East Side/West Side – A Gritty 1960's Drama

by Guy Belleranti
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While the 1960's were a tumultuous time in the United States, most of the television fare of the era was escapist. Still, there were a few programs that tackled tough social issues head-on. One of the best was the 1963-64 CBS series East Side/West Side.

East Side/West Side starred the incomparable actor George C. Scott (in his first and last television series) as Neil Brock, a social worker in New York City. Also starring in the series was Elizabeth Wilson as Frieda Hechlinger, Brock's boss at the community welfare office, and Cicely Tyson as Jane Foster, Brock's secretary.

East Side/West Side featured powerful and controversial story lines unusual for the time. Indeed, many episodes were so controversial that some advertisers refused to sponsor the program. And many local stations (primarily in the South) refused to run a number of the episodes.

The series pulled no punches and presented episodes that depicted poverty, race relations, child abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, suicide, prostitution and more.

East Side/West Side was made even more realistic by the way it was filmed. The black and white cinematography gave it a gritty feel, and the series was shot on location in New York City.

Often an episode would end with no clear resolution – in other words, like real life.

Guest stars included James Earl Jones, Richard Dysart, Diana Sands, Ruby Dee, Godfrey Cambridge, Barbara Feldon, Lee Grant, and even a young Alan Alda in an episode.

The series only survived for one season of 26 episodes, but it was definitely a hit with many critics. It received seven Emmy nominations, winning one. Executive producer, David Susskind, tried to save the program from cancellation with a letter writing campaign to government officials, newspaper editors and more, but in the end he failed.

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