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Remembering James Earl Jones As 'Paris' (1979) & Louis Gossett, Jr. In 'The Lazarus Syndrome' (1978)

Features
by Emmanuel Akitobi
April 24, 2014 4:22 PM
9 Comments
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Not too long ago, Sergio reminded us of the 1973 NBC Mystery Movie series Tenafly, which featured a black actor, James McEachin, as its lead.  In his post on the experimental-for-its-time monthly program, Sergio remarked, "Maybe it's my imagination [but], compared to what we have today, there seemed to be a lot more black TV series back in the day."

Sergio went on to say, "And there was a diversity in them too, from sitcoms to dramas. Not all of them were great (not even remotely) or were hits, but at least they were there." 

That got me wondering about what other forgotten TV shows there are out there that many of us have forgotten, or never saw, and may never have a chance to see again.

Before famed TV show creator Steven Bochco gave us TV classics such as Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, he created a police drama series in 1979 for CBS called Paris, which featured none other than acclaimed stage/film actor James Earl Jones in the lead role of Detective Capt. Woodrow "Woody" Paris.  As Paris, Jones played a veteran LAPD captain who led a team of newer, younger detectives.  Paris also moonlighted as a university criminology professor, and was married to a nurse.


Paris featured a diverse supporting cast that included actress Lee Chamberlin, as Paris' wife Barbara; and actor Michael Warren, as Det. Willie Miller.  Rounding out the cast were Hank Garrett, Cecilia Hart, Frank Ramirez, and Jake Mitchell.

In 1979, I was a child, so I obviously never saw an episode of Paris.  But I've watched a lot of TV since then, and I'd be hard pressed to name another TV series, led by a black actor, with a similarly diverse supporting cast, that has aired on CBS since then.

In my quest to learn more about CBS' Paris, I also learned that the ABC network had attempted similar programming a year prior with the airing of The Lazarus Syndrome, starring Louis Gossett, Jr. in the lead role of Dr. MacArthur St. Clair, a medical doctor caught up in a web of deceit and adultery at the hospital in which he resided.


Actress Sheila Frazier starred as Gossett's wife on the show, Gloria St. Clair, with the two characters stuck in a tumultuous relationship.

Not surprisingly, however, both shows suffered the same fate of being stuck in a crummy weekly time-slot, which led to their eventual cancellations.

Getting back to Paris, however, there are some interesting nuggets to digest . . .

First, James Earl Jones provided a frank interview, printed in the Lakeland Ledger, in which he revealed that his main reasoning for taking the role of Paris was financial:

"It's very difficult for an actor to earn a decent living just from the stage," Jones explained not long ago.  He was doing TV, he implied, because it was time to make a few bucks, make an investment for the future, and some fun doing it in a show nobody need be ashamed of doing.

. . .  Now 48 Jones openly admits he's turning to TV because, "I want some potatoes, too."  Though his name lends instant prestige to whatever project he joins, he never has been a box office attraction in the movies, where the big money awaits.  As a result, his career has been a long and successful one artistically, but a struggle financially.

Also, despite the fact that others thought Jones' casting as Paris was an important achievement as a black actor, Jones felt differently about the issue:

Jones is aware of the importance some critics have put on the fact Paris is one of the few black heroes in the history of series television, but he's not involved with the show for sociological reasons.

"I don't think I want to go with the social dramas," he says.

For one thing, Jones has done more than his share of those already.  His major concern now is doing a high quality weekly series, not finding a vehicle for racial commentary.

So there you have it-- two show's from TV's past that were groundbreaking in their lead casting, even if only for the dramatic subject matter each offered.  And with the exceptions of  a few past attempts that come to mind, like ABC's two 1989 dramas, Gideon Oliver (Louis Gossett, Jr.) and  A Man Called Hawk (Avery Brooks); or the more recent offerings, such as BBC America's airing of the Idris Elba-starring drama Luther; NBC's failed attempt at the Gugu Mbatha-Raw & Boris Kodjoe-led Undercovers; and Shonda Rhimes current ABC hit, Scandal, starring Kerry Washington (and maybe we can even count ABC's Taye Diggs-led Day Break, though that was more science-fiction than drama), Paris and The Lazarus Syndrome are two types of shows that we haven't seen here in the U.S. since they were taken off the air back in the late 1970's.

Maybe Sergio was correct in his assessment that 30+ years ago, TV was more diverse than it is today.  And if that's true, that's really pathetic.  Because one would think that by now, in 2013, it should be pretty clear to all of the major networks that U.S. TV audiences are more than capable of digesting more palatable offerings than the same old bland crap we are routinely fed.

