Martin Tahse dies; produced ‘ABC Afterschool Specials’

July 25, 2014

Martin Tahse, a stage and television producer best known for his work on “ABC Afterschool Specials” and other programs aimed at young audiences, died July 1 in a nursing home in Los Angeles. He was 84.

The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, said a friend, Michael Vodde.

Mr. Tahse was a producer for more than 20 of the “Afterschool” dramas from 1974 to 1989 that touched on a variety of teen problems, including pregnancy, suicide and bullying. They were shows full of teachable moments, but Mr. Tahse strove for authenticity in the productions and didn’t allow endings in which a parent solved the problem.

“The kid had to resolve the problem by him- or herself,” he said in a 2006 interview with the Boston Globe.

Some of the episodes he produced featured young actors who went on to big careers. Rob Lowe was in “Schoolboy Father” (1980), about a teen who finds out that his former girlfriend is pregnant with their child. Felicity Huffman (as Flicka Huffman) was in “A Home Run for Love” (1978), about the friendship between a young white boy and an elderly black man.

Martin Tahse in 2009. (Tammie Arroyo/Associated Press)

The ABC shows were sometimes mocked in subsequent years for being preachy. But Mr. Tahse took them seriously. That was especially true of the last episode he produced, “Just Tipsy, Honey” (1989), about dealing with a parent with a drinking problem.

“He was the child of an alcoholic parent,” said his friend Tom Jordan, who worked with Mr. Tahse on an “Afterschool Special” and other shows. “He knew what it was like to deal with them one way when they were drinking, another when they were not. It was his story.”

Mr. Tahse won Daytime Emmy awards in 1978 and 1981 for the shows. A 1979 episode, “A Special Gift,” about a 14-year-old basketball player who wants to be a ballet dancer, won a Peabody Award.

The Peabody organization said the program “took a story in which a personable young boy faced the first great dilemma of his life and brought it to life in such a way that no viewer was spared the agony of helping him make the choice.”

Mr. Tahse was born April 24, 1930, in Cincinnati. His early show business career mostly involved theater — he produced road tours of shows that played Broadway, including “Funny Girl,” “The Miracle Worker” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

He wrote a one-woman play based on the 1989 novel “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All,” by Allan Gurganus.

When it played the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego in 2003, with Ellen Burstyn in the role, Los Angeles Times critic Don Shirley said the stories from the original novel were so strong, “and Burstyn proves such an adept storyteller, that Mr. Tahse’s Classics Illustrated-style edition becomes an engaging experience, both funny and sad.”

But when the show went to Broadway later that year, it opened and closed the same night. A more successful project was his producing of the last 13 television episodes of the sweetly funny and warm “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” television puppet show in the early 1970s. The show, which first went on the air in 1947, was largely improvised by its creator, puppeteer Burr Tillstrom.

“There was no way I could creatively add to anything he did,” Mr. Tahse told the Times in 1996. “It was a one-camera show, so if he made a mistake, we would have had to start again at the beginning of the show.

“But in all the shows we did, we didn’t stop once.”

No information was available on Mr. Tahse’s survivors.

— Los Angeles Times

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