All’s Fair (or Middling)

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! Several years ago, I published a post on the single-season Norman Lear sitcom All’s Fair, which ran on CBS during 1976-’77 and starred Richard Crenna with Bernadette Peters. They played a pair of political opposites embarking upon a May-December romance in Washington D.C. during the end of the Ford administration and the beginning of Carter’s. I had only screened one episode at UCLA and read scripts for a handful of others before writing that piece, but I offered an assessment of the material based on what I’d seen, essentially determining that the lead characters were positionally poised for conflict but not well-defined enough to encourage it, while the supporting cast was generally weak too. Now, after having viewed all 24 episodes, I’m afraid that my initial adjudication was spot-on.

So, instead of reiterating what was already discussed, I ask you to revisit this link for my thoughts on the series, along with more details about its scheduling and the particulars of its premise and cast, which also included J.A. Preston, Lee Chamberlin, Jack Dodson, Judith Kahan, and Michael Keaton. I’ll only add three things. First, since obtaining the pilot I was once anxious to screen, I can now confirm that it was overhyped. Because the show was determined to push the two stars together right away — in hindsight, this was a mistake, for it meant there was nothing to build towards (or make us root for) — the premiere is forced to employ some narrative heavy-lifting that strains emotional credulity. Second, although all of Lear’s shows have a political bias, both parties’ ambassadors are almost equally wrong and/or obnoxious, so there’s not a consistent “antagonist,” like in, say, All In The Family. To that point, the show is indeed fairer than we’d expect… even though it becomes quite broad in its quest for laughs (particularly near the end of its run) and everyone has to take turns being a grating moron.

The final thing I’ll add — for subscribers who comment below to alert me of their interest — is access to the best episode. It’s called “Discovery Day,” and aired as the show’s fifth on October 25, 1976. Directed by Bob Claver and written by Michael Loman with Bob Schiller & Bob Weiskopf, this is a two-hander — it features only Crenna and Peters — and takes place in real-time, during an evening the two main characters share as they get to know each other better. Considering that their mutual lack of definition is All’s Fair’s core hindrance (via their limitations in story), the fact that this installment seeks to explore its two leads is not only enjoyable, it’s also a positive development for a series that needed more of this. Here’s a clip.

 

 

Come back next week for another Wildcard! And stay tuned Tuesday for more Sitcom fun!

26 thoughts on “All’s Fair (or Middling)

    • Hi, Scott! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Comments with email addresses or phone numbers are immediately flagged as spam here. If you prefer a contact other than the saturdaymfg account that’s associated with your IP, please subscribe to this blog using the correct address, so I can send this and any future requested items your way. In the meantime, I have emailed you at the saturdaymfg subscription on record.

  1. I’d like access to this episode, please. I figure this has to be better than Richard Crenna’s sitcom w/ Patty Duke, IT TAKES TWO. It would be interesting to see.

  2. I couldn’t help but notice that you made an almost incidental mention of Michael Keaton as a member of the supporting cast. That should be Michael Keaton, writ large, shouldn’t it? This was, I am pretty sure, his first TV or movie role. I watched this series in prime time in real time, and I remember it being probably Norman Lear’s worst offering to date (other than a James Coco vehicle called “THE DUMPLINGS”). But even then, I remember Keaton’s screen presence standing out and rising above the mediocre material.

    • Hi, Guy! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I noted Keaton and his role in my previous post on ALL’S FAIR, linked above. Please revisit it for more on the particulars of the series’ premise and cast. This entry is merely a supplemental affirmation of that earlier appraisal.

      Incidentally, I’m afraid I don’t agree about Keaton’s work here; I think he overplays an already broad part and is a somewhat grating byproduct of the final episodes’ more forceful crusade for laughs — not to mention an unsuccessful distraction from the lead characters’ chronic limitations.

      Let me know if you’re interested in receiving access to this episode.

  3. Believe it or not, I’ve searched for this show (on and off) for years… do you know of anyplace on the Internet where I can view it?
    In any event, and failing all of the above, I’d love the episode you offered… thanks so much!

    • Hi, David! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Canadian residents can stream the series on CTV.

      I have emailed you at your gmail address for access to this episode.

  4. I’d love to see an episode! I watched it when it aired, but as I was 13 at the time…
    I DO have a specific memory of an episode set on election night when they had decided not to vote, as their two votes would “cancel each other out” but in the end they ran out to vote so their candidate wouldn’t win without them.
    Am I mis-remembering, or did that happen?

    • Hi, Roy! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, that’s the ending of “Election Eve.” Good memory!

      I have emailed you at your mac address.

  5. Jackson, hi.

    Norman Lear’s failures could be as interesting as his success. Do you believe “AKA Pablo,” “Sunday Dinner” and especially “704 Hauser Street” warrant a write-up?

    Thanks

    • Not in their own posts, no — they’re not good (or, quite frankly, interesting) enough. But perhaps in another Potpourri piece!

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