Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Stars I claim to have discovered even though I really didn't

Anyone who has been producing TV series for any length of time will have similar stories. They can look back at actors they worked with or hired that since became big names. Here are some of mine.

Shelley Long – played a nurse once in MASH when I was there. I don’t remember much except she looked very cute in army fatigues.

Rita Wilson – same thing. Also cute in army fatigues. Worked with her again when she starred in VOLUNTEERS. Amazingly, she remembered me. I looked awful in army fatigues.

Katey Segal – From one of Bette Midler’s Harlettes to a series regular on the MARY SHOW. We knew from day one that she’d become a star. And that’s without even hearing her sing.

Leah Remini – She played one of Carla’s many daughters on CHEERS. One of my favorite episodes (written by me and David) was “Loathe & Marriage” from the final season where Leah’s character gets married. I also directed her in FIRED UP. She was funny before she was even old enough to drive.

Tim Busfield – He’ll probably cringe but one of his first acting jobs was playing a patient on AfterMASH. Yes, it was, Tim, don't deny it.

James Cromwell – Okay, he wasn’t an unknown when I worked with him but he wasn’t on anyone’s A-List either. He was pretty much a character actor who bounced around. I knew him as Jamie then. We used him on an episode of MASH as a real goofball. Couldn’t quite tell from that role that he’d go on to be nominated for an Oscar. By the way, did you know he was in both BABE and THE BABE?

David Letterman – did a cameo on an OPEN ALL NIGHT we were involved with.

Maggie Lawson – You love her on PSYCH. I’ve loved her since writing and directing IT’S ALL RELATIVE.

David Ogden Stiers – Before he became Charles Winchester on MASH he was talk-show host Robert W. Cleaver on a TONY RANDALL SHOW David and I wrote. That was the episode that got huge laughs during rehearsal but silence during the filming. Later we learned that the bussed in audience spoke no English.

Annette O’Toole – had a small role on a TONY RANDALL SHOW. Tony didn’t like her at first. By show night he was pleading with us to bring her back. The English speaking audience loved her too although I must say she was beautiful in any language.

Lisa Kudrow – Did an episode of CHEERS. Very funny even in a small role. I was not surprised. She went to Taft High in Woodland Hills.

Sanaa Lathan – Directed her in LATELINE. I must’ve given her great notes on that three-page scene because she went on to become a movie queen. I went on to write a blog.

Willie Garson – Directed him in the stellar ASK HARRIET. When that show got cancelled he was free to take another assignment – SEX IN THE CITY. He’s now a regular on WHITE COLLAR.

Julie Benz – Another ASK HARRIET alum I directed. Currently she’s married to DEXTER. You can certainly understand the attraction considering she was also in SAW V.

Robert Pastorelli – Later to be a stalwart of MURPHY BROWN, but his greatest role was for us on the MARY show. He played sandwich guy, Mr. Yummy.

Jenna Elfmann – first cast in an ALMOST PERFECT as a whack-job secretary. She had no experience at the time and we knew it was a risk but there was something just so damn special about her. She killed in front of the audience. If ever there was someone I knew was going to make it besides Katey Segal it was Jenna.

And before I slap myself on the back too much for being such a great judge of talent, here are a few of the people I didn’t cast who once came in to read:

Martin Short, Kathy Bates, William H. Macy, Jane Lynch, Tea Leoni, Don Johnson, and Andrea Martin (although that was the network’s fault; we wanted her. They wanted Toni Tennille. Don't ask.),

27 comments :

ohnooooo! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ohnooooo! said...

lol, funny stuff. You can write a whole show about that! big stars doing tiny roles.
Anyway, I'm posting because I'm curious as to whether you got your kid that pig or not.

A. Buck Short said...

What! A new post already? Even before finishing this reaction to Charlie Brown?

Well picking up on several of the aforementioned threads, I only hope we’ve still reached you in time! The Victoria’s Secret -- By What Stretch of the Imagination Does this Constitute a – “Fashion” Show (hey, Levine opened the door for this your honor)is now already airing tonight here in the heartland. So help me God, our son has asked us to tape it for “a friend” for him – and thank the almighty we’ve seen fit to retain that swell VCR technology.

And, wait for it wait for it, this year Victoria’s Secret is they’ve decided to have this annual pulchritudinous parade, to use your verb, “meet” what appears to be the worst aspects of “America’s Next Top Model. The objective being to select 1 new “angel” from the 100s of 1,000s of hopefuls across America. Oh sorry, should there have been a spoiler alert?

