Sunday, February 09, 2014

When Ted Baxter Met Walter Cronkite

Mary (Mary Tyler Moore): [meeting Walter Cronkite] So nice to meet you. Really. Nice. Nice. Really.

Murray (Gavin MacLeod): [meeting Walter Cronkite] So nice to meet you. Really. Nice. Really.

It probably isn't most people's favorite Mary Tyler Moore Show episode.

Most people would probably say the "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode is their favorite — and that would be hard to dispute.

And I do like that one.

But I also like the one that aired 40 years ago tonight, "Ted Baxter Meets Walter Cronkite."

When I was a kid, Cronkite was trusted by just about everyone — so much so that some people actually called him "Uncle Walter"

I don't remember how the writers for the Mary Tyler Moore Show established that Ted Baxter (Ted Knight) was an admirer of Cronkite. Maybe it was never really established — except for the presumption that viewers knew that the Mary Tyler Moore Show and Cronkite's evening news program were on the same network — CBS.

But Ted definitely was an admirer of Cronkite.

He also openly coveted a Teddy Award, the fictional (at least, I think it is) award for broadcasting excellence in the Minneapolis–St. Paul market, but he had never won one.

He had his acceptance speech all ready, and he launched into it on several occasions, often when he failed to win the award.

But this time he got to recite it for real — largely because he had campaigned for it. Uncharacteristically for Ted, he had invested a lot of money in it. I don't remember if the writers made him the only WJM staffer to win an award that night or not. I just remember that Ted won a Teddy, and the others resented the way he had won it.

The fact that Ted won a Teddy was enough to irritate his co–workers even if one or more also won a Teddy — but then came the coup de grâce — Cronkite was in town to see Lou (Ed Asner) and he happened to come by the TV station.

Lou had no choice but to introduce them. After introducing Cronkite to Mary and Murray, neither of whom distinguished themselves in the presence of such an important journalist, Lou introduced the legendary newsman to Ted — who had the idea that, somehow, Cronkite's visit was an unannounced audition for him. If he did well enough, Ted reasoned, he would be invited to be Cronkite's partner on the evening news.

So Ted took over, putting his arm around Cronkite's shoulder and delivering one of my all–time favorite lines: "Well, Walt, let's talk shop. Which words do you have trouble pronouncing?"

As they walked out the door of the newsroom, Ted was reciting that evening's newscast to Cronkite, who glanced back at Lou and said, "I'm going to get you for this."