Ed Asner talks with Then Again host Herbie J Pilato about his friendship with Mary Tyler Moore. (Photography by Dan Holm)
Ed Ames has enjoyed a singing career which dates all the way back to the mid-195os. But for a generation of television fans, Ed’s most memorable appearance occurred while wielding a tomahawk on The Tonight Show. Similarly, John Lennon and Yoko Ono stepped out of their comfort zones to telephone strangers during a week-long run with Mike Douglas.
There’s really no trick to doing a celebrity-centric talk show – save for having a tomahawk on hand – and the ability to thoughtfully engage your guests, give them a chance to shine, and (most importantly) listen. A good listener knows when it’s time to pick up the slack, and when to sit back and let the celebrity take center stage.
Herbie J Pilato knows classic television better than most. And he happens to be a good listener – attributes his guests clearly enjoy when they appear on his show, Then Again with Herbie J Pilato. We caught up with Herbie this week (a tad prematurely we discovered) for a recap of his first season’s show. Our error, however, proved to be timely, as we got a peek at some of the fun Herbie has in store for his fans. Then Again with Herbie J Pilato is now streaming on Amazon Prime, Shout Factory TV, and other media outlets.
LAPX: Thanks for taking a few minutes to sit down with us today. When we spoke back in 2017 about your then-new book Dashing, Daring, and Debonair, we got somewhat side-tracked because you said you were in the process of launching a nostalgia-filled television show. Would you please bring us up to speed on that venture?
HJP: Yes. It’s been quite a journey. Hosting the show (Then Again with Herbie J Pilato) is something I have been working toward, consciously and subconsciously, really, since I was a kid. But in recent years, the show ultimately evolved from the hosting of my “Throwback Thursday” live events at the Burbank Barnes & Noble in 2015. Those live events, too, had in turn evolved from my Classic TV Seminars that I’ve presented for years throughout California and New York state.
Either way, I always wanted to host a TV talk show that hearkened back to the way talk shows used to be, along the lines of The Merv Griffin Show, The Mike Douglas Show, Dinah! and The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, the latter on which I had worked as an NBC Page.
In each of those cases, the host actually gave their guests time to talk, and all the guests would remain on the show until the end. It was a conversation that the studio audience and the TV audience at home felt like they were participating in. And that’s the charm of it. And I wanted to return that charm to the format and television.
Then Again with Herbie J Pilato has afforded me that remarkable opportunity.
LAPX: In our previous interview, you mentioned speaking with several Dark Shadows alumni, including Lara Parker! Have to admit that after all these years I’m still crushing on Angelique.
HJP: And who still isn’t?! Talk about bewitching – those eyes and cheekbones. It really was magical to meet and chat with her, as well as with David Selby and Kathryn Leigh Scott. That day, when the three of them stepped on the set of Then Again… was nothing short of surreal. Dark Shadows was and remains one of my all-time favorite shows. It will forever be a cherished moment to have actually spent time with the iconic leads of that series to document on-screen their thoughts and memories of the series.
LAPX: Who else have you interviewed?
HJP: We did a total of six episodes for the first season, the initial four of which began streaming July 1st. And those include segments with brothers Barry and Stanley Livingston, for a tribute to My Three Sons, Marion Ross and Deborah Pratt of Happy Days, Cindy Williams and Eddie Mekka of Laverne & Shirley, and writer Fred Fox, Jr. for a tribute to producer/writer Garry Marshall. We also spoke with Robert Conrad, star of The Wild Wild West.
LAPX: Moving forward, I’ve just learned that you have two more shows lined up to finish this season? Who are your guests and when do the shows air?
HJP: Yes, the final two episodes for this season feature Burt Ward from Batman, and Ed Asner, for a tribute to Mary Tyler Moore. Interviewing Ed on the show proved especially timely, as I was in a conversation with him for my new biography of Mary Tyler Moore.
LAPX: I don’t want to ask you to give away the farm, but did Asner open up more, once you spoke with him on the set?
HJP: Ed is an outstanding human being, across the board.
I had first interviewed him in 2011 when I was writing Twitch Upon a Star – my first biography of Elizabeth Montgomery. Ed has always been very politically active and never afraid to speak his mind, and that’s how Elizabeth was, too. So, I thought it would be interesting to hear his thoughts about Elizabeth. And then, of course, I had to interview him for my Mary biography.
But both of those conversations took place on the phone.
So, when it was time for us to chat in person, for Then Again, it was more like a reunion of sorts – which only added to the flow of the conversation. But the man is close to 90 years old now and has worked continuously since he began his career in the 1950s! He’s just amazing.
LAPX: And Burt Ward is something of an icon all his own, as well.
HJP: Oh, my gosh… Burt is so wonderful. His energy is boundless. He gave so much to the role of Robin on Batman. In my eyes – and in the eyes of millions of “Bat-fans” around the world – he is the ONLY true Robin.
LAPX: I’ve often marveled at the lifelong, fatherly relationships some male leads developed with their young co-stars. Chuck Connors and Johnny Crawford on The Rifleman, and Bill Bixby and Brandon Cruz on The Courtship of Eddie’s Father immediately come to mind. Even in the cinema, Jimmy Stewart had nothing but praise for Bill Mumy when they were working on the 1965 feature film Dear Bridgette. Did Burt Ward have that sort of relationship with Adam West?
HJP: Theirs was a true friendship on and off-screen. Burt was devastated when Adam passed away [in 2017]. He talks about their relationship, and we pay tribute to Adam on Then Again.
LAPX: We don’t see Burt quite as much as Ed Asner these days, but that doesn’t mean he is resting on his laurels.
HJP: Not at all. Burt and his beautiful wife, Tracy Ward, have this amazing nonprofit organization, Gentle Giants, which is dedicated to providing healthy food and care for dogs and all four-legged creatures.
LAPX: Sounds like Burt is a hero in real life.
HJP: Absolutely the truth. And that’s really what I have found with each of the guests who have appeared on Then Again.
LAPX: So what has been the response to Then Again with Herbie J Pilato thus far?
HJP: It’s been tremendous, really. And I am delighted to say that not only have we been renewed for a second season, but a spinoff series, the details of which will be forthcoming, has been given the green light.
LAPX: A second season – and a spinoff? Really?!
HJP: Crazy, right? I’m over the moon. No other way to say it.
Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A former reporter at The Washington Herald and an occasional contributor to the Voice of Baltimore, Tony’s poetry, humor and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore; Magic Octopus Magazine; Destination Maryland, and Tales of Blood and Roses.