Ted Baxter

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Ted Baxter is a fictional character on the sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970–1977). Portrayed by Ted Knight, the Baxter character is a broad parody of a vain, shallow, buffoonish TV newsman. Knight's comedic model was William Powell, and he also drew on various Los Angeles newscasters, including George Putnam, in helping shape the character.[1] The role was originally conceived with Jack Cassidy in mind but Cassidy turned it down, although he did appear in an early episode as Ted's equally egocentric brother Hal.[2] Ted Baxter has become a symbolic figure, and is often used when criticizing media figures, particularly news anchors hired for style and appearance rather than journalistic ability.[3]

Character[edit]

Ted and friends prepare for his wedding in Mary's kitchen, 1975.

Ted was the pompous nit-wit, narcissistic anchorman for fictitious station WJM-TV in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Satirizing the affectations of news anchormen, the character spoke in a vocal fry register parody of the narrator of the old Movietone News film strips that played in movie houses before the television era. While his narcissism fueled his delusions of grandeur, Ted's onscreen performance was buffoonish. A running joke of the show was Ted's incompetence, featuring a steady stream of mispronunciations, malapropisms, pratfalls, and miscues. Constantly in fear of being fired, Ted was, ironically, the show's only character to survive the final episode's massive layoffs at WJM.[4]

In the first few seasons of the show, Knight played the character broadly for comic effect, a simpleton that would mispronounce even the easiest words while on camera. Knight even grew so concerned that the show's writers were abusing the character that at one point he considered leaving "MTM". To round out Knight's character, the writers then paired him with a love-interest, Georgette, played by Georgia Engel, who brought out some of Ted's more lovable characteristics and whom Ted eventually marries. [5]

Reception[edit]

The wedding of Ted and Georgette, 1975.

Knight earned two Primetime Emmy Awards for his portrayal of Ted. Time magazine wrote that "Knight embodied a wonderful comic oaf: vain, inept and hilarious."[6] Bravo ranked Baxter 48th on their list of the 100 greatest TV characters.[7]

Allusions[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

On the animated TV series The Simpsons, the recurring character of anchor Kent Brockman is an homage to Ted Baxter.[verification needed] Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy also makes extensive explicit and implicit references to Ted Baxter such as the dog named Baxter. In the episode "18th and Potomac" of The West Wing, C. J. Cregg uses Ted Baxter as the paradigm of a bad reporter. In the comedy-horror film Return of the Killer Tomatoes, Dr. Gangreen's underling Igor is shown to hold a diploma from "The Ted Baxter School of Journalism". In Bruce Almighty, the name of the anchorman (played by Steve Carell) is Evan Baxter. The Electric Company also spoofed Ted Baxter as "Fred Baxter", a dimwitted news anchorman portrayed by Jim Boyd.[citation needed] In The Newsroom, episode "5/1", Charlie asks Will "When did you turn into Ted Baxter" due to Will being high and missing an email from Vice President Joe Biden and being nonchalant about it.[8]

In media culture[edit]

On the MSNBC program Countdown, Keith Olbermann regularly refers to his rival Bill O'Reilly as "Ted Baxter" and reads O'Reilly's words in a Baxter imitation.[9] Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh said of O'Reilly, “Someone's got to say it: the man is Ted Baxter,” in the July 6, 2008, issue of New York Times Magazine.[10]

The Charleston, South Carolina, City Paper awarded news anchor Bill Sharpe a 2008 Best of Charleston Award for "Best Ted Baxter Impression".[11]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ O'Halloren, Bill (January 3, 1981). "Ted Knight...Too Close for Comfort". TV Guide. Retrieved 2008-07-09. .
  2. ^ Cassidy, David; Deffaa, Chip (1994). C'mon, Get Happy ... Fear and Loathing on the Partridge Family Bus. New York: Warner Books. p. 50. ISBN 0-446-39531-5. 
  3. ^ Boyle, Frank T. (October 1993). "IBM, Talking Heads, and Our Classrooms". College English (National Council of Teachers of English) 55 (6): 618–626. doi:10.2307/378698. ISSN 0010-0994. JSTOR 378698. ERIC EJ470266. 
  4. ^ Kohl, Paul R (2005). ""Who's in Charge Here?": Views of Media Ownership in Situation Comedies". In Dalton, Mary M.; Linder, Laura R. The sitcom reader: America viewed and skewed. SUNY Press. pp. 232–234. ISBN 0-7914-6569-1. 
  5. ^ Andrew Szym (2000). "Georgia Engel: Georgette Franklin Baxter". Mary Tyler Moore Show. Retrieved July 5, 2009. 
  6. ^ Corliss, Richard (1980-11-03). "Television: The Bodies in Question". Time. Retrieved 2010-09-02. 
  7. ^ "The 100 Greatest TV Characters". Bravo. Archived from the original on 2007-10-15. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  8. ^ Virtel, Louis. "5 Things I Loved (!) About Last Night's "The Newsroom"". Afterelton. 
  9. ^ Olbermann: "Ted Baxter strikes again" - Democratic Underground
  10. ^ Chafets, Zev (July 6, 2009). "Late-Period Limbaugh". The New York Times. p. MM30. 
  11. ^ Lesemann, T. Ballard (March 5, 2008). "Best Ted Baxter Impression - News Anchor Bill Sharpe - WCSC - Best of Charleston 2008". Charleston City Paper. Retrieved February 2, 2009.