TV Week - December 1987:
Terence Knox and 'Tour' are hanging tough
Los Angeles -- Long before it went on the air this fall, “Tour of Duty,” the first network television drama to take up the war in Vietnam, looked as if it would quickly throw itself on a grenade. Not only was the subject matter a problem--didn’t the country get enough of the real combat on the nightly news? --but so was the time slot, right there on Thursdays at 7 p.m., opposite Cosby and company.
Since its inaugural, though, “Tour” has been extended. Even though its Nielsen numbers are not exactly fantastic -- as of this writing, it’s ranked 60th out of 70 prime-time shows--it has performed better than some of the other fledgling CBS entries, and has been picked up for the remainder of the season.
With closed-cropped hair, muscular build and dark, brooding looks, Knox brings a Charles Bronson-like-quality to the role of Anderson, Bravo Company’s crusty-but-genial, outspoken, iconoclastic lifer who is into his third tour--which makes him, he admits, “a little crazy.” It also makes him considerably self-assured. Early on, doing some recruiting for his predictably demographically mixed platoon--the series at times seems like a transplanted “Guadalcanal Diary” or “Battleground” -- he tells the green troopers that he doesn’t want any dopers or dummies, adding, “In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m lookin’ for winners--survivors--because that’s what I am.”
“We’ve had a great technical adviser, a sergeant who had two tours in Vietnam himself,” the 36-year-old Knox is saying over scrambled eggs and muffins at a restaurant close to his loft apartment, unlikely located in a seedy section of downtown L.A.
“Authenticity is our highest priority on the show--even, I’d say, above the creative impulse--because we’re so concerned about the reaction of people who have been there. If there’s any justification for making a series like this, it’s to rightly show the way it was. If you go out and make it John Wayne-ish, you’ve defeated your purpose.”
“I know there is the inevitable sizing-up to films like “Platoon” and “Full Metal Jacket,” and if the producers were unwise enough to limit the show to heavy action, it would come up a loser in comparison, because you can’t do on television what you can do in a movie. We have to downplay the violence. That’s why they decided to emphasize relationships. In a weekly series, you have time to get to know the characters. “Platoon” depicted one person's experience, but that wasn’t everyone's experience.
“The thing that always fascinated me is what it was like over there --guys just sitting around....making friends and then seeing them die. One of our aims is to give people something they don’t know, like the episode about the whole network of tunnels. That’s fascinating stuff. Because we just picked up bits and pieces in the newspapers and on the evening news, and now a whole new generation of TV viewers isn’t knowledgeable about the war. I mean, I had to explain to a couple of cast members the difference between North Vietnamese Army regulars and the Viet Cong.
“Technically, it’s an achievement to pull it off because you have to look like veterans when you load and reload the guns and jump on and off the helicopters. It takes awhile not to be intimidated by it all. It doesn’t compare to real warfare, but there’s always the element of danger when you're jumping off a chopper or having those blank things shot at you.”
The son of a construction worker and a secretary, Knox was reared in Richland, Wash. and attended Washington State University, initially intending to become a lawyer. He also established himself as a fine amateur middleweight, winning 56 fights and losing his only bout in the quarter-finals of the Golden Gloves in Seattle. In his junior year, his career goals changed, and he decided to major in English. “Somehow, I got it into my head I wanted to be a writer. There was a lot of marijuana going around those days. So I went over to the Oregon coast for about a year and a half. I slept 14 hours a day, and got one short story written.”
Knox later enrolled at Portland State University’s theatre arts department, and within three years was heading down to Hollywood, working at one point in a adult book store. After landing small roles on shows like “Knot’s Landing” and “The Dukes of Hazzard,” he managed to raise enough money to put together a production of “When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?” at a 49 seat Los Angeles theatre. That led to a 2-1/2 year stint on “St. Elsewhere,” playing Dr. Peter White, the ski-mask rapist. “That was at a time when they were hanging low in the ratings, and were resorting to desperate measures,” he says.
Last season, while appearing in the CBS mini-series “Murder Ordained,” Knox worked for Zev Braun, who is also producing “Tour of Duty,” and was asked to audition for the Zeke Anderson part.
“The way I see it, he’s a good man who leads by example and with humor and compassion,” Knox says.
“He has a very practical outlook, kind of homespun, and the kind of wisdom that comes from wanting to keep as many people alive as he can. He’s not in Vietnam to make a political statement or anything. He’s there because he wants to do it right. He’s also there because he’d just be too restless being somewhere else.” Knox himself has had no military experience, “When I was in college--I graduated in ‘73--I didn't have to worry about going because I had bad knees. But when I was in high school, I remember I was scared to death about being sent there. There were tough choices in those days, and I’m not sure what I would have done. One thing I do know. After shooting this show, I’ve developed a real respect for the military that I didn’t have before. I mean, being around that sergeant who’s been in the service for something like 20 years and who’s still training troopers, and I tell you, I see one happy man.”