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Ed Asner filming sitcom pilot in Columbia

Veteran TV and film actor Ed Asner (seated middle) at table-read with the cast and crew for a sitcom pilot, "Bennie's Gym," filming in Columbia.
Veteran TV and film actor Ed Asner (seated middle) at table-read with the cast and crew for a sitcom pilot, "Bennie's Gym," filming in Columbia. (Photo courtesy of producers "Bennie's Gym")

Veteran TV actor Ed Asner is filming a sitcom pilot in Columbia.

The 86-year-old former president of the Screen Actors Guild, who has won Emmys for his work in such landmark series and mini-series as "Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Roots," plays the owner of a gym in the sitcom titled "Bennie's Gym."

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Filming took place over the weekend and will wrap on Monday, according to Monica Bellais, one of the producers.

Bellais said Columbia was chosen because Michael Skinnner, who directed the pilot, has a production company in Washington and both the Maryland Film Office and Howard County sold the producers on how much filming there has to offer.

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HBO's "Veep" filmed in Columbia until last year. "Bennie's Gym" is not filming in the warehouse soundstages used for that production.

"We are thrilled that Bennie's Gym can be the beginning of shooting all kinds of narrative work simply because this is where the talent is located," Skinner wrote in an email to the Sun.

"Maryland has only been used as a film location when people want to feature the nation's capital or drug dealers in Baltimore - we want to do more," he added. "From gaffers and grips, to on camera talent and even full post, this area has world class talent."

Asner, who won five Emmys for the Lou Grant character he played on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Lou Grant," is one of the medium's finest all-time actors.

Grant, who was the gruff-but-lovable news director at the fictional WJM TV station where Mary Richards ((Moore) worked, became city editor of the Los Angeles Tribune in the drama, "Lou Grant." Both were created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns for the legendary MTM Productions.

One of my happiest days ever reporting on a Hollywood soundstage came at MTM when I spent a couple of days on the set of "Lou Grant" for a profile of Asner in the late 1970s.

I was 27 years old and on my first Hollywood assignment as pop culture reporter for the Detroit Free Press, and Asner insisted on adopting the conceit throughout the interviews that he was my gruff-but-not-so-lovable editor-boss and I was a rookie reporter who needed some serious bossing.

He started by informing me that my name was not pronounced "Zer-a-wick," as I said in introducing myself, but rather "Zoo-rrrrahhh-vich."

He said that's the way my grandfather would have pronounced it and, obviously, I was trying to "hide" something about my ethnicity with the Americanized version. He said this so anyone who wasn't deaf on the soundstage could hear it.

And it went that way all day. And I loved it -- the real world of this interview merging with the fictionalized world of "Lou Grant."

All of Asner's teasing, bossing and playfulness as my editor made it into the story, to the best of my recollection, as the politicians say. But I do remember clearly that my real editors back in Detroit loved it.

If you are reading this, Ed, thanks for that interview at a time when you had one of the smartest and hottest shows on TV. Instead of blah-blah-blahing your way through a PR moment, you gave me something to work with, something that connected deeply with my love of TV and fascination with the way we form profound relationships with onscreen characters we love.

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I don't know if I loved Lou, but I admired him and the values of journalism he stood for in an increasingly show-biz news environment. I still do. And it was your performance in that role that made it so believable.

Good luck with "Bennie's Gym." Despite the fact that Lou would beat me up for such bias, I would love to be able to report that it is going to series.

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