Monday, December 07, 2009

The casting nightmare continues

Welcome back to hell. Yesterday I explained how we wanted Andrea Martin for the lead in our 1979 NBC pilot CHARACTERS and the network casting VP, "Matriarch" wanted Toni Tennille.

The pilot was greenlit in February, scheduled to film in April, and be in consideration for NBC’s fall line-up. But these casting impasses forced us to push back to October. The rippling effect of problems that caused will be the subject of another grisly chapter.

For these screen tests we had to hire a full crew, build make-shift sets, and have a DGA director direct it. The budget for our little show was hemorrhaging. The director we had hired for the pilot was busy directing something else the day of the test so we had to hire a different director, someone we had never met. He proved to be a charming guy and did a terrific job.

We wrote a new scene for the test. We didn’t want Matriarch to hate everybody just because she’s already not laughed at the scene thirty times.

We assembled twelve actors, put them in six teams and filmed the screen tests. It took all day.

Ultimately, this was a pointless exercise because Matriarch hated everybody. Andrea had no shot. A couple others were discarded because they looked too “ethnic” (read: Jewish).

Now what?

There was a Broadway actress Matriarch liked. We should get her. We saw her tape and liked her too. But she was the toast of Broadway and didn’t want to do a series. I don't blame her. That wasted a month.

Time was running out. We had seen practically everybody.

Begrudgingly, Matriarch said we could test the girl she hated the least and one that we wanted. We would meet at NBC at 4:00 Thursday in a rehearsal hall; each actress would audition and one of the two would be chosen.

The morning of the tests we get a call from Matriarch’s assistant. There will be another final candidate – this actress from New York. We had seen her in New York and hated her. But she was a friend of Woody Allen’s and had him call Matriarch on her behalf. Matriarch was all excited that Woody Allen called her personally so she agreed to fly her out from New York.

We were furious. There was no way we were going to do the show with this lox. She was TERRIBLE. But we had to at least go through the motions.

At 2:00 we get another call from Matriarch’s assistant. Matriarch will only be available for fifteen minutes so can only see two candidates, not three. Guess which one got bumped? Yep. Our candidate.

We go to NBC. Woody Allen’s actress reads first and is appallingly bad. Even Matriarch is stunned. Candidate number two, Maggie Roswell reads and does a lovely job. And following Woody’s trainwreck she was absolutely Lucy.

Since Maggie (pictured above) was one of the six we had approved we were thrilled to have her. (She even looked a little like our prototype -- Gilda Radner.) And she rewarded us by doing a great job on the pilot. Maggie later went on to do character voices for THE SIMPSONS for quite a few years.

And that's just one part. There were three others.

Stay tuned for more horror stories on the snake-bitten project called CHARACTERS.


jackson said...

I am hoping against hope that Ken will name names as to the identity of said Matriarch.....queen in her own mad noodle, master of none.....
Hasn't everyone experienced at least one run-in with a self important cunt?? I am wondering and anxiously awaiting....and I am doing some investigative sleuthing as to identity of mad minxy....

YEKIMI said...

Well, she must still by alive. I haven't seen the Devil walking the streets bitching about some old hag that went to hell, took over and kicked him out.

te said...

Is the typical writers' room gang as misogynistic as my predecessors on this thread? I'm afraid I know the answer.

Pat Reeder said...

These posts take me back to my days in corporate video and the casting people I had to deal with as a writer with no cast veto power. I saw good actors rejected in favor of bad actors because they didn't like the tie the good one was wearing.

Worst, though, was when we were casting for the role of a loan officer, and there were two women up for the part. The first was perfect: warm, professional and read the lines like they were coming right off the top of her head. The other was so stiff, it was like the old joke, "What's that in the road? A head?" Naturally, they cast the latter. Why? Because they didn't like the way the first woman wore her hair that day. I tried to argue that if we gave her the job, I bet we could probably talk her into wearing her hair down instead of up, but to no avail.

It did give me a much healthier perspective on rejection, though. I now know (and have told my singer/actress wife, as well) that when you're rejected for a job, don't take it personally because it is no reflection on your talent. It's far more likely that you were just being judged by idiots.

bilge said...

Dear Ken,
This is the type of posting that makes your blog, your blog. Please give more of your experiences in the biz.
Your generally amusing takes on everything else are entertaining, but this is what I really tune in for.

A_Homer said...

Really enjoying this so far as well. I also like that you're giving the story the time to go its length and be entertaining with details. Just curious - the Woody Allen influenced-actress, is she working today as an actress?

Nice photo of Gilda Radner, it really brings back fond memories of the SNL early days. I recall reading about her own casting for the SNL show, and it was pretty cutthroat, two improv performers would come out from behind a curtain in a kind of competition, each time with different characters. In her sequence, turned to the other actor with her and said "What, you again?" or something to that extent. It was in an early SNL history book, so paraphrasing but I can imagine improv actors were hardcore on stage.

John said...

Combined with the story about how Woody Allen helped sway NBC execs into replacing the departing Lorne Michaels with Jean Doumanian as executive producer of "Saturday Night Live" following the 1979 season -- creating a wreck of "Supertrain" proportions in 1980 -- I'd say Woody and his accolytes at 30 Rock did to Fred Silverman's future at NBC what Woody would do to his relationship with Mia Farrow about a dozen years later.

Bob said...

Ok, I probably looked right over it, but who is the lady at the top of the post?

Equitable P. Harmon said...

Not that there is any need to name names, but...
I'm guessing that the Woody Allen protege was Ann Risely?

Bill Peschel said...

Bob, it was Maggie Roswell. Check out the last three paragraphs in the post. (I had to look as well).