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Thunder Alley aired from March 1994 until July 1995 on ABC.
Gil Jones ( Edward Asner) was an older, retired stock car driver with a nearly perfect life: his own successful Detroit garage, time to hang out with the boys, and a waiting room in which to charm the ladies who came in with their bent fenders. Into this masculine idea of paradise came divorced daughter Bobbi ( played by Diane Venora and later by Robin Riker), with Gil's three grandchildren and some ideas of her own. Her children were Claudine ( Kelly Vint) , age 11; Jenny ( Lindsay Felton), age 8; and Harry ( Haley Joel Osment), age 5. The kids needed a father figure, and Gil would have to do. Moving in with her widower dad in the apartment over the garage, she tried to domesticate him. He barked, she retaliated. He was stubburn, she taught him little lessons. Of course nobody could resist those adorable kids, and they loved their grandpa, despite-or because of-the less-than-perfect role model he provided. Leland ( Jim Beaver) was Gil's mangy, droll chief mechanic.
A Review from Entertainment Weekly
ED ASNER'S NEW SITCOM QUICKLY RUNS OUT OF GAS
--By Ken Tucker
Maybe we could pass the hat and take up a collection for Ed Asner that would let him retire and not further spoil our memories of him on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. So great during his first incarnation as Lou Grant, Asner has spent the rest of his career doing annoying variations on that character- anyone remember Off the Rack or The Bronx Zoo? The latest version of Lou is Asner's grumpy-grandpa act in thunder alley (ABC, March 16, 8:30-9 p.m.), a drab sitcom. Asner is Gil Jones, who runs an absurdly neat auto-repair shop; his divorced daughter (Diane Venora) and three grandchildren have recently come to live with him. This leads to scenes such as the one in which Gil tries to convince the grandkids that Hoagy Carmichael's ''Star Dust'' is a great piece of music. Well, it is, of course, but where are the jokes that might have made the moment funny or touching? Not here, not anywhere. D
An Article from The New York Times
THE MEDIA BUSINESS: Television; Hollywood Isn't Smiling At an ABC Comedy Tactic
By BILL CARTER
Published: April 4, 1994
"Thunder Alley," a new comedy on ABC, may not yet be the biggest hit of the television season, but it is certainly the biggest target.
The series, which stars Ed Asner and was harshly dismissed by most critics, has achieved high ratings in the four weeks it has been on the air.
But how could it not, ask the show's detractors: more than any other new show this season, "Thunder Alley" enjoys most-favored-program status. Every week, it has been sandwiched at 8:30 P.M. Wednesdays between two episodes of "Home Improvement," the top-rated entertainment show on television.
No one wonders why ABC would be generous to this new show above all others. The network is a co-owner of the series and hopes to share in the fountain of profits that can shower on successful comedies.
ABC's position as both owner and scheduler of "Thunder Alley" has led executives from Hollywood studios to complain that this is precisely the kind of behavior they expected after the Federal Government's decision last year to allow the networks to take a financial interest in prime-time shows.
While other producers of hit shows have received preferred scheduling over the years, "Thunder Alley" may be the first program with network ownership to find such an idyllic home.
The expectation that networks will favor shows they own over shows delivered from the studios is one reason two studios, Warner Brothers and Paramount, have decided to start networks of their own.
"Thunder Alley" is the product of a partnership between ABC and Wind Dancer Productions, the company also responsible for "Home Improvement." In a highly unusual deal, ABC renewed "Home Improvement" for three years in exchange for co-ownership of the next two series developed by Wind Dancer. The deal was seen as a sign of things to come in the industry.
The first of those two series is "Thunder Alley," in which Mr. Asner plays a retired stock car racer helping to raise his three grandchildren after his daughter moves back in with him. At the time the deal was made, Rick Leed, president of Wind Dancer, said there was "an understanding" that the first show developed would get a chance to run either before "Home Improvement" or after it.
More recently, Hollywood studio executives have charged that ABC guaranteed the show the time slot after "Home Improvement" as well as a spot on next year's schedule.
Mr. Leed said, "We were never given a unilateral, absolute guarantee of anything." Still, he acknowledged that the premium placement of the show was consistent with all networks' programming practices. "Successful television producers are usually favored with good position for their next show," he said.
Indeed, the Carsey-Werner Company, the producer of NBC's "Cosby Show" in the 1980's, received the time period immediately after that show for "A Different World." And Paramount, after tough negotiations with NBC to renew "Cheers," once landed the slot right after that comedy for a new Paramount show, "Wings."
"Thunder Alley," which had its debut early last month, has been among the top 15 programs on television every week. But some television executives see it as an inferior effort being propped up by a self-interested network. Let the show get into the game without bringing along its big brother for protection, these critics say, and we'll see how it stands up.
