Here’s this week’s fabulous Friday question. Use the comments section to ask yours.
From Dana Gabbard:
Lisa Kudrow was originally cast as Roz, but after a day or so of rehearsal was replaced with Peri Gilpin. Series as varied as MASH, Rockford Files and Private Practice had key roles recast between pilot and series. The second Star Trek pilot had a different doctor than Dr. McCoy. What are the factors that go into making a major cast change that early in the production of a series?
In the case of Lisa Kudrow, she’s obviously a gifted comedienne, but she just wasn’t right for that part. She didn’t have the edge the character required. That happens on occasion. And sometimes it takes an actor a few days to lock in. That’s why it’s so important to get a great director like Jimmy Burrows to do your pilot. If he can’t help the actor find his character than it’s the wrong actor for the role.
There have been a few actors who were close to being replaced but somehow got it together and went on to carrying their shows. One that comes to mind is Tea Leoni. When she was rehearsing the pilot of the brilliant FLYING BLIND (a show that deserved a much better fate) there was so much concern that new casting sessions were planned. Jimmy and series creator Richard Rosenstock recognized her potential and stuck with her. Very smart move.
On the other hand, a friend of mine hated a certain actress and replaced her. I thought he was nuts. She was the only good thing in the stupid show. Fortunately, Annette Bening has found other work.
Often actors are replaced because the network arbitrarily just doesn’t like them. The initial table read and network runthrough is supposed to be just part of the rehearsal process. It’s not. Not anymore. Actors get fired all the time after these performances. On another friend’s pilot, they made him replace Tim Robbins.
And then sometimes, after you’re in rehearsal, another actor or bigger star that the network covets suddenly becomes available so they make you dump your choice to make room for theirs. It doesn’t sound fair, does it?
Decisions are also made on appearance. She’s not cute enough. Looks kind of fat on film. Tina Fey had to fire her close friend Rachel Dratch from 30 ROCK because the network wanted the more attractive Jane Krakowski. I must say I was against that move at first, and still feel Rachel would have been good, but Jane has pleasantly surprised me with how funny and talented she is.
If an actor survives the filming of the pilot he’s still not out of the woods. Because now comes testing. The BIG hurdle. Focus groups of the great unwashed. Lamebrains watching shows, twisting dials, passing uninformed judgment on everything they see. Tons of actors are booted as a result and many pilots are reshot. And I’ve sat through some of those sessions. It’s HOSTEL for the show’s creator. “I hate her.” “Why?” “I don’t like her shoes.” That’s an actual exchange from one of my pilot’s focus group.
For an actor to win a part on a pilot he must beat out 200 other candidates, get approved by the studio and the network (no mean feat), make it through production unscathed, and escape testing. Then there are the long odds of the show even being picked up and if it is, not being one of the 90% of new shows that fail. Winning two lotteries is easier.
So when I see actors kissing their Emmys and saying, “I’m proud to be an actor” I believe them. I sure wouldn’t want to make a living based on their odds.