arlen!
The question, by -30-, is this:
You worked with Mary Tyler Moore. Maybe you know the answer to this.
I am reading Jeffrey Toobin's new book about Patty Hearst and the SLA. In it he says that KNXT became the prototype of local news because MTM's aunt "worked as the business manager of the station and she shared tales...of anchor Jerry Dunphy--who served as the model for the hapless Ted Baxter." I also thought Baxter was based more on local newsman George Putnam. I never saw Dunphy as Baxter-like.
Do you know the real story?
It’s true that Mary’s aunt worked for the station and Jim Brooks, Allan Burns and the writing staff spent time in the newsroom observing what when on, watched reporters, etc. to gather background for the show which was being developed.
Obviously the show went on to be one of great sitcoms in TV history. One of its characters was the pompous, gray-haired anchorman, Ted Baxter, played superbly by Ted Knight. Since CBS had a fine group of shows in those years (MASH/NEWHART/MTM/CAROL BURNETT), I was always asked to interview talent on those shows and was happy to do it. I never consulted with Dunphy on who I was going to book and interview. I just handed him the scripts, he read them and that was it.
Since I was there, Ted and I agreed to do the interview and it turned out to be a delight. He was a rare performer who was witty and funny and charming, loaded with stories and anecdotes … and it came so effortlessly to him! I went back to the station, went through my interviews that week, wrote my pieces, and with scripts and tape cuts in hand, entered the studio and handed Dunphy his scripts. And it was fine … until …
Jerry came to the Ted script … looked up at me with an ice-cold-looks-can-kill look and said “Are you fucking crazy? Why would you give one second of time to someone who makes fun of me to all of America each week.” I kind of thought I would get that type of reaction, but the interview was great and I wanted to use it. So at this point I went into what I would consider an Emmy/Oscar winning performance of my own. “What’s the problem Jerry? I asked, as if I didn’t know. Dunphy went on and on haranguing me and I let him vent … and then uttered my retort, with the utmost sincerity … “Ted said he was doing Putnam, never you.” What followed was an incredulous look from Dunphy. “So he’s doing Putnam?” “Putnam all the way Jerry. Ted loves you.” With those words and my sincere delivery, I expected my statuette to be handed to me … but it was good enough that Jerry accepted the explanation and taped the piece … and as he was leaving, he once again muttered “Putnam huh?” sounding just like Ted, then ambling down the CBS hallway with that same Ted Baxter strut!
And that’s the REAL story!
Thanks again, Arlen. I bet George Putnam hated Ted too.