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Gary Franklin, 79; popular film critic on local TV created 1-to-10 rating scale

Obituaries

October 04, 2007|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Gary Franklin, the Los Angeles television and radio entertainment critic and reporter who became a household name in the 1980s critiquing movies and TV shows on "the Franklin Scale of 1 to 10, 10 being best," has died. He was 79.

Franklin died Tuesday at his home in Chatsworth, said his daughter, Daryle Esswein. Although the cause of death was unknown, he had suffered four strokes in recent years.

The German-born Franklin first came to the attention of Southern Californians in the 1970s as the roving nightside radio reporter for all-news radio station KFWB-AM, where he signed off in "Dragnet"-like style: "Gary Franklin, Car 98, out!"

While at KFWB, Franklin occasionally filled in as a movie reviewer, and in 1981 he replaced David Sheehan as the entertainment critic at KNXT-TV Channel 2 (now KCBS-TV).

Five years later, Franklin moved to KABC-TV Channel 7, where he remained until 1991.

With his memorable "Franklin Scale," his often acerbic comments and his regular attacks on exploitative violence and sex in movies, Franklin was considered a breakthrough local TV news personality.

"Bobbing his bald, conical head vigorously, he rates films with the arch, over-enunciated manner of a schoolmarm lecturing a sixth-grade science class," The Times' Patrick Goldstein wrote in 1983.

While noting that it may be hard for some people to take seriously a critic who "scores movies as if they were earthquakes," Goldstein wrote, Franklin was "the talk of the town."

Indeed, people had begun rating their food at restaurants on a 1-to-10 scale. Gary Franklin impressions turned up on answering machines. And a local newspaper used a Franklin sound-alike in its radio ads promoting the newspaper's TV section. Franklin, who relished the attention, tooled around L.A. in a car whose license plate read: "ONE 2 TEN."

"Prior to Gary, you had David Sheehan doing movie reviews at Channel 2, and even though he was a good reviewer, he didn't have a shtick. Gary had a gimmick," Jeff Wald, then-news director at KCOP-TV Channel 13, told The Times in 1991.

Wald, who hired Franklin as an entertainment reporter at KCOP in 1992, praised Franklin on Wednesday for being a critic who "understood the movie business and did his homework."

"He was a real character -- his style, his persona on the air -- and yet, it was genuinely him," Wald said. "If he was excited about a movie, you could feel the exuberance."

Given the size of his local television audience, Franklin's opinions carried a lot of weight.

"I'd sure rather have a 10 than a 7 or a 7 than a 4," veteran producer Lawrence Turman ("The Graduate," "Short Circuit") told the Orange County Register in 1987. "I look to him. In one's hometown, he's clearly powerful and influential."

According to a 1997 story in Variety, Franklin became persona non grata at Warner Bros. after director Oliver Stone received a zero on the Franklin Scale for "Natural Born Killers," which Franklin deemed a "cultural crime." And Madonna earned a "minus 5" from Franklin for "Truth or Dare."

Franklin told Variety that when he informed "studio flacks" who called after a press screening that he was going to give a film that he really liked a 9 they often lobbied for a 10.

"To my everlasting shame and disgrace, I'd make it a 10," he said.

Although Franklin had his share of critics who deplored the use of "scale ratings," there was no question Franklin had his fans.

"He has a personality that is blatantly offensive to all the pointy-headed people out there but well-received by all the real people," Van Gordon Sauter, former general manager of KNXT-TV Channel 2 and former president of CBS News, told The Times in 1991.

Don Tillman, executive director of USC Television, a division of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, said Wednesday that Franklin was "like a consumer advocate" and that his Franklin Scale "was valuable from the point of view of the average [TV] viewer or person who buys a movie ticket."

"Gary could bring it into perspective very quickly whether I'm going to watch that television show or movie," Tillman said. "He had a credibility about him."

Franklin said in a 1991 interview with The Times that he hoped to be remembered for more than just ranking movies from 1 to 10.

"I have always let my social conscience influence my criticism," he said. "People should be speaking out about the effects of movie violence, brutality and sexuality in the world, and I'm glad I've had the chance to make a tiny impact. . . . "That's how I'd like to be remembered. And perhaps for having saved [my viewers] a few bucks here and there."

An only child, Franklin was born in Leipzig, Germany, on Sept. 22, 1928. Fleeing the Nazis in 1938, his Jewish family settled in New York City.

After graduating from City College of New York with a film degree, Franklin served in the Army as a combat and documentary cameraman in Korea before producing television documentaries in New York and Canada.

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