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9 Comments

  • Zeech | June 4, 2014 10:44 AMReply

    As a senior, who can even remember Dire Straits song about having 100 channels but nothing on, (coz they were bwitish where there was only 3 channels) the programmes on the ShitPump of today have literally forced me to... well start reading in my non cyber plantation time.
    It's PAINFUL activity requiring work as I can't just plump down infront of the the ShitPump with remote but oh lordy reading books, novels, in FUBU style has never been so great, be it South African Writers, Black Cuban Writers, Black Brazilian Writers, all translated into English to go along with The Great Anglo Speaking Black Experience which are all housed at my local library free of cable charges!
    JuJu mentality thanks you cable station for forcing me to read again!

  • JaySmack | May 31, 2014 2:13 PMReply

    Television was FAR more progressive 40 years ago than today. Back then you had all these proud and dignified images of black men.
    Today you have Olivia Pope on her knees for the president and Jay-Z er, I mean "Ghost" on Power. Disgraceful.

  • Kimmiem | May 16, 2014 4:57 PMReply

    I remember that show Paris very well, I watched it and you're right television was much more diverse back in the day and what happened? Cable. Kids now don't realize we only had the "big 3" then and television was informative, entertaining and even if the shows were formulaic they were the basis for television and if you ever want to understand what made shows last for more than 5 seasons you need to watch the shows. Its really sad that the networks don't give the well written, good shows more than a single outing or season to gain traction with an audience, we get stuck with shows that are NOT funny - several on NBC come to mind immediately;- its too bad that Brandon Tartikoff died and when he did so did must see TV; we get stuck with shows that don't make any sense - reality shows that are hardly entertaining or informative and worse, when a good show is on there is a definitive lack of diversity in the actors - the exception is Grey's and Scandal, Shonda took a lesson from the soaps of old and updated them to make them believable, entertaining and deliver a message on the DL. Guess I'm a true baby boomer because I miss just having a few channels and not 200+ on the upside, network shows are stepping up their game thanks in large part to cable, but I think the days of having a show like The Cosby Show are a bygone era. Our black cops - Ice T on L&O, Shemar on Criminal Minds, LL on NCIS; our black lawyers and execs-Scandal, our black doctors - Grey's. Oh well, at least Shonda is showing how it should be written and thankfully there are great black directors (Paris Barclay, Debbie Allen, Bill Duke, Bill D'elia and a few others come to mind) in television that don't get their due but make no mistake when I see their names in the credits I know its going to be good.

  • Neville Arthur Ross | May 24, 2014 9:46 PM

    I'm sorry to bust your bubble, but Brandon Tartikoff produced as much shit as he did gold (J.J. Starbuck, Here's Boomer, Misfits Of Science, and a ton of other one-season wonders I don't know the names of.) As for diversity, it was just as crappy then as it was now, these two shows excepted. And most of the new black sitcoms are on Bounce TV, so we haven't completely lost it there.

    With regards to the sitcoms, I'd rather see us NOT be making white people laugh as in the '70's and '80's; if the means that we aren't on TV as much, then I can take it and be okay. I'd rather have us be on good shows of quality then be on every god-damned sitcom that's out there. And if we want to see more of us out there, we black folk have to step up and get our asses into the industry, (before AND behind the camera)-it's as simple as that.

  • lilk | May 14, 2014 5:06 PMReply

    my heart skipped a beat as i read 'remembering james earl jones' and thought he had passed.
    So glad he hasnt.

    James earl Jones famoulsy was the voice in Star Wars of Darth Vader. Didnt that pay him well?

  • Slim | May 24, 2014 9:56 PM

    Nobody, and I mean nobody, who was in front of the camera in any Star Wars movie made any real money. A million bucks is great when you have zero, but it still only takes you but so far.

  • audiodramatist | April 27, 2014 4:21 AMReply

    Somebody help me with this please. There was a series that was essentially a Black Columbo with a wife that appeared on screen. I think it came out in the late seventies. I think it took place in New Jersey...but I could be wrong about that, though I clearly remember a suburban setting.

  • lilk | May 14, 2014 5:10 PM

    is this what you mean ?
    blogs.indiewire.c o m/shadowandact/remembering_tenafly

  • Sergio | April 27, 2014 10:54 AM

    You're talking about Tenafly which was set in L.A. not New Jersey and which I wrote about three years ago. For some reason I can't post the actual link but just Google Tenafly and Shadow and Act

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