Wrapping up the month with Friday Questions. What be yours?
David Goehner gets us started:
Can you or one of your "M*A*S*H" contacts find out if it was Wayne Rogers who does a P.A. voice-over at the military base in the 4th season opener where BJ Hunnicutt is introduced? I've long thought that this briefly-heard announcer sounded a lot like Wayne, and there have been a few speculations about this on some Internet sites in recent years. But can someone who was actually with the show give us the authentic details on this?
You are very astute. At the Kimpo airport the PA voice was indeed Wayne’s. Uncredited. Back at the 4077 we generally used Sal Viscuso. Todd Sussman also filled that role for a few years.
Can you discuss the process for casting single episode guest stars?
For example, how far in advance are they usually cast? Do they usually audition? If so, is an advance copy of the script for the audition used or an old script? Is the showrunner and/or network involved in the final casting decision for the larger roles?
Usually we’ll cast those parts the week before the show goes into production, but that varies with the circumstances.
There are times we’ll have someone in mind when we’re conceiving a story and will ask our Casting Director to check on his availability. Depending on the actor, we might even shuffle some scripts around to accommodate his availability. For example: If on MASH we wanted to use Colonel Flagg in an episode we would see when Edward Winter was available.
Sometimes, while writing a script, we will give the Casting Director a heads-up on what we’ll need, especially if it’s unusual. We’ll say for the first episode in the next cycle we’re going to need a Nordic lumberjack type who can speak Spanish. We try to give them as much lead time as possible.
Generally however, this is how it works: We’ll get with the Casting Director and describe the guest roles we have planned for next week. Shortly thereafter they’ll get a script. The Casting Director puts out the breakdown, puts together a list of people he/she thinks might be good, deals with agents, and generally audition anywhere from ten to thirty people for each role. They will then bring in who they believe to be the best five to read for us. We’ll either pick one or ask them to keep looking.
Now that last part of the process has changed. Today, you videotape those finalists and it’s the network that makes the ultimate decisions. Like they know better.
And it doesn’t stop there. Networks now select the actors who have one-line parts. If there’s a waiter who only says, “Ready to order?” the network doesn’t trust the showrunner to choose a decent actor. Only THEY can rule on that crucial decision. And they wonder why A-list talent has fled to Netflix.
If you and David could go back to '95 and do ALMOST PERFECT again, is there anything you guys would do differently, knowing what you know now?
Otherwise, creatively -- no. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Why do you think actors want to be directors not writers? Other than Alan Alda who did it all. Like Jerry Paris, Ron Howard and from Animal House James Widdoes and Stephen Furst. Is it like the arrow of time? It only goes one direction?
Actors are far more familiar with the process of directing than writing. They feel comfortable talking to other actors. I’m sure they’ve had many bad experiences with inept directors. Some probably see the handwriting on the wall vis a vis their acting future and figure this is a nice transition. And others just have a vision and yearn to be in the drivers’ seat.
And finally, from Bryan:
Okay, you're breaking a story and it's not clicking. Something about it just isn't working. How do you decide if what you've got is still salvageable or if you're better off just tossing it and starting fresh? Do you ever shelve ideas that aren't working and pull them out again later after you've figured out what the problem is?
Especially early in the process when we’re breaking stories, if we’re really struggling with it for a half hour or so we’ll often just move on. And yes, we do save the notions and sometimes we can retrieve them later. With some distance a solution may appear.
But often a story beat will lead to some other notion. It’s like driving a car through a maze. You hit a dead-end, you turn and go off in another direction. At the outset you need to allow yourself the freedom to consider any and all possibilities. A CHEERS story might start out Sam needing to go to the dentist and end up Norm buying a new car.
But if six or seven veteran professional writers can’t crack a story problem, the universe is telling them something.