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.),