Thursday, January 07, 2010

Kelsey Grammer and the Real Don Steele

Wow. The first Friday question of the year. I’d love to answer yours. Just leave it in the comments section. All I ask is that you leave your name. Thanks.

Today’s question is from anonymous.

How does a major TV actor (like Kelsey Grammer) who has been in major hits (like Cheers and Frasier) end up in a stinker like Hank?

To answer this I first must introduce you to a gentleman named The Real Don Steele. For the last half of the 60s, The Real Don Steele ruled the Los Angeles radio airwaves. As the afternoon “Bossjock” on Boss Radio KHJ, Steele led the larger-than-life life you’d expect from a major celebrity. Fame, fortune, women, hob nobbing with rock stars, getting drunk and passing out in Frank Sinatra’s pasta while trying to sing “Strangers in the Night” to him -- this was his world. He was and will always be one of my idols.

His own local television show followed, as did movie roles in some of the most prestigious films Hollywood has ever produced – EATING RAOUL, DEATH RACE 2000, GRAND THEFT AUTO, ROCK & ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, and even KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK.

Then “Boss Radio” fell from grace. In 1974 The Real Don Steele was doing afternoons on K100, an LA FM station with a horrible signal. I know. I followed him from 6-10 PM.

At KHJ Steele had an engineer. All he did was turn on and off the mic. It was stature befitting a king. At K100 he had to run his own board – play the music, commercials, watch the levels, etc.

One night I’m in the booth a few minutes before he was to sign-off. The equipment was terrible, things were breaking, he was hitting the wrong buttons. It was really sad. Finally he got the record to play, switched off the mic, and turned to me.

“Beaver!” he said. (My air name was Beaver Cleaver). “Beaver, have you ever wondered why me, the Real Don Steele, would be working in this fucking shit hole?!”

“Uh…” I stammered, “Yeah, uh, I guess so. Sure.”

We were on the 14th floor of what is now the CNN building in Hollywood. He gazed out the window at the city below, reflected for a moment, looked back at me, and said softly and wistfully, “Because when it was good, it was GREAT”.

This is purely conjecture on my part, but I think if you ask Kelsey Grammer why he felt the need to sign up for another sitcom so soon after his last one missed the mark he might give you that very same answer.

By the way, Kelsey has just signed to star in the revival of LA CAGE AU FOLLES on Broadway. I have a strong feeling things will be great for him again very soon.

46 comments:

Kris Stepney said...

Kelsey is a talented actor and a brilliant man. I wish for him nothing but absolute success in all he sets out to accomplish.

~Kris

Anonymous said...

Ken, thanks for a peek behind the TRDS curtain. As an East Coast kid, afternoon drive meant Dan Ingram who we thought of as Clapton...I mean God.

I learned of Steele after getting into radio and have studied him through the air checks spanning a career that started on that 1962 aircheck recorded in the hope of getting away from KOIL in Omaha to his days in the Northwest to his return to his hometown in the Entertainment Capital of The World with 93KHJ.

Bob Perry

Dan Martigan said...

A few months back Creative Screenwriting published an interview with the creator of Hank (I think his name was Tucker something). He told the story of a meeting with the network to pitch some completely different show. He's in the middle of his pitch and the execs cut him off and ask if he has anything for Kelsey Grammer. He says there's nothing for Kelsey in what he's pitching and finishes up. But when he's done, he notices the suits are totally disinterested and so he blurts out something like "How about Kelsey Grammer as a CEO who loses everything and has to move home to the country." Sale. That's how much thought went into Hank. Grammer is super-talented and deserves better. Personally I'd love to see him put the Fraiser act to rest for a while and maybe try his hand at some drama.

benson said...

And somewhere Tina Delgado is smiling (and ALIVE!!!)

Rory L. Aronsky said...

A few months back Creative Screenwriting published an interview with the creator of Hank (I think his name was Tucker something).

Tucker Cawley, who showed that not being one among a writing staff, as he was on "Everybody Loves Raymond," does not benefit him.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Well, maybe not yet, anyway.

Max Clarke said...

Kelsey's staying in the game. Maybe he's been in some bad shows, but my favorite actors did stuff I never saw because nobody else watched them, either. Almost nobody in tv or movies stays in the game for very long, his run has been one of the best ever.

He was brilliant in Cheers. I still recall him getting one of the biggest laughs in the entire series when Diane asked him, "That poor man, can you imagine how he feels?"

All Kelsey said in reply was, "Gee, I'll try." Audience members knew the old Sam-Diane-Frasier romance, and they just kept laughing.

