×

Oprah Winfrey Presents: Tuesdays With Morrie

It speaks volumes about the state of network television that ABC would devote 17 consecutive nights of November sweeps to "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" but couldn't squeeze in two hours for a show that plays like "Who Wants to Be a Human Being?" While the network's decision unquestionably grabbed the ratings, the program shuffling is a little ironic given the priorities-in-place tone of the exquisitely adapted "Tuesdays With Morrie."

With:
Morrie Schwartz - Jack Lemmon Mitch Albom - Hank Azaria Janine - Wendy Moniz Connie - Caroline Aaron Charlotte - Bonnie Bartlett Rabbi Al Axelrod - Aaron Lustig Mr. Schwartz - Bruce Nozick Armand - Ivo Cutzarida Walter Moran - John Carroll Lynch Shawn Daley - Dan Thiel Young Morrie - Kyle Sullivan Aldo - Christian J. Meoli

It speaks volumes about the state of network television that ABC would devote 17 consecutive nights of November sweeps to “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” but couldn’t squeeze in two hours for a show that plays like “Who Wants to Be a Human Being?” While the network’s decision unquestionably grabbed the ratings, the program shuffling is a little ironic given the priorities-in-place tone of the exquisitely adapted “Tuesdays With Morrie.”

As the fourth project presented under the “Oprah Winfrey Presents” banner (the others being “Before Women Had Wings,” “David and Lisa” and “The Wedding”), “Tuesdays” originally was skedded for November, but was pulled and slapped into December. The theory evidently is that stories about the human condition are more of a holiday season thing than a sweeps event. It’ll be interesting to see if the ratings bear this out.

Still, this is a case of better late than never. The film, inspired by sportswriter Mitch Albom’s hugely popular book of the same name — which continues, after two years, to hover near the top of the bestseller list — is given a boost by Jack Lemmon, who plays Morrie Schwartz, an irrepressible 78-year-old college professor struck with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and confined to a wheelchair.

One night in the summer of 1994, an old student of Morrie’s, Detroit Free Press sports columnist Mitch Albom (played with winning energy by Hank Azaria), spots his old college prof sharing his thoughts on the journey toward death with Ted Koppel on “Nightline.”

It’s been 16 years since Albom last spoke with Morrie. His sadness at his mentor’s degenerative condition is complicated by his guilt at not having stayed in touch. Albom continues to bury himself in his hyperkinetic worklife, distancing himself from girlfriend Janine (nice work from Wendy Moniz), but the image of Morrie haunts him. Dripping with trepidation, he finally pays his dying mentor a visit in Boston.

What Albom discovers is not an embittered old man, but an ebullient, mentally sharp teacher who finds that facing death allows him to “see things with incredible clarity” and inspires him to teach his “final course … in living.”

Within a few weeks, the relationship between Morrie and Albom has been fully rekindled, and the student is absorbing the prof’s wisdom once again. They begin meeting every Tuesday, and their sessions spur Albom to step off the fast track and begin questioning the shallow, ego-banging absurdity of the sports world.

If there’s a weakness in scribe Tom Rickman’s otherwise tight adaptation of the Albom book, it’s in the oversimplification of Albom’s budding insight and sensitivity, which seems a mite too pat. So, too, is Lemmon’s spouting of such lines as “Dying is just one thing to be sad about. Living unhappily … that’s another matter.”

Those few sins of the script are more than mitigated, however, by Mick Jackson’s focused direction, and fine handling of Lemmon and Azaria. Lemmon plays up to his best work here in his ability simultaneously to inspire both empathy and awe. Azaria displays the most layered and sensitive work of his career.

All in all, “Tuesdays With Morrie” does the book justice — a pretty impressive feat. Tech credits are consistently superb.

Oprah Winfrey Presents: Tuesdays With Morrie

ABC; Sun. Dec. 5, 9 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles and Santa Clarita by Harpo Films. Executive producers, Oprah Winfrey, Kate Forte; supervising producer, Jennifer Ogden; director, Mick Jackson; writer, Tom Rickman; based on the book by Mitch Albom.

Crew: Camera, Theo Van De Sabde; production designer, J. Michael Riva; editor, Carol Littleton; music, Marco Beltrami; sound, Jim Tanenbaum; casting, Mindy Marin. 120 MIN.

Cast: Morrie Schwartz - Jack Lemmon Mitch Albom - Hank Azaria Janine - Wendy Moniz Connie - Caroline Aaron Charlotte - Bonnie Bartlett Rabbi Al Axelrod - Aaron Lustig Mr. Schwartz - Bruce Nozick Armand - Ivo Cutzarida Walter Moran - John Carroll Lynch Shawn Daley - Dan Thiel Young Morrie - Kyle Sullivan Aldo - Christian J. Meoli

More TV

  • Jody Madden Replaces Craig Rodgerson as

    Jody Madden Replaces Craig Rodgerson as CEO of VFX Firm Foundry

    Jody Madden has been upped to CEO at U.K.-based VFX outfit Foundry. She steps up having been chief product officer and replaces Craig Rodgerson, who joined the company in late 2017. Foundry was bought by U.S. tech firm Roper Technologies earlier this year in a £410 million ($509 million) deal. The London-based business provides software [...]

  • La Linea Invisible

    Mariano Barroso Shoots Basque Conflict Origins Story ‘La Linea Invisible’

    IRUN, Spain  — When- and why – do people begin to kill for a cause? Having created “What the Future Holds,” maybe the best reviewed to date of any Movistar + Original Series, Spain’s Mariano Barroso (“The Wolves of Washington”) tackles this question head on in “La Línea Invisible,” a six-part series, again from Movistar [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    Writers Guild Leaders Warn Members About Contact With Fired Agents

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America are warning members about being contacted by their former agents — asserting that such efforts are an attempt to undermine the WGA and its members. The missive, sent Tuesday from the WGA negotiating committee, came with the guild in a bitter three-month standoff with talent agents that appears [...]

  • Mike Fleiss

    ‘The Bachelor’ Creator Mike Fleiss Accused of Attacking Wife

    “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” creator Mike Fleiss has been accused of attacking his wife Laura Fleiss at their home in Hawaii on July 4, according to documents obtained by Variety. The documents show that Laura Fleiss, who is currently pregnant, filed for an emergency domestic violence restraining order against her husband after he allegedly [...]

  • James Cordon Drag Race Handmaids Tale

    Emmys Trivia: 20 Surprising Facts From 2019's Nominations

    For a show that technically wasn’t eligible at the Emmy Awards in 2019, “The Handmaid’s Tale” did quite well this year. The Hulu drama picked up 11 nominations, including major ones like outstanding directing, writing, guest actress and guest actor, thanks to a quirk in the TV Academy’s Emmy rules. As previously noted, most of [...]

  • 'Schitt's Creek' Emmy Nominations Give Boost

    'Schitt's Creek' Emmy Nominations Give Boost to Pop's Profile

    The core executive team at Pop TV expected to be disappointed, but they still gathered at the CBS-owned cable channel’s Playa Vista offices early Tuesday morning for the reveal of this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards nominations. They were not disappointed. “Schitt’s Creek,” the quirky comedy series that has punched above its weight for Pop since [...]

  • Beyonce-HOMECOMING-Netflix

    Beyoncé, Sara Bareilles Vie for First Emmys as Ramin Djawadi Looks to Reclaim Throne

    Beyoncé and Sara Bareilles could add Emmy trophies to their awards shelves this year, having been nominated in key music categories Tuesday by the Television Academy. Beyoncé’s “Homecoming” special on Netflix was nominated in six categories, and four of those include a nod for the pop superstar herself. Only one of those is in a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content