TV superstar John Ritter made his mark in movies, too


John Ritter

Q: I was very touched by the recent ABC documentary about John Ritter. I know it made mention of “Sling Blade,” but what were some of the other movies he did? — Sharon James, via e-mail

A: Ritter already had some movie credits before the sitcom “Three’s Company” premiered in 1977, including the Charles Bronson police thriller “The Stone Killer” and the Peter Bogdanovich-directed “Nickelodeon.” His television stardom brought him bigger theatrical-feature roles … in fact, he played the U.S. president in “Americathon,” and he also appeared in “Hero at Large,” “Wholly Moses!” and another Bogdanovich project, “They All Laughed.”

“Real Men” and director Blake Edwards’ “Skin Deep” preceded the first really big movie hit Ritter had, “Problem Child” (which also was referenced on that ABC special by his second wife, actress Amy Yasbeck, whom he met while making that film). That logically led him into the sequel “Problem Child 2,” which he followed with “Noises Off,” “Stay Tuned” and “North.”

Then came “Sling Blade,” in an image-changing dramatic role devised for Ritter by writer, director and star Billy Bob Thornton (who had worked with him on the series “Hearts Afire”). Only a handful of other movies afterward, such as “Tripfall” and “Tadpole,” made use of Ritter’s more-serious acting skills before his very untimely passing in 2003. And along the way, he also starred in a great many made-for-TV movies, plus the miniseries of Stephen King’s “It.”

Hoda Kotb

Q: How long has Hoda Kotb been an anchor of “Today”? — Lisa Powell, Reading, Pa.

A: She has been a host of “Today’s” fourth weekday hour since September 2007, and Kathie Lee Gifford was teamed with her on the NBC program the following April. Gifford stayed for 11 years, then Jenna Bush Hager succeeded her and remains Kotb’s partner there.

Kotb’s co-anchor tenure on the first two hours of the weekday “Today” began in November 2017 after the firing of Matt Lauer, when she joined Savannah Guthrie to reveal that news. She stayed, and the following January, it was made official that Kotb would be Guthrie’s partner at the anchor desk going forward. Kotb maintained that she also would keep the fourth hour of the show, and she has continued to make good on that promise.

Q: I enjoyed the day of Tony Randall movies that Turner Classic Movies showed recently. For how long did he star in “The Odd Couple”? — Walt Bridges, via e-mail

A: Still repeating weekdays on Decades, the classic ABC sitcom based on Neil Simon’s hit play — and starring Randall and Jack Klugman as vastly dissimilar apartment-mates Felix and Oscar — premiered in the fall of 1970 and ran for five seasons, with Garry Marshall on the creative team. Randall and Klugman also performed the original Simon play in theatrical stagings during summer breaks from making the series. (They also did Simon’s “The Sunshine Boys” together on Broadway in 1997.)

The two actors came back to their “Odd Couple” roles in the 1993 television movie “The Odd Couple: Together Again,” in which Felix expectedly injected himself too much into his daughter’s wedding plans. With Simon’s only connection to it being his creation of the main characters years earlier, that film still gets fairly frequent showings on cable. An amusing side note about Klugman and Randall is that they separately did commercials for rival copier companies during the 1980s.

Q: I think Luke Wilson is terrific on “DC’s Stargirl.” Has he ever done a series before? — Doug Kay, Fruita, Colo.

A: He also had regular roles on Showtime’s “Roadies” and HBO’s “Enlightened,” but as it turns out, he’s also had another series job somewhat concurrently with the one on the superhero show that airs on The CW. Wilson also is the host and an executive producer of “Emergency Call,” the ABC reality show that premiered last fall and returned in June and July to wrap up its initial 10-episode season.

Though he has done more work in movies by far, Wilson also had a recurring role on “That ‘70s Show.” Additionally, he has appeared in episodes of “Room 104,” “Drunk History,” “The X-Files” and “Entourage,” and he hosted an episode of “Saturday Night Live” in 2004.

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Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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