Wednesday, July 22, 2020

24 Facts about “Love, Sidney”

TV guru David Davis is back with another one of his great lists, this time tackling the controversial early '80s series "Love, Sidney." Tony Randall starred in one of my favorite sitcoms of all time, "The Odd Couple," and I recall being simultaneously fascinated and terrified by fey Sidney when it first aired. (Wasn’t Felix Unger a big enough queen?!) This short-lived show never made it to home video. But I'm hoping to dig up some episodes online somewhere once our television schedule is cleared of other vintage favorites -- Damian and I are entering the fifth season of "Maude" right now (on DVD in the living room) and are about halfway through "Cybill" (streaming in the bedroom)!

P.S. Somebody is selling bootleg "Love, Sidney" DVDs online, for $65 a season. (More than double what I paid for all of "James at 15.") Damian's disdain for children on television shows has started to rub off on me -- "Kate and Allie" was a fave of mine in high school, but Chip is starting to annoy me when I watch episodes on YouTube -- so I wonder if the little girl on "Love, Sidney" will be a dealbreaker now!

24 Facts about “Love, Sidney” 
(NBC, 1981–1983)

1. A multi-camera sitcom taped in front of a studio audience, which aired on NBC from October 1981 to June 1983.

2. Cast — Tony Randall as Sidney Shorr / Swoosie Kurtz as Laurie Morgan / Kaleena Kiff as Patti Morgan / Chip Zien as Jason Stoller / Alan North as Mort Harris / Barbara Bryne as Mrs. Gaffney / Lynne Thigpen as Nancy

3. Premise — An older gay man befriends a struggling actress and becomes a surrogate father figure. He lets her move in with him and helps raise her young daughter, and the three become an unconventional family.

4. This was the first TV series with a gay central character, although his sexual orientation was carefully downplayed for most of the series' duration.

5. The show’s pilot came in the form of a TV-movie. “Sidney Shorr: A Girl's Best Friend” went into production during 1980, starring Tony Randall and Lorna Patterson. Network executives planned to develop the movie into a weekly series if it was a success in the ratings. However, after the film was complete, NBC continued to postpone its premiere, and by the end of the 1980–81 season it had not yet aired. Meanwhile, the network had decided to produce the series as part of its 1981 Fall schedule, using the movie as an introduction shortly before its debut.

6. By the time the series was cast, Lorna Patterson was no longer available, as she had already begun starring on CBS's "Private Benjamin"; Swoosie Kurtz took over the role of Laurie Morgan.

7. Tony Randall, bitter about regular television roles after the cancellation of his last series "The Tony Randall Show" (1976–78), was initially uninterested in returning to weekly TV, but was interested in the "Sidney Shorr" story as a TV-movie. Randall agreed to "Love, Sidney" with two conditions: First, it would provide him extra income that would go toward the financing of the national theater he wanted to open and run in New York City. (The salary he made over the show's two seasons eventually paid off when his National Actors Theatre opened at NYC's Pace University in 1991.) Secondly, the series had to be taped in New York.

8. During the first season, the series was produced at Reeves Teletape Studios, though the first episode was recorded in Studio 6A at NBC Studios (New York City). Midway through season one, production of "Love, Sidney" was forced to relocate to Los Angeles for seven episodes because the Teletape studios needed to honor a previous commitment to another production. Those seven episodes were recorded at Warner Bros. in Burbank. "Love, Sidney" returned to New York for the remainder of its run, taping in various studios, including the CBS Broadcast Center despite being an NBC series.

9. When the series was announced, NBC received complaints from the Moral Majority and other special-interest groups who were upset about the network presenting a positive portrayal of homosexuality. The lead character's orientation was kept ambiguous, referred to only in oblique, coded hints. Some TV critics described the character only as a "confirmed bachelor."

10. Tony Randall was reported to say that if his character was changed to be heterosexual, he would quit the show.

11. The series proved popular among viewers in New York City, where the series was set, particular with its gay male population. The show was also popular in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. In other markets, however, its ratings ranged from moderately successful to poor.

12. George Eckstein was the original executive producer from the time of the "Love, Sidney" premiere. While the series performed well enough for NBC to warrant it a second season, they pushed for changes in order to improve the show's chances for lasting success.

13. At the start of the 1982–83 season, the network hired the veteran producing team of Rod Parker and Hal Cooper to take over the show. With existing producers Ken Hecht and Sandy Veith, they made many changes, including two new regular cast members and a switch to more meaningful, moralized stories that bordered on the "very special episode" format.

14. As time went on, the writers began to set things up to address Sidney's orientation more directly. The addition of the female neighbor Mrs. Gaffney pursuing a sexual relationship with him offered more opportunities to establish that he was not attracted to women.

