Monday, January 23, 2012

Short-sighted casting

In a follow up to a Friday Question from ChicagoJohn (who wondered if we had ever passed on an actor who later became a big star and did we have any regrets?), a few more names have come to mind.

And one rather unusual incident.   Especially in light of my post on how difficult it is to land a part in a TV series. 

Like I had said, when you pass on good actors it’s generally because they’re just not right for the particular roles.

We passed on Lisa Edelstein (but hired her for something else). We passed on one actress but made a note that she’s really funny and we should definitely keep her in mind for something else. That was Jane Lynch.  Whatever happened to her?

And then there are the actors we wanted to hire but didn’t get approved by the network. I won’t mention their names because I don’t want to embarrass any of them. Although examples of network gross misjudgment is legendary. At one time Tom Cruise, Madonna, and Tim Robbins were all not approved for projects.  And George Clooney was not approved numerous times. 

One actor we wanted to hire backed out when he found out it wasn’t a pilot but a series. He was just looking to make a big pay day on a failed pilot and then move on. When he learned this was a series and an actual commitment he ran for the hills.

Again, no names, but in one case we wrote a character with a specific actor in mind. We were thrilled that the actor agreed to meet with us. And he read it just the way we pictured it. But once we heard it we thought we could do better.

But the strangest incident was this: We were casting AfterMASH. Martin Short came in to read and was wonderful. Too wonderful.

We took him aside and said, “Look, if you want the part, it’s yours. But honestly, this role might be too restrictive for you. You’re too talented and funny for this part. We’re not sure you’d really be happy. Again, if you want it, it’s yours. We’d love to have you. And it is a regular on a (then) prestigious network series. But you might be better served elsewhere.”

He passed. We wound up eliminating the character.

Actors always talk about regretting the parts they declined. I bet there are quite a few examples of actors regretting the parts they did accept. You’re welcome, Martin.

28 comments:

RCP said...

Along the same line of actors who later become big stars: It's always fun to spot them shortly before, or years before, they really hit it big. I recently saw Carroll O'Connor doing a guest spot in a late-60s sitcom and thinking, You have no idea that in five years, you're going to be hugely famous.

Sebastian said...

This post has Charlie Sheen written all over it

;-)

wv: drapy

When's Mad Men coming back already?!?

gottacook said...

As a Short fan (not of everything he's ever done, of course, but I did occasionally watch his talk show 10 years ago) and having seen AfterMASH several times during its run, I find this really interesting. What would his role have been, and might the show have met with success if he'd accepted? (Of course if the show had been a hit, he might not have been available for Joe Dante's Innerspace...) Did Short ever, I wonder, work on a series or movie that Larry Gelbart was involved with?

Dave said...

Laughed at the actor bailing when he found out what he would be signing on for wasn't just a nice paycheck for a pilot that wouldn't sell. Natalie Schafer, who played Mrs. Howell on "Gilligan's Island," once told me that she only agreed to do the "Gilligan" pilot because it was being filmed in Hawaii. She had never been there and figured she would get a nice paycheck and a trip to the islands for a few days work on a pilot nobody would ever see. She said that never in her wildest dreams did she imagine that "Gilligan" would actually get picked up.

chalmers said...

Martin Short starred in “The Associates,” a 1979-80 sitcom about young attorneys.

The production team was the gold-plated James L. Brooks, Ed Weinberger, Stan Daniels group, but it didn’t catch on with viewers.

In addition to Short, several cast members became semi-familiar on other shows: Alley Mills, Joe Regalbuto; Shelley Smith; Tim Thomerson.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078563/
I read several critical postmortems about how it was canceled too soon, and given the talent on both sides of the camera, it might have hit its stride fairly quickly. Though when I did get a chance to watch, I could see why it didn’t really connect.

However, it’s worth finding the credits on Youtube to hear B.B. King’s “Young Lawyer Blues” theme song.

Short’s connection to the producers led to his “Taxi” guest role as a struggling network executive who gets psychic help from Reverend Jim.

Anonymous said...

Expanding on what RCP said, check out the Clint Eastwood flick "Kelly's Heroes" from 1970 or '71. There you will see Carroll O'Connor playing a very Archie Bunker-like army general. It may have been his last role before All in the Family.

Johnny Walker said...

I don't understand the fear of commitment from actors -- and it's something that's ruined some of my favourite things: Firefly/Serenity and Red Dwarf (the USA version).

As I understand it, if something is a HIT, then you want to be associated with it.. It's what actors dream of, surely? And if it's a failure, then you'll be out of the job before you've gotten to know everyone's name.

