Question: I guess this is a question for you rather than FlickChick because it involves Evening Shade, but it's really about Burt Reynolds, its star. I was reading somewhere that Boogie Nights was a comeback for him, but I don't get it. Wasn't he already doing OK with Evening Shade on the air? How is that a comeback? Seems like he was doing all right to me. Billie R., Savannah
Televisionary: Well, "comeback" depends on how far up you go and how down you were, Billie. And Reynolds, despite his Evening Shade success, had fallen pretty far and taken some major hits many of them self-inflicted by the time Nights came out in 1997. And it's worth noting that it wasn't his first comeback by any means.
In the late '70s and early '80s, Reynolds was named No. 1 Box-Office Star of the Year five times in a row and was flying high. But then came a string of flops, followed by a 1984 accident while shooting City Heat, in which he costarred with Clint Eastwood.
"On the first day that I went to work on the movie... I got hit in the head with a chair," Reynolds told TV Guide in 1992. "When you choreograph stunts, it's like a dance routine. If anybody messes up the steps, it can be a disaster. One guy who was in the scene wasn't a professional stuntman I think he was a wrestler with an IQ of about 8. He was supposed to hit me with a balsa-wood chair, but instead picked up a wrought-iron chair and hit me on the head with it. It dropped me like a sack of potatoes. I started getting dizzy immediately, I could hardly walk, I felt nauseated.... I didn't want to say anything about being hurt. Clint, who says about 15 words a year, saw me in pain later on, motioned to the assistant director, and said he was sick. "Wrap it," he said. So everybody went home. That's the Clint Eastwood nobody knows."
That injury took Reynolds into a tailspin of doctors, painkillers and addiction. He was taking up to 50 pills a day, and then made the mistake of going cold turkey and nearly died. He lost a considerable amount of weight and it was even rumored that he had AIDS. Then came Evening Shade, which kicked off on CBS in September 1990, and his career turned around. Thing was, he almost didn't take it.
"I was going to do a show about two guys who own a bar on a desert island," Reynolds recalled. "It was offered to me at the same time I was approached by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason about Evening Shade. I was so torn. I stayed up all night. Finally, Linda convinced me that I could do [Evening Shade High School Mules' football coach Wood] Newton, a more mature role. At first, she thought the guy would run a newspaper in a little town in the South. I said no; I'm a blue-collar guy. He'd have played football, so now he'd be a coach with a family and an unexpected baby. She agreed to all of it."
Smart woman. After it launched, Evening Shade enjoyed ratings which put it in the Top 20 and 30 spots. But then came the 1993 tabloid storm. Reynolds filed to divorce Loni Anderson (WKRP in Cincinnati) after 11 years together (five of them married). Anderson was initially cast as the villain, but soon enough it became clear that he'd orchestrated the press campaign to make her look bad. (And the actress later fired back in a big way with a book detailing Reynolds' alleged history of abuse during their time together.)
The bad ink took its toll. In 1993, an unnamed Shade source told TV Guide that viewers didn't like the way Reynolds the public figure's image clashed with that of his likable series character, adding that the show "has been severely damaged." By later that year, the Florida Citrus Commission and Quaker State Corp. both had severed endorsement relationships with the star. And the series was off the CBS schedule the following May.
Within a year or so, reports of Reynolds' money troubles came to light and he filed for bankruptcy in late 1996. Investments in Florida restaurants had gone sour, losing him almost $20 million. He was paying the mortgage on Anderson's $1.3 million home, plus $15,000 a month in child support. And CBS sued him for $3.7 million plus interest on a loan he owed them. All in all, he declared approximate assets of $6.65 million and debts of $11.2 million.
So yup, I'd say that, given all that, the only way he had room to go was up.