One of the most memorable characters from CHEERS was Al Rosen, or – as he was referred to on the cast list – “the man who said Sinatra.” Here's why:
One word. That’s it. It got a big laugh and he was used again. Al was just one of the extras. He had a funny rumpled look, he had a funny air horn type voice so Glen & Les Charles chose him to deliver the line.
Here’s why network television isn’t as good today (well… one of the reasons).
Same situation. Same script. Same line. But today, the CHEERS producers would have to put Al Rosen on tape and four other actors on tape, send the tape to the network, and the network would decide who got the part. Some junior executive in the NBC casting or current department – probably someone a year removed from Cal State Northdridge – would make that decision over the Charles Brothers and James Burrows. Glen & Les and Jimmy have a roomful of Emmys, are proven writers, director, and showrunners, CHEERS is their singular vision, and yet, if they were making the show today they would have no say on which guest actors were on their show… even actors with one line.
This is outrageous. This is unconscionable. And today, this is the norm. It’s not one network; it’s ALL of them.
And now that extends to guest star roles and even one-line parts.
That’s the kind of absurd micromanaging that goes into today’s primetime productions. And shows are getting a 2 share.
We did a pilot for Fox a few years ago and the network had to approve everyone’s wardrobe and even the set dressing. Despite all my years in the business I couldn’t be trusted to select the candlesticks on the dining room table.
So here’s a radical plan. Radical? Hell, it's INSANE!! What if one network decided to TRUST the creative people they commission to produce shows? What if the showrunners were allowed to hire who they want to play waiters? What if showrunners were able to hire the writers and directors they thought were the best – not who the studio had under contract or who satisfied whatever agenda the network had that season? What if it was agreed working writers knew how to break stories better than recent graduates of the University of Rochester screenwriting program? Or that Emmy winning creators were qualified to select lamps?
What’s the worst that could happen? The show might plummet to a 1.6? (I love the positive spin networks give shows now. UP ALL NIGHT went up 28% last night. That’s a .3. Back in the day a .3 was so insignificant it was considered “margin for error.” Today decisions are based on it.
But the upside. You might get better shows. Shows with a stronger, clearer voice – y’know, like they have on CABLE – that parallel universe with series that people talk about and love and win awards?
You might also get better writers coming to you first with better ideas.
Again, you’re getting 2 shares! 3 shares! Test patterns get a 1 share. What do you have to lose? Other than control – control that you’re really not entitled to anyway.
So if CHEERS was being done today, what do you think the chances are Al Rosen would have been selected to be the man who said Sinatra? “Too old. Too ugly. Talks funny. Let’s go with this kid who looks kinda like Aaron Paul.”
You KNOW that’s what would happen.
And that's one of the reasons shows used to get 30 shares and are now getting 3's.