Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A FRASIER casting story

Wow! While I thought the response to my second Sitcom Room would be good, I wasn't expecting 12 people to register for it on the very first day. That means I have just 8 spaces left. If you're thinking of joining us in November, please grab one of those 8 seats before we're completely sold out.

One of my favorite casting stories is how Ben Gazzara almost guested on FRASIER. Gazzara has been a terrific distinguished actor for over 50 years. He’s appeared in hundreds of movies, including several John Cassevetes classics. His television work is extensive and impressive as well. He starred in several series including RUN FOR YOUR LIFE and ARREST AND TRIAL (a 60’s series that is not just basically LAW & ORDER, it IS LAW & ORDER).

There was an episode of FRASIER that was to introduce Martin’s partner. Frasier’s father, Martin had been a cop for the Seattle PD for thirty years. A list of possible actors was prepared and among the names the producers liked was Ben Gazzara. They were more excited when the casting director reported back that Gazzara was interested, just subject to a phone call.

So one of the executive producers got on the phone with him. Gazzara was perfectly charming. He was a fan of the show and would be delighted to play Martin’s partner.

Just one tiny thing.

He wanted to play him as Ben Gazzara.

Say what???

Gazzara didn’t want to play a character, he wanted to play the part as if he, the actor Ben Gazzara were Martin’s partner all those years. I kid you not. As if in between acting gigs Ben Gazzara was a police officer in Seattle. Now these are the nagging little logic problems writers have to face. How do you explain away that Martin's partner would slip out on weekends and vacations to appear in a hundred movies (some filmed in Europe) and star in long running TV series? And how do you make it believable that the rest of the time this noted thespian was investigating fruit stand robberies in Pike Place Market?

I still don't get it. I have enormous respect for Ben Gazzara and can only assume he didn't really understand the character he was offered or he really wasn't familiar with the show.

In any event, Mr. Gazzara did not get the part. You know how it is -- creative differences.

Tomorrow: By request -- how we write.

22 comments :

Anonymous said...

that is a funny idea, though.

R.A. Porter said...

Maybe Ben Gazzara was trying to be the leading wave of the tide of actors playing alternate-reality versions of themselves in comedies. Although, neither of these pilots made it to the air, one of them is quite funny and the trailer for the other certainly appears funnier than say, Cavemen or Big Bang Theory.

- From a few years back, Ben Stiller's Heat Vision and Jack, starring Jack Black with Ron Silver as evil government agent (and actor) Ron Silver.

- From this past pilot season, Lipshitz Saves the World with the incomparable Leslie Nielsen as Leslie Nielsen, apparently a messenger of God.

I doubt that sort of PuPu Platter of Pomo would have worked on Frasier, though. Unless maybe he thought he was Ben Gazzara and no one else even saw the resemblance? The former quirkiness of Martin's partner having devolved into something a little more profound? I'm reaching here. Nothing like making fun of a crazy dude.

Alan said...

I have to nit. That would be Pike Place Market - not Pikes Place.

A peeve of mine - sorry.

Beth said...

I have an enormous amount of respect for Ben G, but that's just plain strange.

Alan said...

oh fine - just fix the post and make my previous comment irrelevant.

Great story.

RAC said...

There are tons of metafictional (metafilm? metatelevision?) possibilities in Ben Gazzara's suggestion that would have been perfectly logical in a rich or deep story context. Sitcom episodes, by their brevity alone, usually can't afford the luxury of creating numerous contextual layers - and that's why great metafiction authors such as John Barth, Robert Coover, Kurt Vonnegut, and William H. Gass didn't write sitcoms. Television shows seem to barely have time to occasionally break the fourth wall, much less explore the metaphor of television as a self-reflexive artefact posing questions about the relationship between television and reality. Over the course of a well-conceived series of episodes you might be able to approach the true depths of emotional truth (by creating multidimensional characters in dribs and drabs), but most series' characters remain shallow, and have no arc in their development, even over the course of time. Ben Gazzara was apparently intrigued by the idea of a story framed within a story, as well as the interplay of his own reality with Frasier's reality - a luxurious concept, indeed.

