Welcome back to hell. Yesterday I explained how we wanted Andrea Martin for the lead in our 1979 NBC pilot CHARACTERS and the network casting VP, "Matriarch" wanted Toni Tennille.
The pilot was greenlit in February, scheduled to film in April, and be in consideration for NBC’s fall line-up. But these casting impasses forced us to push back to October. The rippling effect of problems that caused will be the subject of another grisly chapter.
For these screen tests we had to hire a full crew, build make-shift sets, and have a DGA director direct it. The budget for our little show was hemorrhaging. The director we had hired for the pilot was busy directing something else the day of the test so we had to hire a different director, someone we had never met. He proved to be a charming guy and did a terrific job.
We wrote a new scene for the test. We didn’t want Matriarch to hate everybody just because she’s already not laughed at the scene thirty times.
We assembled twelve actors, put them in six teams and filmed the screen tests. It took all day.
Ultimately, this was a pointless exercise because Matriarch hated everybody. Andrea had no shot. A couple others were discarded because they looked too “ethnic” (read: Jewish).
There was a Broadway actress Matriarch liked. We should get her. We saw her tape and liked her too. But she was the toast of Broadway and didn’t want to do a series. I don't blame her. That wasted a month.
Time was running out. We had seen practically everybody.
Begrudgingly, Matriarch said we could test the girl she hated the least and one that we wanted. We would meet at NBC at 4:00 Thursday in a rehearsal hall; each actress would audition and one of the two would be chosen.
The morning of the tests we get a call from Matriarch’s assistant. There will be another final candidate – this actress from New York. We had seen her in New York and hated her. But she was a friend of Woody Allen’s and had him call Matriarch on her behalf. Matriarch was all excited that Woody Allen called her personally so she agreed to fly her out from New York.
We were furious. There was no way we were going to do the show with this lox. She was TERRIBLE. But we had to at least go through the motions.
At 2:00 we get another call from Matriarch’s assistant. Matriarch will only be available for fifteen minutes so can only see two candidates, not three. Guess which one got bumped? Yep. Our candidate.
We go to NBC. Woody Allen’s actress reads first and is appallingly bad. Even Matriarch is stunned. Candidate number two, Maggie Roswell reads and does a lovely job. And following Woody’s trainwreck she was absolutely Lucy.
Since Maggie (pictured above) was one of the six we had approved we were thrilled to have her. (She even looked a little like our prototype -- Gilda Radner.) And she rewarded us by doing a great job on the pilot. Maggie later went on to do character voices for THE SIMPSONS for quite a few years.
And that's just one part. There were three others.
Stay tuned for more horror stories on the snake-bitten project called CHARACTERS.