Wednesday, May 15, 2019

EP123: Open Letter to Ungrateful TV Actors


In light of Constance Wu’s public disdain of FRESH OFF THE BOAT’S pick-up, Ken puts into perspective what a gift it is to be on a hit series and the reality of network television casting. It’s an eye-opener. 


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

35 comments :

E. Yarber said...

I've been stuck working with wannabes whose GOAL was to become obnoxious divas. All an opportunity meant to them was a chance to live out fantasies of the control they could have over people working with them as revenge for the times they felt unappreciated.

It was aways about their needs.

None of them got a step further. What were they were offering?

E. Yarber said...

Maybe power is not the right word, though it certainly was how the dopes I tried to help regarded it without admitting as much. More a sense than they should be regarded on a higher level than the rest of the people who worked beside them. Parity frightens many insecure folks.

Jeff Boice said...

There are plenty of examples of actors who were unhappy with the TV shows they were in. The list includes Ray Walston, Sally Field (when she starred in the Flying Nun) and Robert Reed. But they didn't go public with their unhappiness until years after their shows were cancelled.

That's the problem with social media-I doubt Ms. Wu would go on a talk show and say what she tweeted.

My understanding is that when a actor goes to the producers and says they want out, the producers usually agree to let them out of their contract because they'd rather not have an unhappy actor on the set.

J Lee said...

The self-centeredness here is not simply Wu wanting off the show, it's wanting all the other actors and the crew on the show to lose their jobs because she wants the entire thing cancelled so she can move onto what she thinks is going to be a superstar movie career.

TimWarp said...

I don't disagree with anything you've said. But I remember when David Boreanaz was less than gracious about "Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel" in celebrating his release from the franchise. I wondered if he had any idea how lucky he was to have gone from zero acting experience to being on a successful show to starring in a successful show, and how unlikely he was to have lightening strike again. Then he immediately starred on "Bones" which was a far more successful show - proof karma doesn't always strike, and my desire for Schadenfreude was dashed.

Pierce Brosnan had a genuine reason to be dismayed when "Remington Steele" was renewed, as it cost him the James Bond franchise for 8 years (and "Remington Steele" only lasted the one additional season). Perhaps it's lucky for him that Twitter hadn't been invented in the 80's.

tavm said...

When I read Ms. Wu's diatribe against the renewal of her show "Fresh OFf the Boat", I was immeadiately reminded of when both Tina Louisa and Robert Reed complained to their boss, producer Sherwood Schwartz, about their time on "Gilligan's Island" and "The Brady Bunch", respectively, and how their unhappiness on being on those now-iconic shows weren't revealed until they were both cancelled since the internet didn't exist at the time. Think how mad fans would have been at them at the time. Ms. Louise didn't do the reunions because of her dissatisfaction with her involvement but Rr. Reed kept doing them until he died in '91 which seem to have meant he didn't get along with Schwartz but he did like his fellow castmembers enough to tolerate being on a show he wasn't happy with. Obviously, Ms. Wu was in the hit movie Crazy Rich Asians and she was wonderful in it, but because of her attitude of her show's renewal, I find myself wishing she had more of a brain about thinking before she tweeted what she did...

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Super!

LAprGuy said...

Your read of Wu’s tweet (“Fuck!”)? I replayed that more than a couple times!

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Wow! Terrific presentation of the competitive world of TV acting...and of the importance of gratitude. How actors keep their shit together during this angst-driven process is beyond me. I don't have panic attacks but I absolutely felt one coming on as I listened to your podcast. Wow!

The lack of control of one's success would have been beyond unsettling for me as an aspiring actor - something I actually thought of doing years ago.

I'm a modest man...and that's because I have so much to be modest about; however, at least as a voiceover performer, I only have to answer to a lone client rather than hordes of committees and the vagaries of executives.

I shall now go feed the horses here on our little place in the mountains of Oregon...and come back to my tiny studio in the house to read a script for an industrial client...and not have a panic attack.

Thank you for a wonderful podcast...

VincentS said...

Just a few names: David Caruso, Shelley Long, Purnell Roberts, McLean Stevenson. And the ones who did successfully transition from television to movies - Steve McQueen, George Clooney, Clint Eastwood - stayed on their shows and didn't focus on movies until after they saw how their movies performed at the box office or in the case of Sally Field did movies after her show were cancelled.

