Does anyone remember the tv show from the 70's, "Fernwood Tonight", later known as "America Tonight"? It was co-hosted by Martin Mull and Fred Willard.
“Fernwood Tonight”, began as the summer replacement for the show, “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” and was created to find out just how offensive could TV get. (Obviously the precursor for so many shows to have followed.)
Was it sacrilegious? Tasteless? Outrageous? You bet it was. The satirical, deliberately weird “talk show,” parody, “Fernwood Tonight,” was the summer replacement for “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” At the time it was a truly groundbreaking show. The series, which was another of Norman Lear’s groundbreaking shows, was a version of every talk show ever broadcast. That summer it was running in the usual “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" time slot.
The show was such a hit it soon replaced “Hartman” and was translated into “Fernwood USA,” which began in September of 1977. Thus, the original series metastasized into two – both without Louise Lasser, who had other floors to wax.
“Fernwood Tonight” was cheerfully designed to infuriate practically anyone who can turn on a TV. Its full-blooded premise was in bad taste, sick humor, and “All Those Things You Don’t Do On Television.” Or didn’t used to do.
“We will offend the sensitivities of a number of Americans, for which we apologize out front,” said Alan Thicke, a jolly Canadian, comedy-writer sort, acting as chief script writer and producer, “but we’re not being discriminating in our satire. We’re offending everybody, regardless of race, creed, color, or income level."
That's where yours truly entered the picture. At the time, I was getting quite a bit of publicity as the Special Project coordinator of Children of the Night, mostly because I would travel around giving lectures about prostitution. Actually, it was called C.A.T. at the time (California's Advocacy for Trollops), but I digress.
One day I received a telephone call from none other than Alan Thicke. He had heard I was a writer, and he wanted to know if we could "get together and write something for this new show?" Oh gosh, I had to think about it long enough to pick my jaw up off of the ground before saying, “Yes!”
The deal was I would go to his home in the San Fernando Valley. I truly didn't know much about this man, except that I had worked with his actress/wife on Days Of Our Lives, Gloria Lorring. But to have the opportunity to work on this show, was far too tempting for me not to go and meet him, surely he wouldn’t try something stupid?
His house at the time was a white antebellum style mansion, although I remember it as being very sparsely furnished, as if they were either moving in or moving out. He answered the door dressed very casually, his dark hair immaculately coifed, and wearing white socks on his feet. Funny the things which stand out in my memory. I told him who I was, and we shook hands before he led me into his home-office/family room, and offered me a drink of soda as I sat down on the couch. I refused it, afraid I would end up laughing and have it spew out of my nose. That would be more embarrassment than this young girl could stand.
I was still really curious what he had in mind, hoping like hell it wasn't some phony deal and I'd be exploited. In Hollywood, it happened all the time, and with me, a few times in particular...like the time I was spotted coming out of a building on Sunset Blvd. and was recognized from a newspaper clipping...but I’ll save that story for another day.
Alan was the real deal though and soon he was pumping me for information about prostitution, the topic for the show he had in mind. I pretty much gave him antecdotes drawn from my personal experiences, he was eagerly jotting down notes. I felt at ease with him and we shared more than a few laughs as we found it easy to make fun of the topic. I threw out my own “witticisms” that I used during my own college lectures. He must have liked them, because after our meeting he told me that he was going to be using some of my material for the show. This only meant one thing to me; I would be getting paid!
About a week later, Alan called and told me to come to the taping of the show. "Of course, I'd love to." I was hopeful there was a good reason for it; not just to filling up an audience seat.
I was correct in my assumption. It was a taping for “America Tonight”. As it turned out, Martin Mull (as Barth Gimble) and Fred Willard (as sidekick Jerry Hubbard) ended up using one of my lines in their opening volley.
Curious what it was? Of course you are.
"If you really want to do away with prostitution, you will let the government subsidize it; like they do the farmers. You will pay the prostitutes NOT to turn tricks. That's how you clean up this problem."
And that was my first television writing credit.