Despite my desire to kill off characters when stars misbehave, my heart goes out to actors. Writers are used to rejection. But for actors, throw in “I don’t like his nose,” “Great actress but no breasts,” and the old network standby: “Ugh, America can’t look at her.” I sure couldn’t do it. Is it any wonder that sometimes the very few who survive this humiliation and make it become raging assholes? The people who do believe in them and hire them wind up paying for all those who didn’t. It’s payback time, except it’s often misplaced. (Ian Gurvitz, in his book HELLO, THE AGENT LIED refers to actors as "children in adult clothes". )
My partner and I have worked numerous projects with “stars” and I’ve encountered a few more on my own in my directing life. I’m a firm believer that money and power just make you more of what you are. Last week I alluded to Mary Tyler Moore (when you see her throw her hat in the air, it’s really my liver) but I’ve been more than blessed by being able to work with Ted Danson, Alan Alda, Nancy Travis, Michael Douglas, Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, Tom Hanks, John Candy, and many others.
Having experienced the good and bad, David and I now have a little speech we give “stars” before we go into business with them. We say how thrilled we are to be working with them, how we’ll kill ourselves to make the best possible show, something we can all be proud of…”but if you turn into a monster we’re in Hawaii.” And it’s not an idle threat. We once walked away from a pilot the minute it wrapped. Life IS too short.
David and I have always contended all sitcom leads should be required to attend the “Ted Danson school of how to conduct yourself as a TV star”. There is a certain responsibility that goes along with being the star. He sets the tone for the whole stage. Ted is forever gracious, professional, on time, supportive, unselfish, makes everyone from guest stars to visitors feel completely welcome. His work ethic is impeccable. And as a result everyone else takes their cue from him.
What this creates is a happy set and that’s an intangible that always makes it to the screen – an infectious quality, an energy that gives the show just that extra little sparkle. And in today’s marketplace that spark, that twinkle could be the difference.
Steven Bochco once said, “the first year the actors work for you, the second year you work together, and the third you work for them.”
Tuesday night Ted Danson’s new series, HELP ME HELP YOU premieres on ABC. I hope it’s the hit of the season. There’s no more deserving actor – and that’s after having two huge hits already.
Best of luck, Teddy!
Monday, September 25, 2006
By Ken Levine at 3:14 PM