As the story goes, the “e” in the fictionalized Hotel Baltimore’s marquee burned out long ago.
To legendary writer, director and producer Norman Lear, the racy television series “Hot l Baltimore” had the potential to light up the small screen anyway. The Baltimore-based show would turn out to be one of his first flops.
Interest in the short-lived series, which centered on the staff and residents of a rundown hotel so seedy its sign was never spelled correctly, was renewed this week following news of Lear’s death Tuesday at the age of 101.
Lear’s shows helped define prime-time comedy in the 1970s, launched the careers of Rob Reiner and Valerie Bertinelli and made middle-aged superstars of Carroll O’Connor, Bea Arthur and Redd Foxx. He was particularly drawn to controversial comedies and characters often ignored by mainstream media, The Associated Press reported.
So, it was no surprise that the racy off-Broadway play “The Hot l Baltimore” caught his eye. The 1973 theater production told the story of the ragtag staff and residents, who notably included two prostitutes and a gay couple, working and living in an aged art deco-style hotel.
The play, written by Lanford Wilson and produced by famed American theatrical producer Kermit Bloomgarden and Fox News founder Roger Ailes, had been a critical success. It earned “Best American Play” at the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards and Obie Awards and ran for three years, lasting longer than its television counterpart.
During the 1974-75 television season, Lear’s already popular show “All in the Family” was earning the highest ratings in the country for a network television series. The commercial success did not translate to “Hot l Baltimore,” which ran with a disclaimer warning viewers of its “mature subject matter.” However, it failed to attract audiences and was canceled after 13 episodes.