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Martin Tahse dies at 84; TV producer of 'ABC Afterschool Specials'

Martin Tahse dies at 84; TV producer of 'ABC Afterschool Specials'
Martin Tahse in front of the new Aquarius Theater in 1982. He produced more than 20 episodes of "ABC Afterschool Specials" between 1974 to 1989. (Los Angeles Times)

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. The cause was complications of Parkinson's disease, said his friend, Michael Vodde. Tahse was 84.

Tahse was a producer on 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 Tahse strove for authenticity in the productions and didn't allow endings in which a parent solved a dilemma.

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"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 have big careers. Rob Lowe was in "Schoolboy Father" (1980), about a teen who finds out 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.

The "Afterschool Specials" were sometimes mocked in subsequent years for being preachy. But Tahse took them seriously.

"He was passionate about them," said his friend Tom Jordan, who worked with Tahse on an "Afterschool Special" and other shows. That was especially true of the last episode Tahse produced, "Just Tipsy, Honey" (1989), about dealing with a parent with a drinking problem. "He was the child of an alcoholic parent," Jordan said of Tahse. "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."

Tahse won Daytime Emmy awards in 1978 and 1981 for "Afterschool Specials." 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."

Tahse was born April 24, 1930, in Cincinnati, Ohio. His early show business career mostly involved theater — Tahse produced numerous 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 by Allan Gurganus, "Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All." 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 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," 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 Tahse's survivors.

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