Frank Beans said...

There is so much in the world to be outraged about, I just don't have it in me to get upset about an ill-advised snitty, off-the-cuff Twitter comment by an actress. Sorry, not with you here. Even if she is "ungrateful" and lucky to be ahead of 99.9999 percent of every other actor, she still has a right to her feelings.

I do understand how hard it is to succeed, even a little bit, in the entertainment industry. No argument there about keeping this in perspective.

I'm not exactly a #MeToo-er, but why does this public scorn always, always, land on women?

Gary said...

The classic cautionary tale for actors wanting to leave a successful series is Pernell Roberts, who left Bonanza to go back to being a struggling actor, but with his principles intact. Bonanza went on to run many more years, often as the number one show in the country, and made its remaining stars very rich. The fact that I couldn't think of a more recent reference is scary.

Phil said...

Her statement's last line about "believing women". WTF!!!???

She was mercilessly slammed for that.


Phil said...

Here's the tweet for which internet ripped her a new one.

https://twitter.com/ConstanceWu/status/1024449682766852096

Jeffrey Graebner said...

When I heard about Yu's comments, Pierce Brosnan initially losing out on James Bond came to mind, but the other one that I immediately thought of was Tom Selleck losing out on the role of Indiana Jones when Magnum P.I. was picked up. While it probably is a bit of a stretch to say that he would have ended up with Harrison Ford's career (particularly without "Star Wars"), but I suspect the film still would have been a sizable hit with Selleck in the role and he probably would have ended up with a different type of career than the one he has had.

The thing is, though, that I think it is safe to say that Selleck has had a wildly successful career, even if it was much more of a TV career than a movie career and I don't really recall hearing of him publicly complaining about the missed opportunity. Yu clarified her comments by saying that she was upset about missing out on a specific opportunity that she believed would have been more of a "challenge", but losing out on one opportunity due to commitment to another is part of show business (and, in fact, most other businesses too).

Peter said...

"Fuck Wu"

LOL! 

I think you're definitely right about her returning to a sitcom in a few years with a fraction of Boat's audience.

During one of my YouTube rabbit hole trips this week, I stumbled upon a 2013 interview with Henry Winkler. Watching it turned out to be a nice coincidence, as it provides a massive contrast to Wu's arrogance. 

Winkler talks about his life, dealing with dyslexia, his parents' trauma from losing family in the Holocaust, and his career. When he's asked by the interviewer if he ever resented being so identified with The Fonz and if he ever wished he'd never done Happy Days, his response is beautiful and an absolute contrast to the Constance Wu's of the world. Behold a truly decent, humble and grateful human being. Henry Winkler is the very definition of a mensch. 

He's also very funny in the interview, cracks some great jokes and does a terrific impression of Gary Marshall.

I recommend everyone, especially actors and actresses, watch the interview and see what a class act looks like. Ken, I'd love to know your opinion if you watch it.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xT_N9cjB8s4

Peter said...

Frank, I remember when David Caruso was mocked mercilessly for walking away from NYPD Blue and then mocked even more when his movies bombed. It's not a men/women issue.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Wu sounds like the stuck-up, HOT girls you knew in highscool. ...And college...and middle age...and...In other words it's all about them.
On the other hand I do have some empathy for her. When I was doing extra work there were many times I had to pass up a good gig because I was already working on something else. One example, I had to turn down a week's work on "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" because I was told I would have to return to "Amistad." (Spielberg was doing pick-up shots in the L.A. harbor.) So, not only did I not get to work on "Dr. Quinn," but at the last minute they told me that they didn't need me back on "Amistad." It was a violation of the "six o'clock rule." If you're in SAG/AFTRA you know what that is.
Don't get me wrong. When you're an extra you're grateful for any job. Yet, that doesn't mean that you don't get upset when you get jerked around.
M.B.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Excellent. "Remember, you're America's guest" should be inscribed over the entrance to every soundstage. It might sink in before these stars begin to think they're doing us a favor.

Movie legends Barbara Stanwyck and James Stewart were happy to get TV series late in their careers. Television introduced Angela Lansbury to a whole new audience. If movie stardom doesn't work out, Ms. Wu may want to return to TV one day -- and realistically, there will never be enough good parts for Asian actors.