15. In a special hour-long episode aired on May 16, 1983, Sidney agrees to date his new co-worker Allison (Martha Smith), but the courtship ends because of Sidney's lack of passion. He explains that his heart had been broken by a previous long-time love, and he could never love anyone again. Left alone, Allison tearfully remarks about Sidney's former lover: "if only she knew what she was missing," and the camera pans over to a framed photograph of Sidney's former lover, Martin, from the pilot movie.

16. The following episode, the next-to-last in the series, has an openly gay guest character: a psychiatrist who befriends Sidney after Sidney talks him out of suicide.

17. Theme Song — 🎵 The show’s theme, “Friends Forever,” was performed by Tony Randall, Swoosie Kurtz, and Kaleena Kiff. It was re-recorded by Gladys & Bubba Knight for the first eight episodes of season two. After that, the original version was reinstated for the remainder of the show’s run.

18. Guest actors included Frank Aletter, Alice Drummond, Jane Dulo, Christine Ebersole, Helen Hayes, Howard Hesseman, John Fiedler, Myrna Loy, Janice Lynde, Jack Riley, Patricia Richardson, Wendy Schaal, Richard Stahl, Eric Stoltz, Jerry Supiran, and Lynne Thigpen.

19. In season 2, Betty White made a guest appearance as a Sue Ann Nivens-type with the hots for Sidney. Swoosie Kurtz’s character, Laurie, tells her, “boy, are you barking up the wrong tree.”

20. Swoosie Kurtz later said that Tony Randall could be difficult to work with, but that he always apologized for any outbursts, and generally got along with his castmates.

21. Ratings & Cancellation — 📉 The series came in 36th place in the Nielsen ratings for season one. In Season 2, they dipped down to #80. The show was not renewed for a third season.

22. Home Media — ❌ The show was never released on VHS or DVD, and the reruns were never shown in syndication.

23. IMDb User Reviews — • p_gozinya | January 2005: A friend of mine recently said that he was traumatized by The Brady Bunch. He said that his family was so unlike the always-happy, flawless Bradys that, by comparison, he felt he was living with a bunch of monsters. My reaction: "Dude, you took 'The Brady Bunch' seriously?" Likewise, the guy who wrote saying that Love Sidney caused his 13-year-old homosexual mind to grow shameful and make him feel he would always be friendless and sad...I have to ask: What are you, kidding? It was a portrayal of ONE CHARACTER. As for me, I'm glad the Sidney producers had the fortitude to create a show around a leading gay character way back in 1981. As a heterosexual kid growing up at that time, the show was my first introduction to the notion of homosexuality. It raised a lot of questions, and wound up being a springboard to meaningful discussions I had with my parents -- a chance to learn what it was, and form a non-judgmental concept on the subject in my formative brain.

• sts-26 | February 2009: ⭐️⭐️ This series popped into my head this evening, and I checked out IMDb. I have read the other comments, and would like to add my two-cents worth. One fact that I have not seen mentioned is this: Sidney is miserable and friendless because he is bitter over the loss of his lover, which he seems incapable of getting over. If I remember correctly, his boyfriend had died, and - with the great reluctance to explore that relationship on the show - it is easy to assume in retrospect that the boyfriend was a victim of one of the big issues - gay bashing? AIDS? ...Anyway.... The whole message of the show, as sugary sweet as it was, is that everyone needs someone to share his life with, and, while the ideal is to have a lover (whatever your sexual persuasion), good platonic friends can be a pretty good substitute. Families are made, not born. The great achievement of the show was that it shattered stereotypes - that was the whole point of Sidney being neither a disco-dwelling, toy-boy hunting sugar daddy, nor a camp, shrieking queen. The show also captured an ennui that was soon to swamp the gay community, and those who saw it as a pop-culture touchstone, as AIDS took a greater and greater toll. Love, Sidney was soulful and complex, and is owed much by all involved with, and fans of, such shows as Will and Grace.

24. R.I.P. — 💐 Alan North - died in 2000, age 79. 🌼 Tony Randall - died in 2004, age 84.


James Dwight Williamson said...

Cybill with Christine Baranski one of my top five all time favorite shows, not quite Designing Women but sharper tongued!

Jack said...

I remember this show, but did not watch it. I also remember thinking Tony Randall's character was kind of scary. He seemed like the typical "old queen" that was not appealing to a budding twink. I also remember reading at the time that they were trying to heterosexualize Randall's charactor, which also made me disinterested. I don't know what night it aired, but this then-recently minted gay boy had a lot more interesting things to do than watch TV! I wish it was available, now, because I would love to see it.

Jinxy said...

Loved the show. I was 12 or 13 when it aired and didn't read to much into the gay thing. Went right over my head.

Garret Groenveld said...

Did Randall ever come out?