"This is exactly what everybody feared," said one senior Hollywood studio executive. "The networks have an oligarchy over prime-time time slots."
It is also why the studios need to create their own networks, said the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the need to keep dealing with network programmers.
The studios argue that the networks have already cut the number of time slots available in prime time by filling the 10 P.M. hour with magazine programs from their news departments. Giving preferential treatment to comedies they own "leaves everybody in the business depressed about the lack of time periods," the studio executive said.
But Mr. Leed said: "I think this is all sour grapes. They just don't want to see success happen outside the studio system."
Ted Harbert, president of ABC Entertainment, also said ABC had given no guarantees to Wind Dancer for "Thunder Alley."
"This show is getting an opportunity anyone would cut his right arm off for," he said. "And this is the way Hollywood works. No one is ever gracious or enjoys someone else's success. We're not going to apologize for the luxury of having "Home Improvement" to lead into other shows."
Mr. Harbert pointed out that ABC had used "Home Improvement" to lead into several other programs this season, including "Thea," "The Critic" and "Joe's Life," a program that ABC owned outright. But he said none of these shows had held onto as much of the "Home Improvement" audience as "Thunder Alley" had, and ABC wound up shelving them.
Mr. Leeds said, "If this show was a turkey and we were keeping a bad show alive, they might have a point."
"Thunder Alley," which had a 17.7 rating its first week, declined to a 14.6 in its third week. But it rebounded last Wednesday with a 16.9. (Each rating point represents 942,000 homes.)
Still, David F. Poltrack, the senior vice president of research for CBS, said, "If you separated that show from 'Home Improvement,' it would sink like a stone."
And the studio executive described the show as "painfully bad."
For the Wind Dancer executives, who have seen other comedies like NBC's "Seinfeld" celebrated as brilliantly inventive while the much more popular "Home Improvement" is dismissed as popcorn television, this is history repeating itself.
"The reviews for 'Home Improvement' were just as bad," Mr. Leed said. "There's a lot of jealousy about Wind Dancer's success. The truth is that the people putting us down ought to think more about making quality shows that people want to watch."
An Article from The LA Times
On View : The Parent Clash : ABC'S 'THUNDER ALLEY' MINES LAUGHS OUT OF A GENERATION GAP
March 13, 1994|TED JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER
A gruff but lovable grandpa, his daughter and her three sometimes-sassy kids all live under one roof in the new sitcom "Thunder Alley," but star Ed Asner insists the show won't get too cute.
As Lou Grant might say, "I hate cute."
"I hope to be the first one to throw up if it gets that way," says Asner.
As retired stock car racer Gil Jones, he spars with his divorced daughter Bobbi (Diane Venora) when she moves in with her three tykes (Kelly Vint, Lindsay Felton and Haley Joel Osment).
It might sound like family sitcom formula, but the show's creators (the team behind the mega-hit "Home Improvement") insist they are breaking the mold by pitting baby boom parenting vs. its 1990s counterpart. With kids, Gil lays down the law, no questions asked, while Bobbi shows compassion and understanding.
"Kids and parenting seem to be a central obsession of the '90s," says Matt Williams, the fortysomething executive producer of the show along with David McFadzean and Carmen Finestra. "There are worlds of differences in how we raised our kids and how our parents raised us. This seems like rich territory that I don't think gets explored in a sitcom."
To start off, they didn't want a grandfather who dotters in a rocking chair and sounds like a crank.
So they looked to aging Indianapolis stock car racers Al Unser and Johnny Rutherford. Williams and the other producers visited them last summer.
"They all said that stock car racers were the most egotistical guys on Earth," Williams says. "Johnny Rutherford said, 'We honestly believe we can do anything.' "
Likewise, Gil will enjoy the occasional thrill, and he will still interact with racers as the owner of Thunder Alley Garage, a repair shop for sports vehicles.
"He will be a vital, honest and sexy character," Williams says. "We love the idea of this guy as a sex symbol."
When it came to finding their Gil, however, the list was short. It had to be a guy who was comfortable with kids. James Garner, who sped around in a Firebird on "The Rockford Files," was offered the part but turned it down.
"He was upfront: He didn't know if he wanted to do a series with a bunch of kids in front of a live audience," Williams says.
Asner also was on their short list. With "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Lou Grant" under his belt, he had no regrets taking the part.
"It's funny because of the way I drive," Asner says. "According to most people, if I became a stock car racer, I'd be dead. But that's show biz."
He didn't have trouble slipping into the role. Asner describes Gil Jones as a "touch of (Jackie) Gleason, a touch of Lou Grant, with wit and sensitivity."
"He's a more down-home boy (than Lou Grant)," he says. "But Lou Grant always talked to the jocks and was seen with them. Gil Jones is the ex-jock ... Lou Grant risked death for the Army in Europe, Gil Jones did it for a living."