All I know about Kelsey is Frasier, which is like saying decades ago, all I know about Sean Connery is 007. Maybe Dan Martigan's right about dramatic roles. Robin Williams put his comic persona aside and did some unfunny stuff which was written as unfunny, who knew?

Mike Beckham said...

I have never seen Hank in full but from previews it looked awful, but Back to You was actually a decent show, had it been on CBS or ABC it probably would have been given a better shot than on FOX.

Patty Heaton also from Back to You and Raymond is on The Middle now as well, its a bug.

Rodney said...

He's very lucky-that doesn't mean he's bad, far from it-but he's very, very lucky. As far as me, mentally I'm like him but physically I'm very similar to David Hyde Pierce-another very lucky guy. But part of luck is making luck and I'm sure both of them worked very hard at one point to get where they got. And for Kelsey why not continue to work? It's like Ray Romano he doesn't have to work and no one in their right mind is going to pay him Raymond wages but why not continue to do something you love and you're good at as long as you can-especially when you're blessed with that kind of luck and work hard to develop your ability. As far as me, I'm writing a bizarre love story partially set at Las Encinas psychiatric hospital in Pasadena (obviously, it will be called something else by the time it hits airwaves or theaters)-part of the script and related materials for Cutting Confessions are here:

www.myspace.com/370392338

currently I'm seeking an agent and/or agent referral that is indeed part of the process of working hard and making your own luck.

Dave Creek said...

I think the question was wondering how someone like Kelsey Grammer dosn't realize a show is a stinker early on. Of course, an actor whose name I don't recall said once that you can only perform the roles you're offered. Maybe that's the best he could find in this anemic sitcom era.

Ray Romano, as others mentioned, is an excellent example of an actor breaking out from a persona. I had no interest in RAYMOND, but MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE is a great show, and now I have great respect for him as an actor and producer.

Rodney said...

I guess that brings us to a larger question about stinkers in general. It could have been a stinker and wildly successful. I haven't seen the show in question and generally speaking I'm pretty selective about anything I add to my list of viewing on a regular basis. For example, I didn't pick up on The Mentalist until late in the first season and only because a few articles got me interested in the premise-and when I did watch it, I really liked it. Anyway, sometimes you take a look at a script and it's terrible but becomes a movie anyway or the great script you read doesn't live up to its potential on paper. The overall premise of the show here sounds like it could work, but it's all in the execution and the writing of course has to be good enough to pass muster-but overall, I see that format as possibly working even though it's not a show I would watch.

It's kind of like Up In The Air (even though I know they're nothing alike) in that the lead character fires people for a living-so it's kind the fired exec side of that on the other side of the table-in my mind, anyway-on paper Up In The Air doesn't sound like it would be appealing in this economy, but there you are. So who knows sometimes?

Overall, though, I have certainly heard of worse concepts for programs that made it on the air.

J S Swanson said...

I watched - and tried to watch -several episodes of Hank. And it just left me bewildered. Grammer's several decades long work as Frasier was delightful. Because Frasier was a real human being. Hank, on the other hand, was --- well,,,,in the words of:

Douglas Adams, 1979

``Ford!'' he said, ``there's an infinite number of monkeys outside who want to talk to us about this script for Hamlet they've worked out.''
Douglas Adams. The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, [chapter 9]

Substitute Hank for Hamlet and there ya go ___

J S swanson said...

Here's one that may be even more apropos {just substitute Hank for my poem}

Scott Adams, 1989

Dilbert writes a poem and presents it to Dogbert:

DOGBERT: I once read that given infinite time, a thousand monkeys with typewriters would eventually write the complete works of Shakespeare.
DILBERT: But what about my poem?
DOGBERT: Three monkeys, ten minutes.

Bob said...

La Cage aux FOLLES

Larry said...

EATING RAOUL, DEATH RACE 2000 and GRAND THEFT AUTO are fine films.

ROCK & ROLL HIGH SCHOOL is the best film of 1979. Perhaps of the decade.

Paul Duca said...

That should be something to see on Broadway...Frasier in a dress alongside Lilith as Morticia (Bebe Neuwirth's role in a musical version of THE ADDAMS FAMILY).

Michael Tassone said...

Love this place.

And actors gotta act right?

Vermonter17032 said...

Sadly, I would say that Kelsey Grammer is past the age where he can be the lead in a sitcom. He needs to settle into a supporting role, like someone's dad or boss or older brother.

Ralph said...

Great story, Ken.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

That should be something to see on Broadway...Frasier in a dress alongside Lilith as Morticia (Bebe Neuwirth's role in a musical version of THE ADDAMS FAMILY).