A. Buck Short said...

Was that before or after the lithium (which B.G. been quite candid about)?

In the 80's I was involved in an MOW called "Spraggue" starring Michael Nouri, as, I recall, a marine biology professor by day, a private eye by night. Some other pretty good cast incl. James Cromwell, Glynis Johns, Andrea Marcovicci.

All of which raises the question,
"Why the hell is it always MARINE biologist? Aren't there any just plain regular biologists anymore?"

Michael Zand said...

The explanation is actually a lot simpler. About 15 years ago, when my wife was still acting, she did a low budget cop film with Ben Gazzara. The man was a raging alcholic. He came to the set reeking and could barely stand up. I'll give him credit though -- he did somehow manage to get his lines out. Not necessarily for the scene they were shooting but still... I think the Frasier offer must have caught him on one of his lucid days.

blogward said...

Now what if you had had him *thinking* he was Ben Gazzara? Martin's partner who believed he was the distinguished thespian. Otherwise he was a great cop.

Gail Renard said...

Of course it's ridiculous. Martin's partner was Ephram Zimbalist Junior.

FredCDobbs said...

Strangely enough, he was actually playing himself in Roadhouse as well.

VP81955 said...

Ben Gazzara as both a Los Angeles-based actor and a cop on the beat in Seattle? Jeez, and I thought the concept of muscleman/actor Lou Ferrigno buying a house in Queens next to a delivery driver was absurd.

floretbroccoli said...

You know, I saw Mr Gazzara on Broadway in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," opposite Colleen Dewhurst.

This was in the late seventies. Maybe he was running back to Seattle on Mondays, when the show was dark, to do shifts as a cop.

And maybe Ms Dewhurst was running down to Washington, DC, to be with her daughter, Murphy Brown.

John said...

It would have been fun for Frazier and Niles to try and discreetly psychoanalyze Martin's former partner -- much against their father's wishes -- who not only looks like Ben Gazzara but has come to believe he is Ben Gazzara. It would have been a little like that episode of "The Simpsons" with the the guy in the insane asylum who thought he was Michael Jackson (yea, they drew him as a white guy, but that's pretty much how Michael sees himself, anyway).

Scott said...

Any chance of a sitcom room scholorship someday? I'd love to attend, but I could barely afford the airfare and hotel.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Well, if Chuck Barris can be a government hit man, why not?

Todd Mueller said...

...this just in...

A few posts back, Mr. Levine recommended the movie ONCE. I know this is short notice, but I just heard that THE FRAMES are performing tonight at the Henry Fonda Theatre in Hollywood. If you liked Glen Hansard in the afore mentioned flick, here's your chance to catch his band at a great venue for a great price...just $16.00!

Right. Back to the TV chatter.

Tom Quigley said...

Ken -- one question about The Sitcom Room: has Ben Gazzara signed up as himself or under an assumed name?

howie said...

Although it wouldn't have worked for Frasier, I think the idea that Martin was so oblivious that he never realized his partner was a famous actor in his spare time could have been pretty funny.

And when it didn't work, you'd have had all those extra posts to read at "Jump The Shark".

tb said...

So ended up with the part? Was it Eddie Egan?

jbryant said...

It might have worked if Charlie Kaufman had written it.

Ken, a "Frasier" you and David wrote (the one with Michael Keaton as Lilith's wheelchair-bound brother) aired twice in the last week or so. Once on Lifetime, once on L.A.'s CBS affiliate. Great stuff!

R.A. Porter said...

jbryant: I don't know about Charlie Kaufman writing that. I don't think it would have fit in an episode of Ned and Stacy. Although I bet Ben Gazzara could have pulled off killing Rico at the end of an episode.