So far, Asner likes the show's wit. Among Gil's words of wisdom to his daughter: "Parenting is not fun. Betting your will against theirs. And remember, they're waiting for you to die, and you're waiting for them to move out."
It's dialogue the 64-year-old actor hopes will come to match the quality of his previous shows. He won three Emmys for playing Lou Grant on CBS' "Mary Tyler Moore" in the 1970s. He won two more Emmys after he continued the role on the same network in the hourlong drama "Lou Grant," from 1977 to 1982.
But he says he lost roles in the early 1980s. Asner believes network executives axed "Lou Grant" because of his politically charged tenure as president of the Screen Actors Guild and his opposition to U.S. policy in El Salvador. He believes that producers became skittish about hiring him.
"There certainly was not an organized blacklist on me," he says. "It was just gut reaction and cowardice."
His worked picked up in recent years, with a starring role for a season on "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill" and a recurring role on "Hearts Afire." But he still bristles when people think he was a rabble-rouser.
"There's nothing I hate more than people coming up to me now and saying, 'Hey Ed, staying out of trouble?' "
Producers and actors on "Thunder Alley" don't care about his politics. On the set, Asner is the old pro.
"Ed knows it in his sleep," says Jim Beaver, who plays Leland, Gil's eccentric chief mechanic, who carries a pet rat on his shoulder. "He's an angel, an absolute professional."
Venora, whose credits are primarily in stage and film, looked to Asner for help to adjust to the fast pace of a sitcom. "Thunder Alley" is Venora's first major role after she cut her workload for several years to raise her daughter, now 14. Although a single parent herself, Venora says she's not 100% like her character on the show.
"You'll see parents (like Bobbi) at shopping malls, where their child will say, 'I don't want to leave' and they will say, 'Well, let's talk about it.' I would just pick up the child and go."
On the show, the battle of the generations most times will be a draw, Venora says. Just not without some chuckles. And, with the kids there, is it really possible not to go warm and cuddly?
"There will be people out there who say it's too cute already," Asner says. "How mean can you be seen in contrast to the kids? But it's ... inching your way forward in creating the mold. Practice makes perfect."
"Thunder Alley" airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.
A Review from variety
September 15, 1994 12:00AM PT
Thunder Alley Never Say Die
By Tony Scott
Back for the start of a first full season, Ed Asner and “Thunder Alley” continue their mildly amusing goings-on. The cutes will annoy some, but Asner and the cast make endearing themselves look easy.
Setup is the same, with ex-race driver Gil (Asner) sharing his house with his divorced daughter Bobbi (now ably played by attractive actress Robin Riker) and her two girls and boy.
The son, Harry (Haley Joel Osment), faces his tonsils being yanked, and mom and grandpa try out ways to encourage him; grandpa isn’t that comforting.
Harry’s older sister Claudine (Kelly Vint) blithely tells him she’ll be good at his funeral, and Harry has something to say in private to his other sis, Jenny (Lindsay Felton).
Sitcom has “comfy” slathered all over it, from Lissa Levin’s script to David Sackeroff’s agreeable sets. The interplay among actors under Robby Benson’s shrewd direction is reassuring, and Asner’s contribution pleasantly anchors the work.
Jim Beaver returns as Gil’s sidekick. Riker is particularly fine as the concerned mother (she’s the third actress in the role, taking over from Diane Venora, who replaced Felicity Huffman before the show hit the air in its limited run earlier this year). Young Thomson does sterling work.
Show aired Wednesday at 8:30 p.m., following “Home Improvement”; next week, “Alley” shifts to its regular timeslot at 8 p.m.
Thunder Alley Never Say Die
(Wed. (14), 8:30-9 p.m., ABC)
Production: Taped at Walt Disney Studios by Wind Dancer Production Group and Touchstone TV. Exec producers, Dan Guntzelman, David McFadzean, Matt Williams, Carmen Finestra; supervising producers, Bob Burris, Michael Ware, Michael B. Kaplan, Lissa Levin; producers, Gayle S. Maffeo, Barry Gold; director, Robby Benson; writer, Levin; creators, Williams, McFadzean, Finestra.
Crew: Camera, Donald A. Morgan; editor, Marco Zappia; production designer, David Sackeroff; music, Howard Pearl.
Cast: Cast: Edward Asner, Robin Riker, Jim Beaver, Kelly Vint, Lindsay Felton, Haley Joel Osment, Allen Garfield, Kathryn Kates, Patricia Ayame Thomson.
An Article from the New York Daily News
ASNER'S 'THUNDER ALLEY' STORMS BACK TO ABC LINEUP
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Wednesday, January 25, 1995, 12:00 AM
Ed Asner is racing back to the ABC schedule on March 7, when ABC returns "Thunder Alley" to its lineup in the plum 8:30 p.m. spot between "Full House" and "Home Improvement.
