NEW YORK -- The Nielsen family won't have Tony Randall to kick around any more, and the Moral Majority had better not try.
The gentle Felix Unger of 'The Odd Couple' says he's through with series television, but he's ready to fight those who would censor it by boycott.
'I'll never do another series because they cancel you,' said the man who has seen two series assassinated by the ratings system. 'They won't let you be good. They don't care if you're good ... these days they cancel you after 13 weeks or less ... so you never have a chance to build your team.'
What Randall will do is make films for television, since the ratings pose no threat for the single-shot feature, and he said his latest one is 'the best movie I've ever done.'
The Moral Majority, one of several fundamentalist religious groups threatening a boycott of sponsors who back television shows that do not pass their 'decency' muster, might disagree.
Randall's latest effort is 'Sidney Shorr,' to be aired next month by NBC. It is the story of a middle-aged homosexual, 'seedy and self-neglectful,' who meets a young girl who subsequently moves in with him.
He becomes terribly possessive of her -- 'a Jewish mother' -- and burns with jealousy when she starts dating. But when she becomes pregnant by a married man and proposes an abortion, Shorr is outraged. He volunteers to raise the child himself if she will have it, but when the child is six years old, she marries and takes the youngster away.
Homosexuality, promiscuity, abortion -- isn't Randall afraid he will run afoul of the Moral Majority by dealing with such topics on prime-time television?
The question vaporized the cool, civilized urbanity that is Randall's trademark.
'Screw 'em!' he snapped.
'Did you read what a member of the Moral Majority said yesterday? They're targeting San Francisco, which he calls the homosexual center of the United States, and he said he believes in Capital punishment and the Bible says homosexuals should be put to death.
'They say there are 675,000 homosexuals in San Francisco, so he wants to put that many people to death in one town. And this is called 'moral ...''
Randall referred to a statement made last week on a San Francisco television program by Dean Wycoff of the Moral Majority of Santa Clara, Inc. Wycoff later retracted his suggestion that homosexuals should be executed, but the outrage remained.
'The only thing to do is fight them, of course,' Randall said. 'And to really fight them -- not the way we fought the (McCarthy era) blacklist which Ronald Reagan says never existed. We just knuckled under to the blacklist ... we didn't really fight them, but we must fight to expose these people.'
But if Randall is apalled at potential excesses from the religious right, he is equally contemptuous of the obsession for ratings displayed by the three major networks -- all of which first rejected 'Sidney Shorr' before Randall personally persuaded NBC's Fred Silverman to intervene and buy it.
'You'd think they would look instead (of ratings) at the show and say, 'this is good ... this could turn into a classic.' I don't care what the ratings are. I'd be ashamed to have 'Three's Company' on my network. But they won't look at it that way. They won't look at quality. That's why I'll never do another series.'
A return to the subject of 'Sidney Shorr' soon set the juices of enthusiasm bubbling again.
'It's not about homosexuality -- that's just a given in the man's circumstances,' he said. 'It's not about abortion. It's about love -- the need of people for people. The need to care for someone.
'It's my baby.'