The show only aired on network television for one season, on CBS in 1963-64, and is largely forgotten.
But if you ever see it… you will certainly remember the show.
Welcome to East Side West Side, an extremely gritty drama about life in New York City, as told through the eyes of crusading social worker Neil Brock, as played by actor George C. Scott.
Yes, that George C. Scott.
East Side West Side was a taboo-breaking show, at a time when dramas fell into one of three categories – police procedural, medical procedural, or escapist Westerns. The series was shot on the streets of New York City, and did not flinch about taboo or difficult storylines. The episode embedded above, known as “The Sinner,” was the first episode in the series, and featured a custody battle in which the child’s mother is a lady of the evening.
And it just got darker and grittier from there.
For example, here’s Episode 2, “Age of Consent,” in which a NYPD detective finds out that his teenage daughter is romantically involved with a medical student, and does everything within his power to haul his daughter’s paramour into court. Oh, and did I happen to mention that the NYPD detective is played by Carroll O’Connor, in a performance that makes you wonder if this was his All in the Family audition tape?
This episode, entitled “Who Do You Kill,” garnered the show its only Emmy award, and features James Earl Jones as the father of child who suffers and dies from a rat’s bite. Wow.
This wasn’t a series with “traveling guest star from show to show” talent, this was a program with some of the top Hollywood and Broadway actors in powerful roles. You want proof? George C. Scott’s costar on this series was Cicely Tyson. Yes, THAT Cicely Tyson.
The program only lasted for 26 episodes, with its last four written as a change in the series, where Scott’s crusading social worker left the department to work for a congressman, in the hopes of bringing exposure and justice to the troubled streets of New York.
But no amount of high-quality drama and big guest stars could save the program. At the time, East Side West Side aired on Monday nights on CBS, against NBC’s Monday night ratings juggernaut Sing Along With Mitch. There were also some creative differences brewing within the direction of the show, and eventually the decision was made to close the series out.
While George C. Scott would move to the big screen for the rest of his career, he did return to network television for one more series, a 1987-89 sitcom named Mr. President, where he portrayed – yep, you guessed it – our Commander in Chief. That show lasted for 24 episodes, just slightly less than Scott’s one-season run in East Side West Side, and, IMHO, they would have done much better by re-aring old episodes of East Side West Side today.
Take a look at these episodes. This is some pretty serious drama for 1963. Definitely worth watching.