Here’s a Friday Question that resulted in an entire post.
Joseph Scarbrough asks:
I see that occasionally, shows will do episodes where one of the characters actually has some kind of a connection with a real life celebrity (i.e. Felix Unger apparently was the one who discovered Richard Dawson, or Aunt Esther turns out to be B.B. King's old flame, etc.) What's the process for scripts like that? Do the writers just come up with these ideas? Are they mandated by the networks as rating boosters? Do the celebrity guest stars get any kind of say in how they're used in the script?
This is called stunt casting and networks love the concept because it spikes ratings. In almost all cases, the celebrity is approached before the script is written. Once he or she commits then the process of crafting the script begins.
A lot of times celebrities play themselves because they’re not great actors. And you’d be surprised how many of them are such bad thesps they can’t even play themselves. We also try not to give them punchlines. Don’t place the comedy burden on linebackers.
This is not a new practice, by the way. In the early ‘50’s I LOVE LUCY featured such guest stars as William Holden and Harpo Marx playing themselves.
The most bizarre case of a celebrity wanting to play himself was on FRASIER. The producers were looking for an actor to play Martin’s partner. Martin (FRASIER’S dad) had been a cop. Ben Gazzara, a fine actor, was approached to play the role. He said he would do it but only if he could play himself. The producers reminded him that the part was for a police officer in Seattle. Gazzara still insisted. So the reality was supposed to be that in between acting gigs, Ben Gazzara would head up to the Great Northwest and fight crime alongside Martin Crane. For reasons I can’t fathom, the producers were uncomfortable with that. They wound up going to another actor.
That said, if I was running BROOKLYN NINE-NINE, I might consider seeing if Daniel Day-Lewis could play himself as a member of the squad. Hey, he only does one or two movies a year. I’m sure he could get a leave of absence from the force every now and again to film LINCOLN. Fox needs help launching their comedies and this could just be the ticket. You know me, always looking to help. You’re welcome.