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The Robert Guillaume Show aired from April until August 1989 on ABC
Robert Guillaume portrayed a black marriage counselor who could have
used some counseling himself in this short lived comedy. For one thing
Edward was divorced, a fact he didn't mention to most of his nutty
clients. Moreover the woman he was dating , his news secretary Ann
(Wendy Phillips) was white which caused continuing problems with his
opinionated father Henry ( Hank Rolike) Pamela and William ( Kelsey
Scott, Marc Joseph) were Edward's barely-under-control teenage
children. According to Robert Guillaume's autobiography, he conceived
the series with the intent of exploring racial complexities in a
family situation in a comedic way, but was warned by ABC that the
American public needed time to get used to the idea of an interracial
romance. Guillaume maintained that ABC deliberately sabotaged the
series by airing episodes out of order and showed a kiss between
Edward and Ann on the second episode instead of the intended eighth.
The series was soon canceled lasting only thirteen episodes.
An Article from the LA Times
It's Not Just Another Sitcom : Robert Guillaume Says New Show's Interracial Romance 'No Big Deal'
April 05, 1989|NIKKI FINKE | Times Staff Writer
To listen to Robert Guillaume explain it, his new ABC-TV sitcom is not a lot of things.
It's not controversial.
It's not anything like his old show, "Benson."
It's not another "Cosby" clone.
And, above all else, it's not just about an interracial romance.
All right, then, what exactly is "The Robert Guillaume Show," which debuts at 9:30 tonight on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42?
The 60-year-old actor is suddenly very unhappy with this line of questioning.
"Look," he says testily, "it would be really stupid of me as an artist to try to determine beforehand what the public is going to react to. I'm going in with the notion that it's going to be a good show, and the interracial romance that everyone is making such a big deal about is one of the elements of it.
"If you can dig it, dig it. If you can't, turn it off," he adds.
And then he flashes that trademark sly and mischievous smile, which catapulted Benson Dubois through nine successful prime-time seasons from 1977-86, from butlering for the Tate family on "Soap" to serving as lieutenant governor in his own series, and which the two-time Emmy winner is counting on to carry his latest character through another ordeal by Nielsen.
"Let's just say that I don't think we're going to go out and be canonized in Mississippi," he says. "But, then, I wasn't looking for that, either."
Guillaume, in fact, wasn't looking for special attention for the mid-season replacement series he is producing and starring in--a first for him--about a divorced black marriage counselor, Edward Sawyer, who starts a romance with his white secretary, Ann Sheer (Wendy Phillips of "A Year in the Life"). But it happened anyway when the network went public with the story line in January.
"I think he doesn't want people to tune in just because of that. He doesn't want to make it sensationalized," says his co-executive producer on the show, Sy Rosen. "But the idea for the series and the interracial relationship was Robert's."
"I was looking around for something different to do," explains Guillaume, who took a breather from TV by touring successfully as a nightclub singer after "Benson" went off the air in 1986. "I didn't want to do another 'Cosby' show. I didn't want to do another 'Good Times.' I felt the need to take things a step further. I think that's the rebel in me.
"So we fastened on the idea of maybe an interracial romance. And we decided to throw it up and see who saluted."
ABC did, with no evident concern over the possible controversial nature of the subject matter. "They didn't care if I was married to E.T. as long as we had a good show," Guillaume states.
But while shows such as "Dynasty" and "The Jeffersons" have featured interracial romances between supporting characters, Guillaume maintains that his is the first series to feature it between the leads.
"We didn't set out to do anything controversial," Guillaume says. "Because we're not talking about doing anything that hasn't already happened before. I mean, where do you think all the light-skinned black people in this country come from? What we're trying to say on the show is that while some people may think that so-called superficial differences among peoples--like being black or white--are really important, they're not.
"But there's also a dichotomy there. Because performers who are black find ourselves in a maze of conflicting opinions about how things should be identified. This is where you're damned if you do and damned if you don't."
While Guillaume maintains that he has never shied away from defining his characters as black men, he tries to stay away from stereotyping. And if there is any underlying message sent by his show, he says, "I'm simply talking about having the freedom as a black man to be whatever I want to be, speak anyway I want to speak, be with anyone I want to be with. And whether that politically meets someone's approval or not, I'm not really interested."
The challenge, Rosen says, is to portray the relationship warmly, intelligently and comedically. But it also won't be played strictly for laughs. For instance, both partners aren't sure they want a romance in the first place, though for differing reasons.
