Entertainment

'Evening Shade': Burt Reynolds' Best Small-Screen Contribution

Marilu Henner, who plays wife to Burt Reynolds on ?Evening Shade,? very enthusiastically presents Reynolds with his Emmy for Best Actor in a comedy series, Sunday, August 26, 1991 in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Burt Reynolds catered to country folks' entertainment needs once again with small town celebration Evening Shade, a CBS sitcom which aired for four seasons from 1990-1994.

Reynolds played Wood "Woodrow" Newton, a former pro football player for the Pittsburgh Steelers who'd moved back home to Evening Shade, Arkansas to coach a high school football team on a lengthy losing streak. Reynolds would earn a People's Choice Award, an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe for his greatest small-screen role.

If that character name rings a bell, it might be because the real Wood Newton happens to be an Arkansas-born songwriter whose credits include The Oak Ridge Boys' "Bobbie Sue" and David Ball's "Riding With Private Malone."

Marilu Henner, a co-star of Reynolds' in the films The Man Who Loved Women (1983) and Cannonball Run II (1984), portray's Wood's wife, lawyer turned district attorney Ava Evans Newton. The extended Newton family includes Wood and Ava's kids and Ava's dad, local newspaper editor Evan Evans (portrayed by Hal Holbrook).

Hapless assistant coach Herman Stiles, played by Michael Jeter, steals most scenes in a series also featuring regular appearances by such high-caliber supporting actors as O Brother, Where Art Thou?'s Charles Durning (as Dr. Harlan Eldridge), Elizabeth Ashley (as Frieda Evans), Ann Wedgeworth (as Merleen Eldridge), Charlie Dell (as Nub), Linda Gehringer (as Fontana Beausoleil) and TV icon Ossie Davis (as Ponder Blue).

Many of the younger actors on Evening Shade when on to even greater heights. Taylor Newton actor Jay R. Ferguson went on to appear in Mad Men, while young women with recurring roles included Hilary Swank, Leah Remini and pre-Friends Lisa Kudrow.

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In later seasons, both Reba McEntire and Kenny Rogers appeared as themselves. In the Rogers episode, he performs a co-write by the real Wood Newton, "20 Years Ago."

The show's production company, Mozark Productions, was a joint venture by creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason of Missouri and her executive producer husband, Harry Thomason, which concurrently produced another successful show set in the South, Designing Women. When it came time to begin filming their new series, Mozark Productions killed off Holbrook's Designing Women character to free him up for Evening Shade.

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'Evening Shade': Burt Reynolds' Best Small-Screen Contribution