All of which begs the question of, what to do about having already watched the Obama speech tonight from West Point on (Katie’s wearing Cronkite’s glasses again) CBS? Despite their new correspondent’s apparent green insecurity and jitters reporting from Bagram AF Base in Afghanistan, I now found myself with no choice but have this aptly identified “digital journalist” Mandy Clark join fellow reporter Lara Logan as a proud yet passive participant in fully 47% of all my Shiksarian masturbatory fantasies. Which sadly now leaves no-room-for-Klum, and yet…I cannot look away.

Getting a jump on Friday’s questions, why is it that the Kennedy’s could live in a “compound,” but Tiger Woods is relegated to an “enclave.” And those West Point tunics, what do you think, zippers or buttons? You can’t really tell from the outside.

Max Clarke said...

What a roster of talent.

Leah Remini made a big impression when she was Carla's daughter. When she was pregnant by her cop boyfriend, she told Carla she was feeling a bit sick in the mornings, but she didn't have to "Clavin" yet.

Annette O’Toole did a good job in the movie, Cat People, the first time I saw her. The scene in which she swam nude in the New Orleans swimming pool was artistically erotic.

Katy Segal first caught my eye on an episode of Columbo, she worked for a candidate, was maybe his girlfriend.

Shelley Long did such a great job on Cheers, it's hard to think of her doing anything before that, but I think Ken ran a commercial that she did for a furniture company back east. As I recall, even after Shelley hit it big, she did a commercial for the company.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

One of my favorite episodes (written by me and David) was “Loathe & Marriage” from the final season where Leah’s character gets married.

The Triumphant Return of Nick Tortelli!!

One of my favorite episodes. "Hugo! My beloved!"

...and Carla putting on her specs to read the letter she had written to her daughter "Soon you will be fourteen and making your own decisions...."

WV: deverses- two poets who draw up their own divorce papers, in rhyme.

Steve said...

Oh you want a great Shelly Long role before she hit it big? I played a gas station attendant who stares at her behind as she walks to the restroom while Tom Cruise and Jackie Earle Haley (among others) are waiting in the car on the way to Tijuana to lose their virginity in 1983's "Losin' It" (Originally called "Tijuana 7") I remember this quirky young director saying I should have my hair shaved down to a "marine cut" to fit the 1965 timeline...and then saying to the 1st A.D. "Screw it, you cut it too short, put a hat on him!" Thank you Curtis Hanson! Yes, THAT Curtis Hanson! Shelly had shot "Losin' It" almost a year before her breakthrough in "Night Shift" but "NS" was released first.

Dave Creek said...

So glad to see you give a shout-out to Maggie Lawson. She's a Louisville girl, and I work at a TV station where she used to do a weekly "Kids Club" segment.

She was always professional beyond her years, and able to do both exposition and comedy and make it seem effortless, even as a teenager.

D. McEwan said...

What worries me is that I've no idea who about four or five of these "Stars" are.

Annie said...

Dear ohnoooooo! (too many o's? Too few?)

Still no teacup pig. I'm hoping my dad will give in eventually.

--Annie

RAB said...

I was a fan of Open All Night, and I was a fan of David Letterman....but I did not remember this.

MattA said...

Shelley Long did a lot of local Chicago tv before Hollywood called. She was also a Second City regular.

Anonymous said...

Hate to nitpic but sometimes it just sounds like achieving mid-level, C-string journeyman status we're talking here, certainly not "good" really. Elfman hasn't really done enough sitcom-wise, certainly not cinema to warrant considering if she "made it". Scientologists have an inside ramp in Hollywood that delivers them to the simpler pastures of sitcoms, but that doesn't make them good (see That 80s show, etc.) The same with Rehmini, please, King of Queens and some awful reality show does not a comedic star make.

IF there is something that seems more obvious about Cheers, it's that the main stars never find the same good fortune later, certainly not Shelly Long, while the supporting characters (Frasier namely) do. There should be a lesson somewhere there.

Jesús said...

Of all of them, David Odgen Stiers is amazing. It's one of my all time favorite supporting actors. I don't know why he is not called more often to play "father of..." or "grandfather of..." main actors in tv comedies. In Modern Family, for example. He would be a perfect fit with the rest of the cast.
Do you have any stories about him, Mr Levine? Please, share with us.

jbryant said...

A couple of spelling corrections:

Katey Sagal
Sanaa Lathan

Sanaa's dad is prolific TV director/producer Stan Lathan.

Brian Phillips said...

