Welcome to A Very Spooky… where we take a look at and review a classic TV series that is not known for horror but would, on occasion, dip its toes into the waters of terror.
We all look at the Marvel movies and are amazed by their shared universe, but to us TV nerds, shared universes are old hat. These days, spin-offs are pretty much just the same show with different actors, but there was a time when TV spin-offs weren’t afraid to go in a totally different direction. From HAPPY DAYS, a show about an everyday teenager and his family in the ’50s, came MORK & MINDY, a show about an alien in the ’70s. MASH, one of the darkest shows around, spun-off into AFTER MASH, a sitcom about war vets readjusting to life. Fun for all!
LOU GRANT is a sixty minute drama about a grumpy editor working for a major paper that spun out of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, a half hour sitcom about a good natured woman proving to everyone in the TV newsroom that she’s as awesome as any dude. While the show was, in theory, based around Ed Asner’s grumpy but lovable Lou Grant, the rest of the cast got plenty of time to shine. Take, for example the tenth episode of season five, GHOSTS, where Lou Grant’s action is just the secondary (or possibly the tertiary) story in the episode. Sorry Lou.
As the episode starts we watch what is clearly a married couple on the way to divorce. They have both come to their shared home to finalize who gets what before the movers come in the morning.
Inside the house, unknown to the angry couple, are three teens goofing around with a Ouija Board. This moment, watching these kids, has one of the greatest bits of teen dialogue ever to be seen on TV:
“Relax. Have a beer”
“We should smoke a cigarette”
These wild teens! Breaking into houses to drink a beer, smoke a cigarette and summon demons! What are the thinking!
When the kids here the divorcing couple in the house, they head for the nearest window. The two boys make it out just fine but for reasons that make no sense, the girl can;t get out. The window, which is of normal window height, is too high up for the girl to climb out of. The boys, being real jerks, leave her behind.
The girl makes her way downstairs shortly after the unhappily ever after couple made their way upstairs, arguing about the husband having an affair. Suddenly, the lights go out, and a moment later, divorcing wife falls off the second floor, hitting the first floor hard,
Enter Billie Newman, a reporter at the paper who tends to get assigned the weirder stories. UFOs, Bigfoot, things like that. Billie is given the story because, according to some reports, the house is… HAUNTED!!!!!
As the legend goes, a little girl was killed in the house a little over a decade ago. Since then, six families have lived in the house, none for much more than a year. Matter of fact, the divorcing couple believed that the ghost in the house was partly responsible for their failing marriage. Talk about refusing to take responsibility for your own actions.
Anywho, this being a TV show, Billie finds what may be a very important piece of evidence that the police missed, the planchette from the Ouija board laying on the grass. For some reason, the two boys are also standing there, hiding around the corner of the house. When Billie spots them, they book it.
In a not shocking bit, the cops are pretty sure that the husband killed the wife, but the husband swears he didn’t do it. He claims that his wife was pushed over the banister by… the ghost! He and his lawyer begin to put together what Billie calls “the poltergeist defense” which the lawyer finds offensive for some reason. I mean, that is literally what their defense is, but whatever.
For an even weirder and unexplained reason, the lawyer asks Billie to take part in a seance in the house that will be used to prove that the house is haunted. The seance is attended by a paranormal researcher, a paranormal debunker, a psychic, and the dead wife’s sister. Oh, and Billie. And a guy taking pictures who sucks at his job.
I say the photographer sucks at his job because in the middle of the seance, a book flies off a bookshelf and shoots across the room. The only pic Johnny Photog gets is the book on the floor. Not shockingly, Lou Grant, who is busy dealing with his wallet having been stolen, is unimpressed by the photo of a book lying on the floor. Still, the story of the poltergeist defense is popular with readers, so he sends one of the paper’s photographers to get some pics of the house.
Meanwhile, Billie tracks down the two boys, which leads her to the girl. Billie turns the police onto the teen who was still in the house. When the head detective interviews the girl, who’s been staying home for the last week with an upset tummy, they learn that while the girl didn;t see the husband push the wife he did hear the name of the woman he was having an affair with.. Are you ready for this? It’s the dead woman;s sister!
So yeah, the guy killed his wife. His poltergeist defense falls apart in court.
Still, Billie did find something interesting in the house – a beat up, nasty looking doll in te basement. The doll belonged to the girl who was killed in the house a decade earlier and since the doll was removed from the house… all ghost stuff has stopped!
Oh, and that photographer from the paper who Lou sent to get some shots? One of the pictures has something weird in it – the image of a little girl in the window. THERE WAS A GHOST!
I’ll be honest, I hadn’t seen this show since I was a wee boy, but i remembered this episode being kinda creepy. It isn’t.
It is interesting though, The episode spends a lot of time discussing the concepts of paranormal activity, from ghosts, to psychics, to spoon benders, and even auras. Each piece is talked about from the paranormal theory, then explained in a scientific fashion, which I rather enjoyed. The show leaves open the possibility for ghosts to exist in the MARY TYLER MOORE/LOU GRANT universe, but sadly this was the last season of LOU GRANT, so there are no other paranormal episodes. Bummer.
I was pretty shocked at how little Ed Asner had to do in the episode, though. If you had never seen an episode of LOU GRANT, you could watch the first half of this episode and think that Lou is a moron who the paper keeps around because they feel bad for him. He forgets that someone called him while he’s on the phone with them, he gets sent out to get coffee but forgets to get the coffee, and he gets his wallet stolen. It’s a good 20 minutes into the episode that the viewer is clued into what Lou does at the paper. Fairness to the show, this is the fifth season, but it still comes off as odd for the first half.
There is a sweet connection to classic horror in this episode – Peter Maloney, who you may recognize from JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING shows up as the debunker at the seance! I suppose after he saw the book fly across the room, he took off for the Antarctic looking to get away from the strange. Alas, it didn’t work out for him.
*All Other Photos: LOU GRANT; CBS