TONIGHT: Chi McBride backs up Golden Boy

Last June in Toronto I presented McBride with the
first “Screenie” Award–before it was invented

Way back last June, CTV flew Chi McBride up to Toronto to take part in their press preview for the 2012-13 season. I had ten minutes with him, and it was the best ten minutes of that day. In 20 years, McBride has been a part of 10 TV shows, either as a main or as a recurring cast member. Some tanked early–The Nine had a bank hold up premise that was unsustainable–and a few went on for three or four seasons. McBride played one character–principal Steven Harper–in three different series, The Practice, Boston Public and Boston Legal. Odd that a guy named after his hometown of Chicago should star in two David E. Kelley shows with Boston in the title but there it is.
McBride’s a big guy, smokes cigars and in his well-tailored suits looks like a bank president. He’s also a real student of television, and is the only person I’ve ever interviewed who quoted CBS broadcasting legend William S. Paley to me.
The quote, according to McBride, was that “television should be interesting, but not so interesting that nobody wants to watch the commercials.”
McBride’s point, as I relayed in an article in today’s Toronto Star, was that he was just a part of a business that is really more about selling cars than art, and McBride was very much down with that.”My job is to do a job that is compelling and interesting enough long enough to trick you into buying a Ford Mustang,” he says. “And there’s nothing wrong with that.” If he does his job right, it helps somebody else get a job, McBride figures.
Paley understood advertising and really drew the blueprint for the modern broadcast commercial platform of having sponsors pay for TV shows. He built the business model that’s broken now, as some TV executives would have us believe today.
Paley died at 89 in 1990. His old network, CBS, is still doing business his way and has remained No. 1 in total audience for years by sticking to the philosophy that interesting shows–the CSI’s, NCIS’s, The Mentalist and now Elementary–should not be so interesting that nobody wants to watch the commercials.
Even though people can skip and scan through them today. Paley never had to deal with that, or the rise of cable where shows can be very interesting because they don’t have commercials. Paley might look at Netflix and House of Cards and would likely ask tough questions about the money model.

Golden Boy stars Theo James (left) and Chi McBride. 

Golden Boy, which premieres Tuesday night at 10 p.m. ET on CBS and CTV, is very much a straight ahead, commercial, broadcast-friendly TV series. McBride plays a veteran New York detective who plays big brother to an ambitious young cop (played by Theo James from Underworld Awakening) who becomes Manhattan’s youngest-ever police commissioner.
“Cop dramas,” says McBride. “People like them because they can participate in them they can do a little guess work. It’s the guy with the limp or whatever and people like doing them—it’s a time honoured tradition in television.”
We talked early TV heroes, and McBride surprised me with his choice: Jackie Gleason. Almost forgotten today, Gleason was a towering figure on the TV scene in the ’50s and ’60s. His weekly variety show ran, off and on, 14 seasons on CBS. The Honeymooners, which ran one season, is still considered by many to be the gold standard for TV sitcoms.
Gleason was a big talent who could make you laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. He also sold a lot of Fords.
McBride told me he was such a Gleason fan he was glad he never met him. The Great One, as Gleason called himself (before the nickname migrated over to Wayne Gretzky), may not have been as charming in real life as he was on television. He was the type of guy who called everybody pal–because he couldn’t remember your name.
I’ve had good luck meeting my early TV heroes and threw out the name Dick Van Dyke to McBride.
He had met him too. “He’s wonderful. He’s unbelievable. He’s everything you’d want to be as an actor.”
Van Dyke is a golden boy, but McBride’s in that club for me now too.

Leave a Reply