"I find myself becoming attracted to her much against my will because I don't want to go through the hassle of having an interracial romance," Guillaume says. "I don't want all that nonsense of people staring at us. But I find myself falling in love with her anyway. Her character, however, doesn't see the problems I see. Instead, the scars of her divorce go pretty deep, and she doesn't want to get back into another relationship so soon after."
Some stories will have nothing to do with the romance--there are, after all, other characters on the show, including Sawyer's children, father and clients--but others will deal almost exclusively with it.
Guillaume and Phillips don't go out on their first date until the sixth episode. And while they kiss, no one has decided if the couple ever will bed down together.
"It's something that they will address later on," says one source close to the show. "It's a normal thing for a couple in love to go to bed together. If they didn't, there'd be something wrong with them and they'd have to come in for counseling."
"I think Robert and Wendy have a very good chemistry between them," Rosen stresses. "But we decided it would be a nice, semi- slow romance."
By contrast, Guillaume's career is crusing along well above the speed limit.
After appearing as Robin Givens' father in the ABC-TV movie "Penthouse," which aired March 5, he is now co-starring in the well-received feature film "Lean on Me" as superintendent of schools Frank Napier, who supports and stands up to controversial high school principal Joe Clark, played by one-time "Sesame Street" star Morgan Freeman.
"I think Morgan Freeman is sensational. But I wished it had been me," Guillaume says with unabashed envy. "I wanted that part but I didn't get it."
In fact, it puzzles the former Broadway star why he hasn't had more of a feature-film career, especially considering his enormous popularity with TV audiences ("Though after this interview, I probably won't be," he quips uneasily) and the ease with which many other TV actors have been able to cross over into movies in recent years.
Even in the world of television, where he has been most successful, Guillaume doesn't put his career on a par with, say, Bill Cosby.
"Oh, sure, I would have jumped at that series. I would have killed for it," he says. "And I like to think that it would have been as successful with me in it. But even though I had a certain amount of popularity as 'Benson,' it was never like Cosby's. And Bill got the power he has because the public kept saying, 'We love this show and we're going to watch it in record numbers.' I never had that. That's what I would like."
But the fact that the series is called "The Robert Guillaume Show" surely is evidence that the actor has a certain amount of clout. Right?
Wrong, says Guillaume. "The only reason it's called that is because the name wasn't being used by anyone else," he jokes. "Now, some people would say I have power. But I don't say it. I don't lament that I don't have it. I've done well, after all."
Certainly well financially ("I got a good piece of the back end of 'Benson,' ") but maybe not quite as well personally. Guillaume believes it's because he still vividly remembers what it was like growing up in the St. Louis ghetto, "where it didn't matter what you were dreaming about because you were a little nigger boy who wasn't going to do anything, wasn't going anywhere and wasn't going to be anybody.
"But I always remembered my grandmother's words that you can't judge a book by its cover."
An Article from the Washington Post
GUILLAUME SHOW BREAKS RACIAL BARRIER
By Michael E. Hill April 23, 1989
Viewers settling in for a glimpse of the new "Robert Guillaume Show" may have thought they were in for just another situation comedy. Perhaps a reprise of the Benson character who carried Guillaume through two successful sitcoms ("Soap," "Benson"). Or maybe an upscale family man in the Cosby mold. But no. Here was the head of a fractured family, a divorced marriage counselor, of all people who, in the series' first episode, sets out to hire a secretary. The top prospect was Wendy Phillips, playing a woman going through marriage withdrawal herself. The couple's conversation was warm, disarming, more of a conversation than a job interview. They were at ease with each other. What's cooking? The pot that was warming on the stove three weeks ago has now come to full boil. Make that a low simmer. For while "The Robert Guillaume Show" is breaking new television ground -- it's the first prime time network series to be built around an interracial couple -- the tone of the show and its principals is very low key. "We're just trying to put on a funny show," said executive producer Sy Rosen. Six shows will air in the series this spring, though the network ordered a dozen into production. By now, the audience has seen Guillaume's character, Edward Sawyer, and Phillips' Ann Sheer exchange a screen kiss, and the relationship, merely suggested in the opening episode, is in full flower. All of this may be happening a bit faster than Rosen had in mind. With a dozen ordered and room for six on the spring network calendar, the progression of the relationship is compressed a bit. And by this week, the scheduled fourth for the series, viewer reaction, if there will be any, should be surfacing. And ABC and Rosen will be watching the ratings to see if the show merits, in Nielsen terms, a spot on the fall schedule. In the show's first outing, it ranked only 46th for the week. But Rosen said that ABC was glad to see the show build upon the audience it inherited from the show that precedes it on