Now, Grammer as Gomez alongside Bebe as Morticia? That I'd see (Nathan Lane is enormously talented, but for the last decade he's an actor who's broke down into a persona, a reverse-Romano, I guess), but I guess the play isn't that good.

Fitz said...

For those of us of a certain age the gold standard remains "You're in the Picture", the Jackie Gleason effort that brought him back the next week to wonder aloud about the number of smart people that put on such a dumb show (tried to find it on YouTube to no avail). I don't think that will ever happen again - no one I can think of has such clout in today's vaster wasteland.

Anonymous said...

Funny coincidence. As I'm reading this post about the relationship between talent and questionable material, my iTunes is playing Paul Robeson singing "That's Why Darkies Were Born."

Tom Quigley said...

Kelsey's done a number of very good things over the years and a number of questionable things (DOWN PERISCOPE, MR. ST NICK, and I still can't figure out his blue character in X-MEN, but then I've never seen the movie all the way through), but with the exception of HANK, every performance or role I've ever see him do (even the CHRISTMAS CAROL musical) were always first rate and typically what I would expect from him.

BTW, Jackie Swanson (if you're still reading): Last night WGN Chicago aired the Kelly's birthday episode of CHEERS ("Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly") which I still love and get a kick out of every time I watch it. Great job you did!

Bill Peschel said...

When I think about actors and their up and down careers, I remember Michael Caine in his memoir, considering the question of why he did so many bad movies. His response was along the lines of "checks for bad movies cash just as easily as checks for good movies."

Besides, you never know what might hit. "Casablanca" was supposed to be another forgettable B-movie. I'll bet no one on that production would have believed that it would be a touchstone for great movies.

(Or "Eating Raoul" or "Death Race 2000" or "Rock and Roll High School" ... all of which I've seen and loved.)

emily said...

FITZ,

You might want to check out
http://www.tvparty.com/picture.html

Mike in SLO said...

David Hyde Pierce was brilliant in "Curtains", so I sure hope Kelsey can pull of "La Cage". George Hearn has big shoes to fill. I know Kelsey can do the role justice IF he can sing.

blogward said...

Kelsey Grammer, sing? The closing theme was one of the cognitive dissonances in the generally priceless Frasier, I fear. And I speak as one who didn't hate 'Down, Periscope'.

Ian Taylor said...

I see episodes of MASH where the characters show some talent, like Radar's impressions or Margaret singing. I was wondering if this is something that actors are always pushing for, a chance to show off their auxiliary talents, and do you have any cool stories about actors attempting to shoehorn talents that just don't fit the characters?

benson said...

Sadly, I would say that Kelsey Grammer is past the age where he can be the lead in a sitcom. He needs to settle into a supporting role, like someone's dad or boss or older brother.

As people smarter than me have said, the sitcom was dead until the Cosby Show came along. All it takes is one good roll.

benson said...

Another thought...

NBC's in deep doodoo these days, similar to the early 80's. Has the business landscape changed so much that a Grant Tinker or a Brandon Tartikoff couldn't happen again?

Wouldn't it be great if there were a resurgence of "quality TV" to come out of this NBC mess, so there could be room for a Kelsey Grammer.

wv: gogol a Russian Literary search engine...

Christopher Michael said...

You have a great blog, Ken. It's so cool to learn the behind-the-scenes stories of so many shows I grew up watching.

My question regards the curious case of Don Nicholl, Michael Ross and Bernie West. Can you offer any insight on why/how they went from writing and producing the brilliant and ground-breaking All In The Family to running the relentlessly dumb Three's Company?

I've been catching up on TV Land's rebroadcasts of All In The Family lately, and it's mind-boggling to me that the same guys who made that show were also responsible for Three's Company's non-stop "hilarious misunderstandings." (And don't even get me started on The Ropers.)

Thanks.

Kirk Jusko said...

I have a media-related question you might be able to answer. When General Electric bought NBC back in the 1980s, it came under some criticism as GE was an major defense contractor that now owned a major arm of the media. They could supposedly use the network as a propaganda tool, pushing for hawkish policies in both its' news and entertainment divisions.

Now, two decades later, they're shedding that media arm. Is it that the critics were just paranoid, or that profit comes before propaganda?

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, "Men of a Certain Age" could be a much better show than it is. It seems very on the nose, with self-conscious camera movement, an old-fashioned network/bland feel, in spite of the curse words & its being on cable, forced chemistry among the supposed friends, and Ray's mouth-breathing smiles at moments that seem inappropriate.

Jeff Badge said...

