Asner made the gruff but goodhearted newshound editor Lou Grant a beloved figure on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, arguably the '70s finest non-political sitcom. But when the show ended in 1977, CBS decided to spin off his character in a different direction, returning Grant to his first love, newspaper editing. Lou Grant ran five seasons, won 13 Emmy awards, and prominently displayed the dramatic flair of a veteran character actor who'd been working for decades in westerns, anthologies and cop shows.
Asner also used his forum to speak publicly on plenty of issues, often criticizing American social and domestic policy with vigor and specificity. He became such a visible figure the show also became seen as a vehicle for his views, something the producers repeatedly denied. It also began to lose ratings steam, though when it was canned in 1982 it hadn't yet completely lost its audience. There were charges CBS prematurely yanked the show due to Asner's controversial stances.
Since Lou Grant ended, Asner has continued to work in film and TV, most recently earning rave reviews for his work in the animated movie Up. Though he isn't nearly as outspoken now in the '70s and '80s, he still participates in plenty of social efforts. But Friday night Asner returns to weekly episodic TV as the co-star of Working Class, a half-hour comedy that also marks Country Music Television's (CMT) entry into the sitcom and scripted sweepstakes.
Asner portrays Hank, a co-worker of series lead Melissa Peterman, host of CMT's The Singing Bee and a former cast member on Reba. Peterman plays a twice-divorced mother of three trying to keep her family afloat in an upscale Midwestern suburb despite lacking the fiscal resources of her neighbors.
Working Class is a prototype multi-camera show done in traditional comedic storytelling fashion, more Roseanne than the mockumentary style popularized by Modern Family and The Office. The show's executive producer, Jill Cargerman, formerly worked as a writer/producer on Las Vegas and Gary Unmarried. She acknowledges it is loosely based on her experiences growing up in an upscale Chicago suburb, where her family was barely able to make ends meet and was constantly under scrutiny and suspicion from nosy neighbors. The problems caused by coping with the current economy will be Working Class's prime thematic focus. CMT will showcase the program with two episodes Friday at 7 and 7:30 p.m.
Of late, CMT's prime-time programming has strayed away from music toward a hodgepodge of reality shows such as My Big Redneck Wedding, reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard and movies as seemingly ill-fitting as Ghost and The Replacements. Country may have a broader demographic than a lot of folks realize, but the network's identity gets more amorphous by the hour. Still, they have high hopes for Working Class, possibly as a show that can lure viewers who want a middle ground somewhere between Trick My Truck and a Patrick Swayze film festival. If it does that even moderately well, the move will be deemed a smart one.
Longtime R&B, funk and jazz star Chaka Khan will be honored during the United Negro College Fund's Evening of Stars program that airs Sunday night on WGN America at 7 p.m. and BET at 9 p.m. Khan will receive the Award of Excellence for her fund raising efforts on behalf of HBCU institutions and other charitable organizations. Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones will present the award. Other guests include Fantasia, Monique, Ledisi and CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien.
The show began in 1980 as Lou Rawls' Parade of Stars, then was renamed Evening of Stars in 1998. Rawls was principal host until his death in 2006, and made his final public appearance on the program only a few months before he died. Evening of Stars has raised more than $200 million for scholarships and assistance to students and schools.
The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards are revered by actors, writers and producers almost as much as Oscars or Emmys because they represent the choices of their peers. This year's 17th annual SAG Awards show will have a special twist. Ernest Borgnine, still active at 94 and an Oscar winner for Marty in 1955, will receive the SAG lifetime Achievement Award. Borgnine's career stretches over six decades. He most recently received an Emmy nomination for a guest appearance two years ago on ER. The show airs Sunday on TBS and TNT at 7 p.m.