Green Luthor said...

@tavm: In the case of Robert Reed, his dissatisfaction with the Brady Bunch came from his feeling that it wasn't the show it was pitched to him as. He thought it would deal more with the stories about the blending of two families, not the silly sitcom hijinks it ended up being. There's also the strong possibility that, had the show not been cancelled when it was, his dissatisfaction would have come out a lot sooner; Reed was informed in no uncertain terms that, if the show was renewed, Mike Brady was going to be recast. Though, obviously, things must have improved enough for them to offer Reed the Variety Hour (which he was actually enthusiastic about, because he wanted to do the singing and dancing, despite full well knowing he was terrible at both).

@VincentS: I think Shelley Long is a different case (as I'm sure Ken can explain better). She never bad-mouthed Cheers, and didn't really quit on bad terms. Her contract was up, she decided not to renew, and her leaving was amicable. She didn't burn bridges, she didn't complain about the show; her career would probably have been better had she stayed, but as far as I can tell, she knows she has no one else to blame.

Bill O said...

In Tina Louise's case, her Gilligan's role was intended for Jayne Mansfield - then the show's focus. Permanently typed, she avoided the reunion movies, but the damage had been done.

Kosmo13 said...

Perhaps her nickname from now on should be 'Bitching Wu.'

Jon B. said...

For anyone defending Wu or trying to empathize with her, please remember that she actively, emphatically and publicly expressed herself. No one put a gun to her head.

E. Yarber said...

I can understand why people who don't do this for a living may fail to understand why this is a story at all, but I think why it rankles people in the business has to do with the fact that Wu is ignoring the nature of the profession that we all have to deal with.

In the last decade, I have written exactly ONE project that I actually enjoyed. Maybe a half dozen people have bothered to look at it, and they've tossed it aside telling me it doesn't sound like something already successful. One of my favorite works is a low concept character-driven piece. It was tossed aside as well, but on the strength of my writing I wound up assigned a feature spin-off of a video game. The biggest conflict in my life right now is that I have been working since January on a project I don't really want to do. I'm writing it on the advice of very smart people in the business who told me that TYPE of thing is easier to sell. If I got a call this afternoon from one of the companies I've been in touch with, I could drop this effort and never look back.

Of course then people tell me, "Well, you can't do a very good job if your heart isn't in it." The fact is, however, that my heart is in the JOB, just not always the project. When I wrote the video game movie, it was as character-driven as my personal work. At one point the producers were offering me a percentage of the game itself, which would have justified my detour in self-expression. Imagine having even one point of the Angry Birds, which would give you enough to haggle over the price of purchasing your very own European nation. Likewise, I am trying to put every bit of conviction and skill into this current project, hoping to make money for anyone who invests in it and give good entertainment for its audience. If I didn't care and was just slapping something together for the cash, I wouldn't be so miserable working on something that seems so alien to me.

It's not easy to get paid to be creative, and in a highly competitive field like Hollywood you rarely get to call the shots, even if you're supposedly an auteur. I've had to smile and nod when a producer told me, "I don't want my characters to have any psychology." These people are your clients, and they set the goals. If you're lucky, they'll give you a financial return in proportion to your efforts. Sure, I'd like the public to see my best writing, but even my solo stuff would need a further team to get it out properly. The bottom line is that creative work isn't an escape from reality but just as conflicted and compromised as any other role in life. Any reports to the contrary are probably press releases.

E. Yarber said...

I hate two-installment comments, but should add that the video game movie never got made for reasons beyond my control. You also have to consider that getting even a work for hire out of the box is hard sledding. Just as the dumpster behind McDonald's is loaded with cold Egg McMuffins, an awful lot of writing gets thrown out by the studios no matter how much sweat goes into it. That's why it is something of a big deal to be gracious about what you can get through the gate.

sueK2001 said...

You know, I listened to this on my lunch break..at my food service job(while I daydream about being a great writer)..and I thought it really is a relatable thing. I make decent money at a job that annoys but I should be grateful for it..as some strive for the level of financial freedom I do have..and the benefits...
So, there's that. On the other hand, it made me understand a completely different situation better..(Too long of a story for here)..So, kudos to you Ken. Fantastic podcast.

