Ed Asner, who died at age 91 yesterday, will always have a special connection to Minnesota because of his best-known role: Lou Grant, the gruff news director at fictional Minneapolis TV station WJM on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Asner was so strongly identified with the character, in fact, that in 2004, St. Paul TV station KSTP ran a series of commercials featuring the actor as… a gruff TV news director who was Lou Grant in all but name.
“It’s not about how pretty we look or how many fancy awards we’ve won,” not-Lou tells the staff in one of the ads. “It’s about how much more news we can fit in 30 minutes.”
In another commercial, Asner confronts the station’s chief meteorologist, Dave Dahl, about parking in his spot. You can watch all three ads on the website of Ann Vorlicky, who produced the campaign for the local ad firm Kruskopf Olson.
Then, as now, KSTP’s 5 Eyewitness News was a perennial third-place ratings finisher behind WCCO and KARE, and not even Lou Grant could pull them out of the basement.
Asner, who reprised his Mary Tyler Moore character on the spinoff Lou Grant and was a noted champion of labor unions and a member of the DSA since its inception, never did many commercials.
“I rarely get requested, so I enjoy the activity,” Asner told UPI at the time. “And let’s face it, the money’s good. If it were hemorrhoid grease, I’d have had to think about it.”