the Wednesday night schedule. "It went up from 'Coach,'" said Rosen. "The network liked that." (The network did not give the show the advantage it has given some new shows of being introduced after an episode of "Roseanne," which has been the No. 1 show more often than not in recent weeks.) At a press conference to discuss the series before it debuted, Guillaume, who has been down this path before ("Soap" was a controversial show in its day) talked in matter-of-fact fashion about the series' prospects. "It's an opportunity to put different elements together that hadn't been seen before," he said, mastering understatement. "We hope that the audience will quickly get beyond color into what makes sense about these two people having an attraction for each other, and we have not handled it gingerly. "We have taken, simply, the precaution that we have some truth to the series -- to this attraction, and ABC has not asked us to handle it gingerly. And we proceeded as though it were a normal, everyday kind of thing, which, of course, it is. "I mean, we are not really breaking any ground insofar as people are concerned. Now, insofar as TV is concerned, we may be breaking ground." The Guillaume series follows by a few weeks the debut of "Generations," the NBC daytime drama, the first soap to be built around black characters as well as white. Suddenly television seems to be moving toward racial precedents, if not to the cutting edge of racial relations on TV. At least one other prime-time series, "The Jeffersons," has featured an interracial couple (Tom and Helen Willis) but for the leads of the series to be a racially mixed man and woman is a first. Phillips, the other half of the show's interracial equation, seems the perfect choice to play opposite Guillaume. Rosen acknowledged that some 50 actresses had auditioned for the role Phillips won. "I know 50 of them personally," said Phillips, who recalled time spent in the waiting room watching her peers march in and out of auditions. "I think they saw the best actresses in town for this part, some of whom I am personal fans of," she said. "And I think they were rightfully concerned about chemistry in this show. So, there were quite a few callbacks and screen tests." "We were looking for a nice reality base," said Rosen. "A chemistry with her and Robert," he translated. "A feeling that there was a strength there, even though she had been through a bad marriage and she was starting off by herself ... We wanted it to come across that she was her own person." For Phillips, landing the role of Ann was a relatively quick rescue from unemployment following the cancellation of her previous series. "I was in Europe when 'A Year in the Life' was canceled," she said. "I didn't expect it to be canceled. and when I came back, there was the writers' strike. During the strike, I started the long, arduous process of auditioning for this show. It was the only project that I saw, including movies of the week and other series, that really excited me." For Guillaume, this show is his first move back into series television in nearly three years. "When I thought of doing a new series, I wanted to do something that had not been done before ... I didn't want to do, let's say, another family series, as a father of a nuclear family. "It seems to me that 'Cosby' and other shows had already covered that territory, and, in searching around for what you could do in a domestic situation, it seemed to me that this had never been covered. And ... I always found it humorous, some of the problems that interracial couples had. I found it quite humorous," said Guillaume, who has dated interracially. Guillaume and Phillips are also surrounded in the series by his two teenage children, his father and her daughter. They too will have their moments in the show. "I would say that we would be doing a show that many -- I'd say the major part of the audience -- is going to find fascinating and is going to watch, just because of the two people involved and because of the mix of the show and because of the other characters in the show," said Guillaume. And there will be a mix of problems, not always of an us-against-the-world variety. Occasionally it's Ann and Edward against each other. As in the episode in which Ann accused him of being uppity, without realizing the connotation the word held for Edward. "I really don't think that the black-white issue is going to have that much to do with it. I know it's going to cause a reaction among some people, but so did 'All in the Family.' There was a great furor over that show ... "Part of the interesting mix that we have is that we will have a white family and a black family in a show together. And as far as I know, that doesn't happen that often. I haven't seen it before." By now Guillaume has glimpsed "Generations." And by now his own audience is wondering just how Ann and Edward's relationship will progress. They've already kissed. Guillaume said they enountered no network reaction to the idea of a smooch. "It's been filmed," he said, "and the roof didn't fall in." Quipped Phillips: "For me, it did."
To watch clips of The Robert Guillaume Show go to https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=the+robert+guillaume+show
For more on The Robert Guillaume Show go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Robert_Guillaume_Show
For some The Robert Guillaume Show-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to https://interviews.televisionacademy.com/shows/robert-guillaume-show
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Keywords: The Cast of Robert Guillaume Show (Links Updated 7/21/18)