Tonight, TV legend Ed Asner — best known for playing gruff newsman Lou Grant in the “Mary Tyler Moore” show and later in the drama “Lou Grant” — will be “inundating” viewers, in his words, on two hit sitcoms. First, on ABC’s “The Middle,” he plays the old saw editor of the local paper who hires Brick Heck (Atticus Shaffer) as a paperboy. When he quits, Mike and Frankie Heck (Neil Flynn, Patricia Heaton) go to the crusty editor to make amends.
Then, on TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland”, he plays a rich guy who once spurned the advances of Elka (Betty White), then got her fired from her job. This is the first time the two have acted together since their “MTM” days, when White’s Sue Ann Nivens would constantly chase after Asner’s Lou. Asner talked to XfinityTV.com about both roles, working with White again, and why he’s friending everyone on Facebook who asks.
When you got on Facebook, you seemed to be taking any friend request that came your way. Are you liking the interaction with people on there?
Well, my son does most of that for me. I like the sexy exchanges, naturally. I’m all ears whenever they have sexual allusions; that’s when I really tune in.
We’ll have to go back and check your feed and see if those are really there…
I can dream, can’t I? I think I’m dreaming again.
You’re playing Brick’s boss in “The Middle” on Tuesday night. How was working in scenes with Atticus Shaffer, who plays Brick?
I didn’t act with the kid. His parents come in to say he’s quitting. And I then go into a long, philosophical discussion where I rip them apart by innuendo for sponsoring such a slacker. It’s a four-page scene.
Was this the kind of thing where the producers had this role and they thought you were perfect for it?
Well, I do have a name in the business, and it was an area of expertise that I’m expert at, so they put two and two together. I like the scene, I like the show, and it made it very easy to get together.
Is he almost Lou Grant-esque in the role? Is that the idea?
Yeah. Except older. I’ve aged since “Lou Grant,” and I’ve gotten crustier.
Lou was kind of crusty to begin with.
Yes, but I think I’ve gone beyond that.
What do you enjoy about the show?
I had a wonderful director. Names flee from me now; I can’t remember her name, but I liked her a lot. She has good taste. The writing is excellent. And of course, the two star performers are excellent as well.
What is your criteria for picking a guest role in a show?
I look for quality. I’m not starving to death, so I can afford to say no.
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You’re guesting on “Hot in Cleveland” tonight as well….
I’m inundating the American public. I think I’m swamping them.
Is that the first time you had worked with Betty White since “Mary Tyler Moore”? Did the old chemistry between you two come back?
I did an impromptu performance at her birthday celebration. I want Betty to give the eulogy at my funeral, because she’s everywhere! I’m surprised she’s not doing bar mitzvahs.
How do you feel when you see stars you’ve worked with, like Betty and Cloris Leachman, still working–
You don’t work with Cloris Leachman, you experience her.
Is she the same as she was on the “MTM” set? More so?
She’s always more so.
When you see that people that are older are doing well in this business, do you think there’s more opportunity now, or is it a select few people getting attention?
I think that there’s been more attention to older actors lately, not that it’s being evidenced on TV, but more attention is being called, and when somebody uses you and it comes off well, it excites attention. “Well, maybe we can squeeze them in here or maybe we can squeeze them in there.” I don’t think that generally speaking, older people are more active now, by no means. It would be wonderful if a way could be found to honor that whole scene of over-50s out there who would enjoy seeing contemporaries perform. TV and movies have gone to the youth range, as we know, they always have, and it certainly hasn’t changed. But it would be nice to see a section of the production area of film dedicate themselves more to seniors.
Is there a nostalgia factor at work there, like you and Betty being together in a show, or do people know that actors like you are pros?
There’s a great nostalgic factor there. There’s a nostalgic factor in employing me with Betty. But at the same time, we’re able to make sure we’re not going to do schlock.