Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Why I thank God I never worked with Cybill Shepherd
If the ST. ELSEWHERE/CHEERS scene is one of the more famous crossovers in television history then the ALMOST PERFECT/CYBILL crossover has to be one of the least. But since a reader asked about it and I was there firsthand, I’m going to discuss it anyway.
Quick refresher for the .000006% who never heard of ALMOST PERFECT or don’t remember it – it was a sitcom I co-created/produced/
wrote/directed on CBS for two seasons in the mid 90s. Comedy goddess Nancy Travis played a single woman juggling her personal and professional life. On the day she gets the job of her life (head writer for a testosterone heavy cop show) she meets the man of her life and both are full-time jobs. I know I sound like Roger Clemens proclaiming his innocence but ALMOST PERFECT really was a damn good show.
CYBIL featured Cybill Shepherd as an over-the-hill actress. It was on CBS for about four years and was a modest hit. Second banana Christine Baranski deservedly won an Emmy for her role. Needless to say Ms. Shepherd was not pleased. But that’s another Hollywood bad-behavior story for a later day.
CBS thought it would be a hoot to do a crossover teaser to promote both series. Usually when that happens it’s two shows from the same production team. Such was not the case here. We were Paramount and since CYBILL starred an actress who was a nightmare it of course was produced by Carsey-Werner (right alongside ROSEANNE and GRACE UNDER FIRE).
So a number of issues had to be settled. What exactly was the scene? Which staff was going to write it? Would it be filmed on our stage or theirs? Would it air on our show or theirs?
Nancy, as always, was agreeable to anything. Ms. Shepherd insisted her team write it, it be filmed on her set, and aired on her show. Otherwise she would refuse to do it. Always the team player. We went along with it, just relieved that she didn’t also insist on singing.
Fortunately, I was (and still am) good friends with the CYBILL showrunner, Howard Gould. Together we conceived the idea. Cybill’s actress character would be coming to Nancy’s producer character to audition for her show. Yes, it made sense then that the scene be shot on our soundstage since that’s where Nancy’s office was Ms. Shepherd could give a rat’s ass about that so we shot it at her place.
I was happy to let Howard write the scene. He’s terrific. I wish he could have written whole episodes of our show. When finished, our team polished Nancy’s dialogue a little and sent it back. Ms. Shepherd read it and insisted on more jokes…for herself. After two or three drafts everyone (meaning her) was happy.
Next question: When to film this? They were on a different shooting schedule than we were. Guess who had to change their whole weekly routine to accommodate whom.
The actual filming took forever because Ms. Shepherd had to be backlit in every shot. Nancy was not to be backlit at all. And I can’t say for certain because I wasn’t there, but I think Ms. Shepherd required cue cards.
All of this over a four minute scene that ran once.
One final thought:
Howard Gould has since written a hilarious play about a Cybill Shepherd-type character called DIVA. If it’s ever staged in your neighborhood see it. If you want to read it (and trust me, it’s brilliant) it’s available through Samuel French.
Meanwhile, I'm off to Florida for Spring Training. Talk to you tomorrow from Ft. Myers.