So surely it's win/win?

Paul Duca said...

Ken, not one but TWO clips from THE HOLLYWOOD PALACE you'll love

This one has Joanie Sommers, introduced by someone else with a connection to Pepsi-Cola:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KDquiO7ObA

And this is the first part of a complete episode hosted by Elizabeth Montgomery (you can follow the links to the rest from there):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlAdT2lSVa8

Cap'n Bob said...

The amazing thing is that Cruise ever got approved for anything.

Tom Quigley said...

Dave said...

Natalie Schafer, who played Mrs. Howell on "Gilligan's Island," once told me that she only agreed to do the "Gilligan" pilot because it was being filmed in Hawaii.

The other sad irony for Ms. Schafer was that after the show was picked up, virtually all of it was filmed on the lot at CBS Radford Studios in Studio City, and the cast never saw Hawaii again during the show's run. The Gilligan's Island Lagoon actually still existed until about 15 years ago, when it was filled in while the lot was being expanded in order to accommodate more stages and parking; and the show's interiors were filmed on historic Stage 2, which is where both THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and ROSEANNE were produced.

Note: Sadly, none of the above information goes any further in answering the question that's invaded the fantasies and tortured the libidos of men for generations, "Ginger or Mary Ann?"

Nellie Wilson said...

Neither, Mrs Howell.

Gooch the Kooch said...

Friday question.

How was this opening scene done? Parts look like green screen but parts look like they're really flying through the streets, especially when Frasier flies around a corner, though up repeated viewings, I'm beginning to think even that part was a clever green screen shot.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiTA8YT0ITk

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

Martin Short can do no wrong. I bought the DVD of Clifford (yes, I'm the one). I'd do it again.

D. McEwan said...

"Dr. Leo Marvin said...
Martin Short can do no wrong. I bought the DVD of Clifford (yes, I'm the one). I'd do it again."


They'd like you to do it again, as they still have all the ones except yours and Martin's left.

Martin Short is a great talent, I worked with him a teensy bit at The Comedy Store 32 years ago, but he can most certainly do wrong. For another example beyond the unfortunate and grossly ill-conceived Clifford, a few years ago I saw him play Leo Bloom in the stage musical of The Producers. Leo should be, AT MOST, 30. Martin was 53 at the time. (He and I are the same age. He's a month younger than Ken.) Whoever told him he could still pull off 30 was lying to him. Leo was also, obviously, supposed to be Jewish. I could buy his pretending to be Jewish, but not his pretending to be 30 at 53.

But a huge talent he is.

Naz said...

Note to Sebastian: Mad Men is coming back March 25th.

Dave Bittner said...

Friday Question: Do you have any insight on how the first run tween series get made, and how they differ from shows made by the networks? My kids watch iCarly, The Suite Life on Deck, Wizards of Waverly Place, and a handful of other laugh track laden tween comedies. Are these shows considered a stepping stone for writers, or are they their own separate thing?

cadavra said...

If you want to see now-famous actors early in their careers, watch TV shows from the 50s and 60s, especially the dramas and westerns. It's astounding whom you'll spot, even in bit parts; we all fell on the floor when Lee Van Cleef turned up as a lawyer in an episode of MY MOTHER, THE CAR!

Kirk said...

In the early '80s, Martin Short also appeared in the short-lived sitcom I'M A BIG GIRL NOW along with Danny Thomas, Diane Canova, and Sheree North. Even though it was produced by Susan Harris, I don't recall the show being all that funny, or Short, as Canova's co-worker at either a newspaper or magazine (I can't remember which), having all that much to do in it. Actually, North was kind of funny as a cougarish editor.

Carrol O'Conner also played a general in WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY? Norman Lear once said in an interview that he hired O'Conner to play Archie Bunker after seeing him in that movie. However, in his own biography, O'Conner claimed he was actually connected to FAMILY before Lear was ever involved in it. Who knows which story is true.

WV screen: What Martin Short and Carrol O'Conner often appear on!

D. McEwan said...

"cadavra said...
If you want to see now-famous actors early in their careers, watch TV shows from the 50s and 60s, especially the dramas and westerns. It's astounding whom you'll spot, even in bit parts."


Very true. Only last night I saw Ted Knight pop up on an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, in a miniscule role as a grocer, in an episode that "starred" Judy Canova and Royal Dano. Of course, Knight went on to play a no-lines role in Hitchcock's Psycho as the guard on Norman Bates's cell in the final scene. And last week I saw an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that was directed by a then-unknown Robert Altman.

