The Associates (1979–1980)
7.6/10
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The Censors 

Tucker and his client, a television producer, and a network censor meet with a gay activist to discuss whether the phrase "queer as a three dollar bill" should be cut from a script. When ... See full synopsis »

Director:

Tony Mordente

Writers:

James L. Brooks (created by), Stan Daniels (created by) | 6 more credits »
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Cast

Episode cast overview:
Wilfrid Hyde-White ... Emerson Marshall
Martin Short ... Tucker Kerwin
Alley Mills ... Leslie Dunn
Joe Regalbuto ... Eliot Streeter
Shelley Smith ... Sara James
Tim Thomerson ... Johnny Danko
John Ritter ... Chick
Stuart Margolin ... Phil Kramer
Lee Wallace ... Gerald McMartin
Pamela Toll Pamela Toll ... Vera #2
Richard Brestoff ... Mr. Adamson
Louisa Moritz ... Vera #1
K.C. Martel ... Stevie #1
Ian Praiser Ian Praiser ... Stevie #2
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Storyline

Tucker and his client, a television producer, and a network censor meet with a gay activist to discuss whether the phrase "queer as a three dollar bill" should be cut from a script. When the activist enters the meeting, he is a walking stereotype. He advises that, in the context it's being used, the phrase is not offensive. Dropping the stereotypical mannerisms, the activist explains that what is offensive is that they all unquestioningly accepted the stereotypes he was presenting and challenges the producer to create non-stereotypical gay characters.

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Genres:

Comedy

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Details

Language:

English

Release Date:

10 April 1980 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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User Reviews

A True TV Sitcom Classic Episode.
1 February 2019 | by JasonDanielBakerSee all my reviews

Wall Street law firm Bass & Marshall has a major TV network (This is back when there were only three) as client. The network have slotted a new sitcom called "Me & Stevie" about a single dad with a young son. The network's Standards and Practices people have censored a line of dialogue that they think will get them in trouble. Phil Kramer (Stuart Margolin) the producer of the show appears ready to file a lawsuit citing the creative free-hand he was contractually promised.

The law firm is asked to send an associate to California to sit in on a meeting between the two sides and persuade (possibly intimidate) the producer into caving. Senior Partner Emerson Marshall (Wilfrid Hyde-White) and junior partner Eliot Streeter (Joe Regalbuto) suss out who among their three brightest young attorneys - Tucker Kerwin (Martin Short), Leslie Dunn (Alley Mills) and Sara James (Shelley Smith) will serve them on the assignment.

With the selection process ultimately in the withered hands of Marshall, fully at his caprices and whims which don't always appear formulated by cognisance, who will it be? Who will best fit in amongst Hollywood people? Sara MIGHT be the obvious choice because she attended Stanford and has screen star glamour. It could've been Leslie and been used to better flesh out the arc of her character - one which they never quite contrasted with Tucker. Of course it has to be Tucker (Martin Short was the real star AND the one getting the best critical notices).

For what looks like the most absurd-seeming reason (His sense of humour gaged by a bad joke Marshall relates) Tucker gets sent. He and the network guy Gerry McMartin (Lee Wallace) meet with Kramer on set. Kramer, whilst exhibiting the diva kind of manner of some of our best creatives offers to drop it on one condition and one condition only - if they see the scene in question and tell him it isn't funny. Suddenly Marshall's choice of Tucker, who didn't laugh at a joke Marshall didn't find funny either, seems entirely calculated.

The scene involves the kid (A boy scout no less) walking in on his dad (Guest star John Ritter) with a high-voiced, flighty, crass and extremely well-endowed woman (Louisa Moritz) he picked up at a bowling alley. Though it happens off stage it is comedically obvious they've been caught inflagrante delicto (Latin is NOT the exclusive property of jurists!). Contained within the scene (Amidst genius physical comedy of the most adult kind performed with side-splitting precision by Ritter and Moritz) is a single line of very offensive dialogue which no logical creative would see as integral but will make all the difference.

Tucker is practically falling out of his seat in amusement watching John Ritter at his best. Not only is the scene on the fictional sitcom that funny (And that well-done) it is a true to life articulation of the awkward way in which a single dad might be prompted to give his son "The Talk" earlier than expected out of flagrant necessity. There is no question it is edgy and that some (The same people who find everything objectionable) may think it is in poor taste.

But could the network face real push-back from viewers, and by extension, sponsors? The network had to consider that as did their lawyers when push came to shove as it sometimes did. Tucker honors that as responsibly as his fiduciary responsibility calls for and goes further. But he knows he shouldn't have laughed. He might also know that he should not have agreed to any "Just tell me it's not funny. That's ALL you have to do!" challenges to watch a scene on the floor of a Hollywood soundstage.

The network adjusts it's position which results in a meeting at Kramer's office. Also invited to the meeting is a Mr.Adamson (Lee Brestoff) gay activist (Presumably from an imaginary composite of a representative of GLAAD) with flamboyant mannerisms who turns out to be profoundly reasonable in every way, indicates no problems with any aspect of the script (Having read it in full) and very clearly, even eloquently articulates that. The conspicuously cooperative activist then reveals something very telling which diminishes Kramer's position.

This was, for it's time and present time, scathingly funny social satire that pokes fun not only at political issues but at TV production itself. The most essential part is Margolin (Angel from The Rockford Files) utterly eviscerating - in the most loving manner possible that one can eviscerate an entire group (Screen Auteurs) of people. Kramer is ruthless and stubborn in not allowing the slightest alteration to his art (Even though it is not particularly subjective what works and what doesn't about the Stevie show scene) but also so desperate for any kind of validation from anyone that he'll take common courtesy as heartfelt praise.

The compromise resolution presents a different kind of comedy. It sends up how network TV sitcoms could be utterly destroyed by the most insane compromises made by people who don't know comedy or television. We see the absurdly altered version of Stevie & Me watched by Tucker, the other Associates and Streeter back at the law office and note how the script (And casting) on the fictional show can be ruined by pandering to all tastes.

So they've got John Ritter - one of the more gifted and beloved sitcom actors in history, as guest-star whilst he was the male lead on Three's Company produced on ABC (which also produced The Associates). The story-line is controversial and topical - filled with precisely the issues facing TV productions of that time. Plus they have one of the raunchiest scenes in American network TV history to that point in time.

Ratings were remarkably disappointing and there would be only four episodes before this series got canned. It suggests they may have been attempting a kind of beau risque at some point early in the production stage to reverse their fortunes. But it is nothing less than some of the very best network TV I have ever seen. The self-awareness alone puts right it up there as nothing less than classic. Even the idea of this episode makes me cackle.

Free to air commercial network TV really did use to be very provocative and edgy until censorship took hold. Unless they have seen reruns it is difficult to convince people of that now. Archie Bunker was still on the air hurling every kind of derogatory epithet. Sanford & Son did some of the same. It was about properly depicting the way real people talk whilst telling a story.

At the time few insults were more offensive than insulting the intelligence of the audience by assuming they can't handle mature content presented frankly. What this revolutionary episode previewed was another of it's grim truths i.e. the rise of censorship was on it's way. The overall idea appeared to be to present a different grim truth every episode.

My only criticism is that Tucker is the one who gets sent to Hollywood instead of Leslie or Sara or even Streeter. The cast doesn't really become an ensemble unless one of the ones who isn't Martin Short gets to do something. These writers would easily have had to have known that as would the star. Couldn't it have been written for one of the other associate characters?

The closing lines of dialogue of this episode can seem very telling.


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