Saturday, April 20, 2013

Stars I claimed 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 later became big names. Here are some of mine.

Kat Dennings -- Star of 2 BROKE GIRLS was in a pilot of ours called SNOBS. We never had her say "vagina", which is why it never got picked up.

Aaron Paul -- Emmy winner for BREAKING BAD was in that same pilot. Okay, these first two I am claiming credit for. It's not like I'm getting any royalties off that damn project. 

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 Sagal – 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.  Or seeing her riding a motorcycle.

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.  She's in DEFIANCE, was in DEXTER, A GIFTED MAN, NO ORDINARY FAMILY, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and more. 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 Sagal 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.),

26 comments:

Johnny Walker said...

Julie Benz also had a major role in ANGEL! :)

Kosmo13 said...

Long before most of these credits, Julie Benz was one of the stars of "Hi, Honey, I'm Home." That's still my primary association for the lovely, sweet Ms. Benz.

Anonymous said...

I think Willie Garson played a hotel waiter on a Cheers episode also. I've watched the Lisa Kudrow Cheers episode several times because she was on it. She looked so different! Julie, Burlington, Iowa

Brian said...

I also think that James Cromwell played Stretch Cunningham, Archie's friend and known as "The Jerry Lewis of the Loading Dock" on "All In The Family".

gottacook said...

I remember Cromwell all the way back to The Hot l Baltimore TV series of 1975, with Conchata Ferrell, although I may have seen him earlier than that as Stretch Cunningham. The episode in which Archie attends Stretch's (Jewish) funeral is possibly the last really good episode of All in the Family.

Also, with respect, it's Katey Sagal, not Segal. (As unsatisfying as Lost ultimately was, I liked her a lot as Terry O'Quinn's lady.)

Nat Gerter (sitcom room veteran) said...

Thanks for pointing out that Cromwell was in The Babe; it's something I should remember when talking about The Artist (which had the star of Babe and the star of The Babe; and also had the character actress Penelope Ann Miller and the character, actress Peppy Miller.) So that makes at least three films with both Goodman and Cromwell (the other being Revenge Of The Nerds).

DonBoy said...

I like to imagine that SNOBS is 2 BROKE GIRLS. The network just changed one element at a time...

Andy Ihnatko said...

You know how actors are often described as if their most famous role were their middle name? Such as Walter "Ensign Chekov" Koenig or Pat "Mister Miyagi" Morita?

I think Hollywood should apply the same system to executives, only it's their most famous decision. IE, Jeff "Leno at 10PM will revolutionize prime time" Zucker, or Lewis "We're passing on 'The Cosby Show'. Comedy on network television is dead...bury it" Erlicht.

Breadbaker said...

I think it's fair to say Annette O'Toole would be lovely in any language. I'd like to try Braille.

Mike McCann said...

>>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. >>

Did David play a bombastic, blowhard, pre-Limbaugh (Joe Pyne) type host? I missed the episode but can easily envision him as in a spoof of Rush.

brian t said...

I didn't quite get Babe, but when I saw what James Cromwell achieved in L.A. Confidential, I'm amazed that he stayed under the radar for so long. He's since played everyone from a drunken Irish starship designer to Prince Phillip and three different US Presidents, one of them real.

The Mutt said...

I cast John Dye ( Tour of Duty, Touched by an Angel) in the very first play he did in college. I also told him he was wasting his time in college and should get his ass to Hollywood right away.

Mike Barer said...

There are some real talents there. Your role cannot be understated.

Rick said...

Julie Benz's Darla on ANGEL was first an important recurring character on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER over multiple seasons.

Her intro on BTVS was as the apparently "helpless" high school-aged blonde who turned out to be a voracious vampire in the pre-credit sequence of the very first episode of BtVS...

Paul Duca said...

Mike McCann...Stiers' talk show host wasn't a blowhard, just somewhat off the ball.

But what matters is...did being in BABE and THE BABE get James Cromwell babes?

Mac said...

I thought you were going to claim that you'd discovered Babe. Maybe had some dirt on him from when he was a wild and crazy young piglet. James Cromwell is excellent. He's a perfect lovely farmer in Babe and a scary bastard in LA Confidential.

Dbenson said...

I remember Marcia Cross, later a Desperate Housewife, as Rebecca's movie starlet sister on one episode of "Cheers." Like Sam's brother and Diane's mother, she then vanished.

Tom Quigley said...

Worked on a pilot called TOWNIES that starred Molly Ringwald and costarred Jenna Elfman. The sbow bombed and was canceled early on, and Molly never did another sitcom again -- but guess whose phone was apparently ringing off the hook after the series aired?...

Everyone in the studio knew that first night that they were seeing a star in the making.

Cap'n Bob said...

I wouldn't brag about Remini and Elfman. Two more Scientology idiots on the Hollywood landscape.

LouOCNY said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LouOCNY said...

In the same MASH with James Cromwell, there is a reference to a 'Stringbean Levine' - any relation?

D. McEwan said...

I knew Toni Tennielle a bit 43 years ago, when she was a housewife named Toni Shearer in Costa Mesa with musical ambitions, married to a guy I knew far better, Ken Shearer, an excellent photographer. When she became famous as Toni Tenielle, she would tell reporters that her marraige to "The Captain" was her first marriage. I was, at that time (1974), appearing in a stage show, Mother Earth (And ecology-themed musical review), that Toni had written the music for, and Ken had done a lot of photos for our production that were projected in the show. When the interviews came out in which Toni had rewritten her personal history so that Ken did not exist, well, "Livid" would be a good term to describe his reaction.

Any TV executive who would want to replace that Goddess of Comedy, Andrea Martin, with Toni (who is not untalented, certainly) needs to find themself another line of work, and probably has had to in the intervening years.

cadavra said...

I really enjoyed IT'S ALL RELATIVE. Ken, I know you didn't work on it all that much, but you never talk about it. There must be an intriguing anecdote or two, especially as it's almost a blueprint for MODERN FAMILY.

rockgolf said...

"David Ogden Stiers – Before he became Charles Winchester on MASH he was talk-show host Robert W. Cleaver."

A radio host with the last name "Cleaver". Gee, I wonder where that name came from...

Barbara C. said...

I remember Maggie Lawson from the WDRB Kids Club in our hometown of Louisville, KY. We attended a few of the same high school social events, but never met. She did make-out with my best guy friend while they worked together in local theater productions.

Oh, and my high school history teacher was Tom Cruise's grade school homeroom teacher when he lived in Louisville. Those are my two connections to the famous. LOL

*tarazza said...

Ken, I'm glad you mentioned IT'S ALL RELATIVE. I'm a big fan of Christopher Sieber and tuned in to that show specifically for him (getting to see Harriet Sansom Harris was just bonus). He's gone on to be very successful in musical theatre (Spamalot, Shrek the Musical, La Cage aux Folles, etc.). Any memories of him you'd care to share?
-tarazza