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July 29, 1988 - Image 60

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-07-29

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FRIDAY, JULY 29, 1988

activist and actor who has ap-
peared on many network
series, agrees.
"So many television writers
and producers are Jewish," he
says. "I call them 'closet
Jews.' Occasionally, they
would feed some Jewish con-
tent into their programs, but
only occasionally.
"But now they feel they
don't have to hide anymore,
that audiences accept ethnici-
ty in their programs."
Years ago, recalls Brand,
"when there was a Jewish
man on a TV show, he had to
be portrayed as little and fun-
ny. What's refreshing is how
we're able to get away from
stereotypes."
"We've come a long way,"
agrees Brian Winston, dean
of sociology and professor of
communications at Penn
State University in Universi-
ty Park, Pa., and Emmy
Award-winning writer for his
work on television's
"Heritage: Civilization and
the Jews."
But, he wonders, who
deserves the credit?
Certainly not television:
"TV is to creativity what
Xerox is to writing," says
Winston.
No, the credit, he feels,
should go to movies, where
people such as Woody Allen
"have demonstrated that it's
acceptable to be a sensitive
Jewish male."
But is sensitivity enough?
Is Woody Allen, with his wild-
ly neurotic screen persona,
really the proper prototype
for television's Jewish male?
Isn't he a stereotype unto
himself?
And hasn't television, with
such edgy and three-
dimensional characters as Dr.
Fiscus ("St. Elsewhere") and
Bubba Weisberger ("Frank's
Place"), gone a step beyond
the movies?
In the battle against
stereotypes, Steven Bochco is
a one-man army. The
celebrated creator of "Hill
Street Blues" (1981-1987) and
with Terry Louise Fisher,
creator of "L.A. Law," both
NBC shows, Bochco has arm-
ed his Jewish male figures
with a disarming mix of mox-
ie and muscle.
The popular character of
"Hill Street," Detective Mick
Belker — a dedicated, sen-
sitive Jewish son and rough-
hewn tyrant in his battle
against street crime — was
such a mix.
Bruce Weitz, the actor who
played Belker, thought of his
television alter ego as "a
gentleman. He's an efficient
policeman who has a tender
heart of gold." And, says
Weitz, that heart of gold was
buffed and shined by a Jewish

upbringing.
Nowhere, however, has the
development of television's
Jewish male been more evi-
dent than in "L.A. Law," the
show that won last year's Em-
my Award winner for "best
drama."
Stuart Markowtiz, the
Jewish dumpling of "L.A.
Law," has helped dump the
video image of the obsequious
Jewish husband, an image
that television had long loved.
Instead, Markowitz has
become an unlikely sex sym-
bol, thanks, in part, to his
ability to lay claim to mastery
of the Venus Butterfly, a
startling sexual technique
that has proved so seductive-
ly powerful, "L.A. Law" ex-
ecutives won't reveal its
premise. (In truth, they made
it up, which is what they had
to tell thousands of viewers
who called demanding infor-
mation after a show about the
Venus Butterfly was
broadcast.)
The role has done wonders
for Michael Tucker, the actor
who portrays Markowitz.
But it was another role,
Tucker claims, that helped
him change his own
self-image.
As Tucker has said, "I'd
always suck in my stomach,
tighten up my cheeks, try to
lose weight. I couldn't admit
to myself, 'This is who I am.'
But when I was getting ready
to do 'Concealed Enemies' "
— a PBS miniseries about
Alger Hiss — "I just decided
that I was going to accept
that I have a double chin."
It was a revelation. Recalled
Tucker, "It was very liber-
ating to me to admit that, and
I think this is the source of
Stuart Markowitz's appeal on
`L.A. Law.' He admitted his
limitations, and that's freed
him."
But that sense of freedom
has come out in other ways,
too, ways in which Markowitz
shows his dedication to his
heritage. In one episode,
when confronted by anti-
Semitic comments made by
his prospective mother-in-law
and her friends at a party,
Markowitz turned the table
on them, literally turning
over a china closet full of
dishes.
Gaining their attention, he
stood up for himself and his
Judaism, denouncing their
small-mindedness and pre-
judice. It was a rather
remarkable scene for a
medium whose history has
been one of not making
waves.
Indeed, rocking the boat
has been anathema for the
development of Jewish male
characters on television. For
so long, it seemed that televi-

sion executives were willing
to cruise along, to get by
disregarding reality.
If the way Jewish men were
depicted on television cried
more of wimp than wunder-
kind, who was going to com-
plain? Certainly not viewers,
who readily accepted what
television dished out. The late
Herschel Bernardi, who por-
trayed Lt. Jacoby on "Peter
Gunn," once remarked.
"There is the belief on the
part of Jewish producers and
writers not to make waves" in
the business, not to portray
"real" Jews.
But that was in the '50s and
'60s. In today's television en-
vironment, the Jewish male's
ship has come in. Marshall
Herskovitz, co-creator, direc-
tor and writer of ABC-TV's
"thritysomething," is one
television executive who has
taken oar to water to make
sure of this.
If Herskovitz feels a certain
closeness to the character of
30-something ad executive
Michael Steadman, it is no
accident. Like himself, Her-
skovitz says of Steadman,
"he's Jewish, intense, confus-
ed, sensitive, self-doubting?'

Nowhere has the
development of
television's Jewish
male been more
evident than in
"L.A. Law."

There is no doubt such a
character would not have got-
ten air time as little as 10
years ago. "Since its incep-
tion, Hollywood was created
and run by Jews," says Her-
skovitz. Those moguls,
through "some sort of self-
effacement, created a fic-
tional gentile neighborhood
for their characters to live
in."
Herskovitz has helped move
some Jews into that
neighborhood.
Nevertheless, Herskovitz is
not about to buy up all the
homes. "Look," he says, "if I
made this [`thirtysomething]
as a 'The Adventures of
Michael Steadman, Jewish
Person,' then it's possible I
would scare off part of the au-
dience — and we are appeal-
ing to a mass audience."
Nevertheless, Herskovitz
has weathered some studio
concerns about how Jewish
he was going to make his
Michael character.
"The studio was concerned
somewhat that I had Michael
put on a yarmulka" during
the series' opening episode.

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