Amanda said...

Yeah, thank you for pointing that out to him! I would also like to add Shelley explicitly stated MULTIPLE times that her leaving wasn't necessarily "to pursue film" she only mentioned that being gone would allow her more options of film scheduling than she had prior (only doing them in the summer). Also, she DID do things: many movies and guest spots, and whatnot. Her filmography post Cheers is extensive. David Curuso? No. And yes he is made fun of for it, but has not been made a running joke and punchline to the point of just making him a joke like she has. I agree that maybe her career would have been "better" if she stayed but that's only because of public opinion. There wasn't anything wrong with the movies she made but she was overcriticized because of the narrative the media wanted spin about her. Calling her a failure right off the bat (1st pre-Cheers movie not getting great reviews) wasn't exactly conducive to allowing her to thrive.

I agree that people should be grateful for the gift they have been given of being on a popular show, but if people have various reasons that don't have to do with ego, including it's no linger mentally healthy for them to be on anymore then they shouldn't be badgered and made fun of forever. They didn't murder anyone. They are humans who left a job not jokes.

That being said Wu's behavior is so bizarre...her statements on a public platform that she could have controlled showed she wasn't a team player. She shot herself in the foot--who would want to hire someone who treats their projects and co-workers that way?

Mike Barer said...

I thought that it was a very well done, eye opening podcast.

Todd Everett said...

The self-centeredness here is not simply Wu wanting off the show, it's wanting all the other actors and the crew on the show to lose their jobs because she wants the entire thing cancelled so she can move onto what she thinks is going to be a superstar movie career.

It was probably long enough, but there might be further seasons of Big Bang Theory if Jim Parsons had given that some thought. Or maybe he did.

Phil said...

Am I the only one who thinks that the above comment by Amanda maybe from Shelley herself?

Pat Reeder said...

Also disagree that the criticism of Wu has anything to do with sexism. After Pernell Roberts walked out on "Bonanza," he became a running joke in Johnny Carson monologues for 14 years until "Trapper John MD" came along.

The most incredible thing to me about this story is that she decided this particular thought needed to be expressed on social media. My wife is a retro jazz singer, and she has Facebook and Twitter pages to promote her recordings, but we are very careful about what is posted on them. It would never occur to either of us to think, "I have a really negative opinion of someone I work with. I should broadcast that to the entire world." Who would think that was a good idea?

Anonymous said...

Constance Wu doesn't owe anyone her "gratitude." She worked hard on the show for five years and she's more than entitled to her feelings of wanting to move on and try new things.

She's also perfectly entitled to express those feelings.

That said, the WAY she expressed herself was obviously extremely bratty and selfish and she really did come across as utterly self-centered, with no concern whatsoever for her co-workers who would have been out of a job.

And her "apology" was pretty awful, particularly in its evocation of metoo language, which was utterly inappropriate.

I don't blame Wu for wanting off the show or for even saying so publicly, But, yeah, she handled is SOO poorly.

-Peter

Andreia said...

Brilliant pieces the both of them - It really puts it into perspective and I wish Constance would read them!

It's such a shame, I remember the reason I gave FotB a watch was because I read your review and thought that she sounded great! Sad that it's come to this. Her public outcries have may have just killed her career.

Anonymous said...

Too often, the “fans” of those in entertainment, or team sports, make demands of their icons that they, the fans themselves, would ignore if they were placed in a similar situation. Their fandom so easily turns to resentment, and their suppressed envy boils over on the slightest of pretexts. Somehow, these “fans” even wind up siding with the billionaire bosses- whose fortunes came from our exploitation- instead of with those who earn their livings entertaining us. Should Chaplin have remained with Mack Sennett? Did Lebron James owe anything to Cleveland? Was James Garner disloyal when he fought Warner Brothers for overworking/underpaying him on Maverick? Or for suing those who cheated him on the Rockford Files? What of the Warner Bros fights waged by Cagney, Davis, DeHavilland? Were the voice actors on The Simpsons in the wrong for requesting more money from Rupert Murdoch? Are writers ungrateful for fighting their agents?

Anonymous said...

Well said, Peter. Wholeheartedly agree with points 1 and 2, in particular.

--Orleanas