Oh, PBS, things were going so well for you yesterday. All those Emmy nominations for Downton Abbey and Sherlock; how well-deserved. Then you had to go and fire Fred Willard.
If the news reports are accurate — that Willard was arrested for “suspicion of engaging in a lewd act” in a Hollywood adult theater — then this was a victim-less crime. A dumb crime, perhaps. A puzzling incident, to be sure. I mean, in the internet era, who still goes to a theater for his or her porn? These places must be as rare as drive-in theaters by now, and 50 times more grotty.
But did Willard merit losing his job as a narrator for the PBS show Market Warriors? Boston public television station WGBH, which produces the show, could not wait to push Willard away from its antique hunting show: “Given the unfortunate news reported today, effective immediately Fred Willard no longer will be involved with the Market Warriors series.” Willard was the narrator of the show; his vocal work will be redubbed for future episodes.
How does Willard’s innocent-until-proven-guilty status merit this? Will viewers really refuse to watch Market Warriors because they’ll be repulsed, outraged, by the sound of Fred Willard’s voice?
Have executives learned nothing from the Pee wee Herman “scandal”? Why did Paul Reubens’ career have to be snuffed out for years over an apparently similar, minor offense?
Willard is 72; I doubt he’s being offered an awful lot of work. And even if he is, being booted by PBS inevitably mars his future. (As of now, ABC isn’t doing anything about his hosting of Trust Us With Your Life, which is sensible, but that summer-time filler show isn’t much of a career factor for him.) He’s given us decades of terrific performances, from Fernwood 2-Night to the Christopher Guest movies to Modern Family. He doesn’t deserve to now be relegated to the Show Biz Master List of Scandal.
If, as I say, Willard wasn’t harming anyone, I assert: Free Fred Willard. Give the guy back his job.