There's an episode where, to cheer Ted Baxter up, they tell him they're changing the name of his show to "Ted Baxter's News." Ted gets all excited and says: "Ted Baxter's news? Like Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho?" Murray replies: "More than you know, Ted." Since few realize he's in Psycho, I've always assumed it had an element of in-joke to it, though the surface joke is plenty funny enough to justify it.

Cadavra, I'm going to assume that you, of all people, are well-aware that Lee Van Cleef played the guy who kills The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. In his autobiography, Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life, Ray priases the leading man performance of Paul Christian in that movie and says: "I always thought it sad that Christian never managed to 'make it' in movies." It must not have occurred to Ray to fact-check his comment, since that was Christian's 23rd movie, and he then returned to Europe where, under his real name, Paul Hubschmid, he went on to appear in over 70 more movies, eventually being honored for his "Services to German Cinema," where he was a major star. James Best also has a minuscule role in Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, and in its trailor (made by Warner Brothers, but not by the independant filmmaker's who sold the finished movie to Warners) is an unbilled Paul Picerni and Vera Miles, neither of whom are in the movie itself, but both of whom were under contract to Warner's then. (Picerni, whom I met a few times, and who just died a short time back, had just finished playing the romantic lead in Vincent Price's 3-D House of Wax.)

D. McEwan said...

I see that I forgot to say that the Ted Baxter story is from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I know, duh, but the way the comment is structured it looks like I'm talking about another episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

ChicagoJohn said...

Thank you kindly, for the follow-up to my question, Mr. Levine.

I've had a few small moments where my life might have been different if I had taken a left turn, instead of a right one. I couldn't help but wonder if even professional writers and producers have similar, tiny regrets.

majid said...

I did occasionally watch his talk show 10 years ago) and having seen AfterMASH several times during its run, I find this really interesting. What would his role have been, and might the show have met with success if he'd accepted? (Of course if the show had been a hit, he might not have been available for Joe Dante's Innerspace...)

Erik Holmberg said...

Just a question to Johnny Walker (1/23/2012 4:39 PM) in what way did a fear of commitment ruin Firefly/Serenity. As far as I know the only actor that asked to be written out where Ron Glass and that did not really mater since Joss where intend to kill a few of them of anyway.

(English not my first language)

cadavra said...

D: Speaking of 20,000 FATHOMS, I have a funny story about that. Ray was in town a few years ago for a retrospective of his work at the American Cinematheque. During the FATHOMS screening, the audience broke into recognition applause when Van Cleef showed up. Afterwards at dinner, Ray asked us "what that burst of applause was near the end." We laughed, and I explained to him that that bit player went on to become a cult favorite for his villainy, especially in Italian westerns. Ray hadn't seen the film with an audience in eons, and he never got involved with casting anyway, so this was the first time he'd been made aware of just who that bit player was.

jon said...

Martin Short: does anybody remember his very short-lived series from the mid-1990s? The only memory I have of it is that they swiped a bit from a Lucille Ball "Lucy Show" episode. (Lucy tries to escape discovery by sticking her face through a print of the Mona Lisa that had a hole in it where the Mona Lisa's face should have been. Same thing on Short's series.)

Mr. Peel said...

I'm going to guess that Lisa Edelstein was up for the part of Roz. Everything probably worked out well for all.

D. McEwan said...

Hilarious story, Cadav. I guess Ray just isn't that plugged into the performers in his films who can act on their own. If they're made of flesh and blood rather than rubber and steel, he just can't relate.

I am trying not to have a mad, screaming jealosy attack about your ever-so-casually mentioned that you had dinner with Ray Harryhausen, but I may fail, so I'll sign off before I blow. Ah - gee - well, oh yes! My dad went to high school with Ray. Ray once told me he remembered my dad. The thing is, my dad didn't rememebr Ray. He went to high school with him, but hadn't sense enough to get to know him. (Admittedly, Dad was two years ahead of him, a Junior when Ray was a freshman. But still, there he is in two of Dad's yearbooks)

David G. said...

Ken-- Was it the character of Gene Pfeiffer that Martin Short read for in "AfterMASH"? Wow ... that would've been different! (For all you readers out there, that's the role that was played by Jay O. Sanders, who has appeared in a LOT of stuff since then ... most recently as Carol Ferris' father in last year's "Green Lantern" movie.) Or was it for a guest star role ... or a character than never made it to the series at all?