I remember James Cromwell from the short-lived, and seemingly-not-on-YouTube "Hot L Baltimore", a show I always watched, but was too young to understand fully. He played the desk clerk, Bill Lewis. Conchata Ferrell re-created her stage role of April and Al Freeman, Jr. was in the cast as well.

WV: Midegiss - The King Midas legend, from the Revised Popeye Translation

benson said...

Robert W. Cleaver? Gee, I wonder how you and David came up with that name?
Good Morgan, indeed.

Saw the Newhart finale last week, and had forgotten Lisa Kudrow as the wife of Darryl.


wv: derseca - German porn goddess

willieb said...

Speaking of AFTER M*A*S*H*: A number of reviews of the new "Scrubs" this week said something along the lines of: "It's a bad sequel, but not as bad as AFTER M*A*S*H*." Really, what made AFTER M*A*S*H* the last word in failed sequels?

Vermonter17032 said...

Ken,

I recall seeing a very young Sherilynn Fenn in an episode of Cheers -- the one where Anthony wants to get married!

Tom said...

If interested, here is one of the seemingly hundreds of furniture store commercials Shelley Long did in Chicago. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daGz-5KO56Y. Having seen her on local TV and George Wendt at Second City is what got me to watch that new show called Cheers.

MattA said...

And James Cromwell played Stretch Cunningham in All in the Family. He was Jewish, much to Archie's surprise. After all, he had "ham in his last name!"

Mike McCann said...

>>Andrea Martin (although that was the network’s fault; we wanted her. They wanted Toni Tennille. Don't ask.)

I HAVE TO ASK. Saying Andrea Martin and Toni Tennille were up for the same part was like a spring training battle between David Ortiz and Freddie Patek for the 25th roster spot on a ballclub.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

and, if memory serves, Emma Thompson was pretty much unknown (in this country) when she played Nanny Gee. At least, I don't remember any kind of promotion or comment when she was on Cheers.

Tom Quigley said...

Here's a discovery I just made: Meredith Baxter came out on the TODAY show this morning.... God, next thing you know, people will be saying that Tiger Woods is having an affair (but evidently not with Meredith Baxter)...

wv: gimessio -- an Italian pasta dish that usually ends up in your lap...

buddybutler said...

Didn't David Ogden Stiers also portray the stuttering station manager at WJM TV in an episode of the Mary Tyler Moore show?

danrydell said...

I'm surprised at the nose-dive Elfman's career has taken after "Dharma." I thought she was OK, but when I saw her in "Keeping the Faith" and "EdTV," she just lights up the screen.

VP81955 said...

Hate to nitpic but sometimes it just sounds like achieving mid-level, C-string journeyman status we're talking here, certainly not "good" really. Elfman hasn't really done enough sitcom-wise, certainly not cinema to warrant considering if she "made it". Scientologists have an inside ramp in Hollywood that delivers them to the simpler pastures of sitcoms, but that doesn't make them good (see That 80s show, etc.) The same with Remini, please, King of Queens and some awful reality show does not a comedic star make.

I'm no supporter of Scientology by any means, but Jenna Elfman did have a lead role on a hit sitcom and has since had a few others designed for her, in addition to roles in some movies. Perhaps they haven't been as good as "Dharma & Greg," but at least she's been working and got them based upon the recognition she earned on that series -- not for being a Scientologist.

Additionally, Ken has had nothing but nice things to say about Jenna over the years; I'm sure he wouldn't if she was trying to shove Scientology down our collective throats a la Tom Cruise.

It should also be noted that James Cromwell is the son of director John Cromwell ("The Prisoner Of Zenda," "Algiers," "Made For Each Other," "In Name Only") and actress Kay Johnson. The elder Cromwell was blacklisted during the Red Scare, turned to stage acting and won a Tony award in 1952 for "Point Of No Return," in which he supported Henry Fonda.

wv: "aersw" -- about all the incredible shrinking man could type as he diminished upon the keyboard. (He knew well enough not to use the "q" because the "u" would have to follow, and it was simply too far away for him.)

TE said...

Elfman has her own sitcom this very moment, "Accidentally on Purpose," sandwiched between How I Met your Mother and Two and a Half Men on CBS Monday nights.

I don't think it's as bad as a lot of people do (evidently nobody reading the blog except me watches it), but she's certainly a great percentage of its appeal.

And she has yet to mention L. Ron Hubbard or even Tom Cruise on the show, so what's her religion got to do with anything?

WV: "Exened" -- dressed as the lead singer of X for Halloween.