" That's good news for Asner, who has been off the schedule since November. But it's bad news for the gang at "Me and the Boys," which is leaving the schedule. "Me and the Boys" will complete its full-season run of 19 episodes on Feb. 28. After a slow start, the series has been a time-period winner and is likely to be considered for next season. ABC has 11 episodes of "Thunder Alley" in the can, which will keep the series on the air through the May sweeps, a quarterly ratings period used by local stations to set advertising rates. The series stars Asner as a retired stock-car driver Gil Jones, who runs a Detroit garage. He lives with his divorced daughter (Robin Riker ) and her three children. "Thunder Alley" is produced by Wind Dancer Prods., which also produces "Home Improvement.
" Richard Huff Hike 1...hype 2! Look for stars of ABC's "Coach," ABC's "Home Improvement" and ABC's "Me and the Boys" to pop up during ABC's Super Bowl pre-game show on Jan. 29, at 4 p.m. On tape, that is. Three times during the two-hour warmup for the big game, ABC will drop in 21/2-minute football-themed vignettes using the casts of those shows. The concept for the entertainment tie-in surfaced a couple of months ago, according to ABC Sports executive producer Jack O'Hara. "It is a nice way to get another ABC daypart involved," O'Hara said. Translation: It's a great way to hype the network's series during the prelude to the most-watched television broadcast of the year. In one of the segments, "Home Improvement's" Tim Allen will be seen watching the pre-game hype with members of the Detroit Lions. The "Me and the Boys" segment has already been taped, and the segment from "Coach" will be done shortly. Each of the segments will air once during the pre-game coverage. As a setup to the pre-game extravaganza, ABC will air . . . golf. Specifically, yet another "Skins Game" four-player face-off. R.
H. Mario mulls radio Mario Cuomo is still taking his time now there's a surprise deciding whether to try talk radio. But his friend William O'Shaughnessy, who owns WRTN and WVOX in Westchester, says he thinks Cuomo will give it a shot. One of Cuomo's considerations, says O'Shaughnessy, is whether he wants a five-day-a-week commitment meaning he might try to work out a shorter week or possibly a weekend gig. Cuomo is one reason WABC (770 AM) is waiting before it picks a permanent replacement for the 10-11 a.m. slot Dennis Prager just handed off to super-temp Curtis Sliwa. David Hinckley 'Voyager' slips UPN's new "Star Trek: Voyager" suffered a little turbulence in its second outing, although the program still beat competition on two of the Big Three, according to Nielsen's survey of 32 markets. In its first hour-long telecast (it debuted as a two-hour special a week ago), "Voyager" generated a 10.9 overnight rating (percentage of the 51 million TV homes in the 32-market sample) and a 15 share (percentage of the sets in use), beating NBC and ABC, but not Fox and CBS. Overall, "Voyager" dropped 25% week to week. Locally, WNYW/Ch. 5's "Melrose Place" won the 8 p.m. hour with a 15.3 rating (percentage of the 6.71 million TV sets in the market) and a 21 share. WCBS/Ch. 2's comedies "The Nanny" and "Dave's World" finished second, "The Fresh Prince" and "Blossom" drove WNBC/Ch. 4 to third in the time period and "Voyager" put WWOR/Ch. 9 in fourth. R.H. Court TV seminar Today, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., the Museum of Television and Radio offers a seminar on television in the courtrooms. The panel will consist of media and legal professionals, including ABC News' Catherine Crier, Court TV's Steven Brill, NBC Nightly News' Jack Ford, prosecutor Linda Fairstein, New York Supreme Court judge Leslie Crocker Snyder and Harvard Law Professor and CNN commentator Steven Stark. For more info, contact the museum, 25 W. 52d St., (212) 621-6600. Tickets are available in the museum lobby, or by calling Ticketmaster. Ñ Christy Slewinski Dot's all . . . John Stossel examines the differences between males and females in the ABC News special "Boys and Girls are Different: Men, Women and the Sex Difference," on Wednesday, Feb. 1 at 10 p.m. . . . Cable's Lifetime is rushing to completion the currently in-production documentary "Intimate Portrait: Rose Kennedy" Originally slated for June, the one-hour documentary will now air Feb. 17. Kennedy died Saturday at age 104. C.S.
For more on Thunder Alley go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunder_Alley
To look at a crossover between Thunder Aley and Home Improvement go to http://poobala.com/homeandthunder.html
For the Official Robin Riker Website go to http://www.robinriker.com/
For the official Haley Joel Osment Website go to http://www.kidactors.com/haley/
To watch an ABC Promo go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3Ki7e9PuuY
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Keywords: The Cast of Thunder Alley (Links Updated 8/4/18)