(AKA Ted McGibbon)
Larry Anderson has had a number of turns at bat as a game show host. However, the one distinction no one will ever take away from him as Lucille Ball's only TV son-in-law in Life With Lucy.
Anderson, who has been featured heavily in his successful Jawdroppers infomercial in recent years, emceed the 50th anniversary I Love Lucy banquet and stage show at the Loving Lucy 2001 convention in Burbank, California. He also directed the Ultimate Lucy Game Show, a format he co-created.
Reflecting back on Life with Lucy, the 1986 ABC sitcom canceled after only eight episodes, Anderson was philosophical.
"How could it be anything but a disappointment?" said Anderson after the Lucy game show. "I know from talking with her, in the back of her mind, she was quite afraid of this. She didn't have to do it. She had nothing to prove. But some people were very persuasive to get her back to television. For my part, I'm thrilled I had the time I did to work with her."
Yet, contrary to many accounts written in succeeding years, Anderson says Lucy was "possibly prepared for a disappointment. I think it's fair to say if we had tried a different format, perhaps involved Lucy more with the family or made her more of a Golden Girls type of character, we'd have had a good run. The man who was running the network at the time was not a Lucy fan and he didn't really get behind the show, even though the press said we were the show ABC was pinning its hopes on for the season."
Anderson said he was always a Lucy fan, growing up watching her but never dreaming he would work with her.
"Every actor in show business assumed the three shows she did were the last we'd ever see with her," said Anderson. "When she announced she was coming back, everybody said, 'Wouldn't you love to do that show?' Who wouldn't?"
His future TV wife Ann Dusenberry and Anderson won "the most coveted roles in Hollywood at the time. We had the right experience, age and look they were looking for."
Anderson says his improv background helped him in the audition phase. "I would always bring something different to the auditions," said Anderson. "Lucy was the only one to recognize this. She told me this later. After she watched me, Lucy said, 'You're the guy.'"
While he was still doing Life with Lucy, Anderson had a break which led to his first TV game show, a revival of Truth or Consequences. "I had gone on The Tonight Show as a cast member of the Lucy series and I did some magic," said Anderson. "I was on about eight minutes and I was seen by the co-executive producer of the new version of Truth or Consequences. He told me they were trying to find a host. I'd never considered doing a game show but when you do magic, you are always working with an audience. I was told to call (creator) Ralph Edwards, which I did. I went down to NBC and did an audition and Ralph said, 'We're done casting.' The tough part was Lucy was still on and I was trying to figure out how to do both. All of a sudden, Lucy was canceled. I actually wound up shooting the pilot for Truth or Consequences the night of the wrap party."
After being away from television for a decade, the return of T of C was much-awaited in the 1987-88 season. Within three weeks, its New York station had dropped it and the game turned out to be one of the biggest syndication disappointments of the year.
"We did 60 half-hours. I think we all knew something was intrinsically wrong with it," said Anderson. "I believe it's because you had two different visions of what Truth or Consequences was supposed to be. Ralph saw the show the traditional way and (co-executive producer) Chris Bearde wanted midgets and Gong Show type stuff.
Anderson says even with the looser, active format of T or C, he felt "a little over my head" with his first game show.
"On Truth or Consequences, every single game was a new gag. Some of the gags were dated and it was hard to know how to deal with those and some of the other segments became a little too outrageous," said Anderson. "It was not standing behind the podium and asking what is the capital of Iowa."
He says he came away with good feelings for both Edwards and Bearde but believes their contrasting perspectives ended up hurting the show. "I was being pulled right and left. It was nothing against either one of them. Ralph believed in what made the show a success and Chris felt it had to be a little more outrageous," said Anderson. "If we had settled on being one or the other, I think we may have had a better chance for success. But the audience had a hard time figuring out what we were. One minute we looked like the original Truth or Consequences and another minute we were a show they hadn't seen. But I learned a lot from the experience."