Monday, March 05, 2012
Especially now with so many options, networks cling to anything that will bring them five additional viewers.
The bigger star, the better when it comes to saving struggling series, but ironically it’s the hit shows that have the best chance of catching one of these big fishes. In general, movie stars think appearing on TV is slumming it. But if the show is really popular then it can be considered cool to appear. Julia Roberts did FRIENDS. Good luck getting her on ARE YOU THERE, CHELSEA?
When we were really struggling the first year on CHEERS the best we could do was then-Speaker of the House, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill. Sure, that brought in the kids but they were hardly enough. On ALMOST PERFECT our big “get” was Marie Osmond.
Often networks will encourage you to stunt cast but not help in getting the celebrity or be willing to pay additional funds to get him. Most movie stars agree to appear in series because someone on the show has a relationship with him and they’ll do it as a favor. One of your actors once did a movie with Michael Douglas, that sort of thing. On MASH we were able to get the dog from THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR because he was drinking buddies with one of our directors.
When stars of long-running sitcoms go onto new sitcoms they will frequently enlist the help of former cast members to get their new project off the ground. That’s how Courtney Cox got Jennifer Aniston to be in COUGAR TOWN. Of course it also helps if Jennifer Aniston has a movie to plug right around that time.
When there are spin-offs networks beg for cast members of the original series to make an appearance. On FRASIER we pretty much had everyone from CHEERS except barfly Paul come on at one time or another. I’ve told this story before but on AfterMASH the studio lobbied hard for Hot Lips to return for an episode. We reported that Loretta Swit respectfully passed, and this studio idiot said, “Well, it doesn’t have to be her. Just get someone to play Hot Lips.” Seems to me that defeats the purpose, but I dutifully checked on Diana Ross’ availability.
Being associated with hit shows it was my great fortune to meet with, work with, and write for some pretty heavy people. Johnny Carson, Emma Thompson, John Cleese, Harry Connick Jr., Dick Cavett, Debbie Reynolds, Bill Medley, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Arthur Godfrey, Bob Elliott (from Bob & Ray), Dick Van Dyke, Tea Leoni, Elaine Stritch, Barbara Felton, Michael Keaton, James Cromwell, Clint Black, and of course that dog from GHOST AND MRS. MUIR.
Another network stunt is to cross-promote. Stars from your show appear on other shows and vice versa. Coordinating this can be a nightmare. CBS had us do a scene with Nancy Travis and Cybill Shepherd (from CYBILL). So the big question: who writes the scene? Do we write for Cybill or do her writers write for our character? Fortunately, in that case, the show runner of CYBILL, Howard Gould and I are friends. So we passed the script back and forth and I think got the best from both staffs. But that could have been a big issue.
There are numerous problems with stunt casting. In the case of spin-offs, casts of the new shows generally feel upstaged by the guest stars (and rightly so). Production schedules can get way out of whack accommodating these guest stars. Some movie stars are not used to performing in front of live audiences and I’ve seen cases where they couldn’t deliver two lines without screwing up. Filming took forever and it effectively sapped the energy of the other cast members. The other problem is that stunt casting is, at best, a temporary fix. Ratings may go up the week Britney Spears appears but they go right back down the next week.
Don’t count on Oprah to save you. Heck, she’s probably exploring stunt casting possibilities for her OWN network.