TV drama on teen joblessness -- and a talk with Jessica Savitch
Good intentions have produced a television treasure. High-minded goals don't always result in high-level accomplishment in TV drama . . . as in many other creative projects. But one of the year's most impressive independent programs is a modest but faultlessly executed, straighforwardly do-good drama which is now appearing throughout the nation, produced for Capital Cities TV Productions by Paulist Productions: Hang Tight, Willy-Bill.Skip to next paragraph
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The syndicated show airs in Boston Sunday, Jan. 16 (Channel 38); in New York on Wednesday, Jan. 19; in Los Angeles on Jan. 28; in Dallas on Feb. 13; and in most other major cities on dates throughout January and February (check local listings).
This simple but not simple-minded drama, starring Todd Bridges, who plays Willis Jackson in NBC's ''Diff'rent Strokes,'' and John Amos of ''Good Times'' and ''Roots,'' and written by Jim Moser and directed by Gilbert Moses, joins forces with society at large in attempting to cope with the problem of teen-age unemployment, more specifically black teen-age unemployment. Bridges plays a young black school dropout who finds himself jobless; Amos plays a job counselor who is forced to play the role of father-teacher-employer figure in the life of the boy.
I spoke here recently with Mr. Amos, who lives in New Jersey these days, writing, directing, occasionally acting, and working on the World Hunger Project , which attempts to call attention to the problem of starving children. He made an abrupt departure from ''Good Times'' almost 10 years ago - according to him mainly because of the lack of black creative input into the show. Now he sees ''absolutely no evidence of blacks being portrayed more accurately on TV. If anything, I see a further substantiation of the old stereotypes.''
Most inexplicable to Mr. Amos is the fact that there are no blacks in dramatic shows. ''Certainly, 'Roots' proved there is a large audience, but obviously someone is of the opinion that blacks should not be seen on dramatic TV.'' He believes that blacks watch ''The Jeffersons'' for laughs because there aren't any alternatives for them if they want to see blacks portrayed on TV. ''But 'The Jeffersons' is a sort of sophisticated 'Amos and Andy,' '' he said.
Mr. Amos is also upset because, when he grew up, there were always strong father figures (albeit white) on the TV screen in such sitcoms as ''Father Knows Best,'' ''The Danny Thomas Show,'' and ''Ozzie and Harriet.'' Now there are few such shows, white or black. ''Where are the fathers who are responsible for their own kids?'' he asks. ''We've got to try to obliterate that image of the black matriarchal family which is based in part upon what slavery did to the black family. . . .''
Amos believes that ''Hang Tight,'' although it purports to be the case history of an unemployed black teen-ager, contains good advice to all teen-agers hunting for jobs. ''Don't go to an interview with the idea that the employer owes you a favor, or that there's no chance for a job. Black kids, in particular , feel so beaten down that they go into a job interview almost as a joke. You can't take anything but yes for an answer in the long run.''
He is particularly pleased that in the show he removes an Afro comb from the hair of a black teen-ager who is job hunting. ''They were a symbol of black identity in the 1960s,'' he explains, ''but now the comb in the hair is only a sign of bad grooming and maybe even arrogance to the employer.''