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Ronda Rich: The enduring magic of The Waltons
ronda rich
Ronda Ronda Rich is the author of "Theres A Better Day A-Comin." - photo by File photo

Ronda Rich

Syndicated Columnist

This story comes on good authority which assures us that this good story is true.

One day, Tink and I were visiting his father, former television executive Grant Tinker, when the conversation turned to Merv Adelson, a legend of 1970s’ iconic television shows. Under the banner of Lorimar, a production partnership between Adelson, Lee Rich, and Irwin Molasky, hits were created including Dallas, Knots Landing, and Eight Is Enough.

Adelson, who had once been worth hundreds of millions of dollars (and married to Barbara Walters a couple of times), had fallen on hard times and gone from private jets and mansions to a tiny apartment.

Grant’s eyes drifted off to a corner of the room as he thought about it. “That’s too bad. He was a force behind some great shows.”

From that conversation came this story: A writer, who grew up in Virginia, had landed in Hollywood. In 1963, he turned a novel of his Great Depression upbringing into a theatrical movie called Spencer’s Mountain. Earl Hamner Jr. had a flair for heartwarming, uplifting stories. So much so that, in 1971, he wrote a television movie called The Homecoming: A Christmas Story which was a hit for CBS.

I was a little girl, wearing homemade clothes and white go-go boots, who was caught up in the mod era yet even I was captivated by a struggling family during a historic time of which I knew nothing.

Lorimar had produced the movie so, with gumption and good reasoning, Adelson and Hamner asked for a meeting with Fred Silverman, the head of programming for the network. They pitched the idea of turning the movie into a weekly series on the family called The Waltons.

Silverman, normally a genius programmer, turned down the show. Silverman was best known for having saved a poorly-received comedy pilot during “sample testing” by scheduling it into a prized timeslot and, thus, making the Mary Tyler Moore Show legendary. He is also known as the man who cancelled The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Petticoat Junction while all were still in the Top 10 ratings.

William Paley, the eagle-eyed chairman of CBS, was walking past the boardroom during the meeting and, always intent on knowing what was going on with the network he built, barged in. When he learned that Silverman had just turned down the show, he used his power to override the decision.

“Do it. We’ve taken a lot out of this business, so let’s give something back.” Another version of the story claims that Paley also added, “It won’t last long, but we will have tried.”

The series lasted for nine seasons and was still in the Top 10 when CBS, Paley having retired, canceled the show. The cast wrapped the season and left for hiatus, believing they’d be reunited as a group, three months later. The cast and crew were never all together again.

Once, years ago, I wrote a story about The Waltons and, in short order, received an email from Kami Cotler, who had played the utterly adorable Elizabeth, the baby of the seven children.

“Do you know,” she wrote, “that you and I were almost sisters-inlaw?”

My brother-in-law, Mark, worked on the show en route to becoming an Emmy-awarded television director. Six-year-old Kami was smitten with such a crush on Mark that she begged her mother to give her a bit of her acting money to buy him a gift. She chose a locket with her first-grade picture in it.

He still has it. In the years that have passed, Kami has become a well-respected teacher who fights passionately for the educational rights of her students.

Fred Silverman had a tremendous television career with one exception: he got fired as President at NBC, after leaving CBS. His replacement was Grant Tinker who took the third-place network to number one.

The threads of life are certainly woven tightly.

Ronda Rich is the author of the best-selling author of “St. Simons Island: A Stella Bankwell Mystery.”

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