Saturday, May 30, 2009

Televison Writer and Producer Michael Ross Passes On

Michael Ross, veteran writer of American sitcoms, passed on Tuesday at the age of 89. The causes were complications from a stroke and a heart attack.

Michael Ross was born Isidore Rovinsky in New York City on August 4, 1919. He grew up in a Yiddish speaking home and Jewish causes would be important to him all his life. He attended The City College of New York. His room mate at college was one Bernard West, who would become better known as Bernie West. He graduated in 1939. During World War II he was a bomber pilot in the Army Air Forces in Europe. He was shot down in France, but managed to escape to England.

Ross would later join his friend Bernie West as a comedy team in vaudeville in the Forties--the beginning of a career that spanned forty years. In the Fifties Ross was a director for shows at a resort in n the Adirondack Mountains. On television he worked on both The Martha Raye Show and The Garry Moore Show. It was while working on The Martha Raye Show that Ross first met Norman Lear. When Norman Lear's American adaptation of the British series Till Death Us Do Part finally made it to American television in 1971, he hired Michael Ross and Bernie West as story editors. The two would go onto write several episodes of the series. Ross and West would eventually be promoted to producers on the show.

Ross and West wrote the pilot for Chico and the Man. Ross also created The Jeffersons with Don Nicholl and with Bernie West produced many of the show's episodes. Michael Ross, Bernie West, and Don Nichol would go onto create Three's Company, which was an American remake of the British series Man About the House. It was Nicholl, Ross, and West who decided the show would work best as farce. Although much was made of the sexual content of the show at the time, it was actually very tame. Like the sex comedies of the Sixties, it relied primarily on innuendo, gross misunderstandings, and slapstick. The show would prove extremely successful, lasting eight seasons. It produced a spinoff The Ropers (also produced by Nicholl, Ross, and West) and a sequel series Three's a Crowd (produced by Ross and West).

Michael Ross and Bernie West were among the best writing teams in television. They wrote many of the classic episodes of All in the Family and The Jeffersons. And while Three's Company still comes under attack from critics today, I maintain it was one of the best and most inventive sitcoms of the Seventies. In fact, it is one of the few times that farce or screwball comedy has worked on American television in a sitcom. That Nicholl, Ross, and West created an American farce that lasted eight years is then admirable, and proof of the talent of Michael Ross.

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