Nicholas "Nick the Greek" Dandolos was a famous gambler in the first half of the last century, winning and losing literally millions of dollars. It's said that in his later years; broke, again; he was playing $5 limit draw poker in Gardena, CA when another player asked how he could play at such small stakes when he'd once played for so much. Dandolos replied, "Hey, it's action."

JackieSwanson said...

Dear Tom Quigley:

Thank you very much!

Sincerely,
Jackie Swanson aka "Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly"

Rory L. Aronsky said...

He needs to settle into a supporting role, like someone's dad or boss or older brother.

...but with the exception of HANK, every performance or role I've ever see him do (even the CHRISTMAS CAROL musical) were always first rate and typically what I would expect from him.

Exactly on both counts. He's terrific in supporting roles, in voice (as Vladimir in "Anastasia" and Stinky Pete in "Toy Story 2"), and even though "Swing Vote" was generally awful, he made an excellent president. He always successfully veers away from what made him famous, and he's compelling because of that.

I know Kelsey can do the role justice IF he can sing.

He did very well in "Anatasia."

WV: filligra - Since when do fillys need Viagra or whatever the female horse equivalent is?

Rory L. Aronsky said...

I didn't forget the "s" in that last comment. It begged off, saying it needed to get to the clubhouse at the racetrack.

Katherine said...

Vermonter17032 said...
"Sadly, I would say that Kelsey Grammer is past the age where he can be the lead in a sitcom..."

Really? How old was Caroll O'Connor when he was doing "All in the Family?" Redd Foxx in "Sanford and Son?"

Sheesh.

Tom Quigley said...

Jackie:

You're welcome!

tq

Scott on Long Island said...

Hi Ken,

I just caught that episode of MASH where Hawkeye and BJ order a bathtub and the whole camp wants to use it...a classic episode.

While reading the credits, you and David are listed first as "Executive Script Consultants" and then later as the "Written By"...but then later a different guy was the "Story Consultant"...

HUH? Whats the difference in these roles.

Thanks,
Scott on Long Island

David Bishop said...

Just watched a 4th season episode called Der Tag and spotted Radar clutching a 1960s Marvel comic. Can you recall any other any unintended anachronistic blunders on the show?

SharoneRosen said...

there was a show called HANK?

Rory L. Aronsky said...

there was a show called HANK?

Be grateful that you saved yourself from certain deathly boredom.

selection7 said...

To Scott on Long Island, Ken Levine has done a blog post about that sort of question before. I'm not one of the more knowledgable people here, nevertheless, the short answer is those credits tend to be BS, so don't take them too seriously. Read the credits as "these people worked on the show" and "here's a vague hint as to what their contribution was".

D. McEwan said...

"Paul Duca said...
That should be something to see on Broadway...Frasier in a dress"

" Mike in SLO said...
I sure hope Kelsey can pull of "La Cage". George Hearn has big shoes to fill. I know Kelsey can do the role justice IF he can sing."


You can not for one moment seriously believe Kelsey will be playing the drag role? IObviously he will be playing the Gene Barry role. For Heaven's sake!

As for Kelsey singing and filling George Hearn's high heels, I saw Kelsey play Sondeim's Sweeney Todd onstage in Los Angeles 10 years ago, and he sang it just fine. He has a rich, warm bass-baritone voice more than up to the less-rigorous demands of the Jerry Herman score of La Cage. That said, his Sweeney did not work for me. When Sweeney was to have his insane rages, as in the act I "Epiphany," we just got the familair sound of Frasier peeved.

As for the appropriateness of Kelsey being in La Cage at all, I find the very idea of a Broadway production of a play that champions gay rights, gay families, and gay marraige starring a man who will then give some of the money he earns doing it, some of it money that comes from the pockets of gay audience members, to Republican politicians (as Kelsey has been doing. We're talking a Bush supporter, folks) working to oppose and fight gay rights, to be appalling and revolting! Talk about hypocrasy! Friends like him, we do not need. Had I known Kelsey's politics, and worse, his political financial donations, a decade ago, I wouldn't have gone to see his Sweeney, and had dollars from my pocket go to help elect George Bush.

I'm sorry, but I was glad to see the unwatchable Hank fail, and given both Kelsey and Heaton, glad to see the very watchable Back to You fail also. I am sorry that The Middle is apparently doing well. It should be called "The Far Right.

Brian said...

Luckily, it didn't end for the Real Don Steele at K100. He came back and sounded great at KTNQ and even better at KRLA and KRTH.

In fact, I thought he sounded just as good at KRTH in the late 1990s as he did at KHJ in the late 1960s.