Monday, December 19, 2011

Another bizarre casting story

Mid ‘90s, doing ALMOST PERFECT starring Nancy Travis. In the show she’s supposed to be the showrunner of a fictional cop show. We wanted to do the scene where she has to fire her first person. And we thought it would be fun to give the fire-ee the worst possible reaction. So we created a character of an incompetent writers’ assistant. And when Nancy finally has to fire her she has a complete and utter meltdown. She screams, “NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!” and just goes ballistic – wailing and shrieking and pleading and crying. All the while, poor Nancy is having to react to this. (As I noted in a recent post, the ability to cry and be funny is an art that most comic actresses do not have.)

So we set up a casting session.

We had our own little bungalow right in the center of the Paramount lot. On the appointed day, maybe ten girls came in to audition. Now you have to picture it:

Passerby on a lazy Tuesday morning and from this bungalow they hear girls screaming and crying at the top of their lungs. They hear, “Please don’t! I’ll do anything you ask! ANYTHING!” They wail uncontrollably.

Oh, and that’s another thing – we thought it would be amusing if they just kept on shrieking. It was the storm that never passed. So folks were treated to young women crying relentlessly.

Talk about the worst boss in history. It sounded like we were horsewhipping these ingénues.

(Just once I’d like to see someone react that way on THE APPRENTICE when Donald Trump fires them.)

One gallant individual actually entered the building to offer assistance. Once he saw six other girls in the foyer holding script sides he knew it was either a casting session or Joseph Stalin had set up shop with a production deal at the studio.

But someone must have notified Human Resources. Later that day we were paid a very stern visit by an H & R person. “That is NOT the way we do things here at Paramount!” she told us, and then was appalled when we reacted by laughing hysterically.

We explained the situation, she harrumphed and left. I always regret not having our secretary then scream bloody murder just as she stepped out of the bungalow.

By the way, the part went to Jenna Elfman, one of her first acting gigs. And she was hilarious. One of our very best hires...and fires.


Anonymous said...

Aah, Jenna Elfman, who would be almost acceptable if she wasn't supporting a criminal organization.

Johnny Walker said...

Nice to know there are some gallant individuals out there not afraid to make sure that everyone was OK.

Friday question for you, Ken: How do you feel about the "Friday night death slot"? You hear many cancelled shows decrying the fact that they were moved to that slot and then quickly died. Do you believe it's really so bad? If you were running a show and it was moved there, would you immediately panic, or do you feel the whole thing is overblown?

Unknown said...

Too bad Anonymous doesn't have the guts to just plain and straight say that Jenna is a Scientologist and that I can't watch anything she's in anymore since I found out about that.

Same goes to half of the cast of "That 70s Show" (which is a friggin shame) and "My Name Is Earl" (also, friggin shame).

If you want to ruin a ton of your sitcom enjoyment just read

Tamara said...

Ken, I was listening to a story on NPR with the founder of M.A.D.D. She mentioned asking television shows, including Cheers, to help with their cause. What happened when M.A.D.D. approached you? And how did you alter your scripts?

Anonymous said...

A comedy in the Friday night death slot is doomed unless moved (Raymond). Except for TGIF 20 years ago, there hasn't been success there since probably Chico and the Man.

Cap'n Bob said...

So you're the one that started that "NOOOOOO!!!!" reaction that's since become a cliche in every show, movie, and street mime scene extant.

I'm with Anonymous and Sebastian on the appearance of actors from the Scientology Organized Crime Family. I can't and won't watch them.

Charles H. Bryan said...

Whoever is Scientology's PR firm needs to be fired. I recommend finding someone who can come up with a cute cartoon mascot. Oh hell, just one of the little three-eyed guys from TOY STORY.

Dan Tedson said...

I really couldn't care less if actors worship Vinny, the Goat-Melba Toast hybrid God of FUNK as long as they can act. All religions seem goofy (except yours of course), most have been criminal at some point or another, and so really it comes down to who provides free booze and how short the line is.

gottacook said...

Dan T.: Can't a religion (or if you prefer, "religion") founded by a pulp-magazine science fiction writer be considered goofier than all the others for that reason alone? If John W. Campbell Jr., longtime editor of Astounding Science Fiction, hadn't come under Hubbard's sway and published the first articles on Dianetics in the very early 1950s, Scientology might not have come to much.

RS Gray said...

Dear Dan,

This may be the first time I've said this in my life, but I would like to know about your religion. I enjoy both funk and Melba toast, so perhaps this is the sign I've been waiting for.

Yours in caprine devotion,


WV - Pizetali. The five conjoined twins from the 1980 episode of Happy Days infamous unaired episode, which was scotched by ABC's Standards & Practices. Bootleg copies of Fonzi's rendezvous with the "Pizetali Pents" we're so sought after in certain Hollywood circles that they practically became currency. One urban myth claims that John Belushi bought the eight-ball that killed him with a third-generation Betamax "Pizetali Pents".

mcp said...

I know our gracious host did not intend for this post to become a debate about Scientology, but I do wonder if there are lazy Scientologists.

That is, do they say things like "I was going to audit myself but the e-meter batteries were dead and I didn't have time to go to Ralph's?" Or do they make excuses like "I am trying to work towards my Operating Thetan Levels but you know how life gets in the way?"

I really shouldn't read Ken's blog at work.

Nelly Wilson said...

I thought Scientology already had a cute cartoon mascot.

Frank said...

Think I might look into joining Scientology now that I`ve found Jeff Conaway was a member.

Dan Tedson said...

gottacook, I'm not saying Scientology isn't goofy, I'm saying they all are. You play the shell game with some of the crazy found in holy texts, you'd be hard pressed to guess which quotes came from which books. If anyone ever tells me they believe in the literal translation of any holy text, I'm guarding my nuts and electric sliding slowly away.

RS Gray, the main tenants of the Melba Goat Funk religion - not to be confused with those heathen Funky Melba Goat BASTARDS (may they burn in goat hell) - is that we believe the Melba, the Goat, and the holy Funk are 3 in 1, not 1 in 3 and should therefore be served on a nice bruschetta with maybe some asiago and a slice of tomato, but don't go to too much trouble, and could you drizzle some olive oil over it all, but only if you're sure it's not too much work?

As an adrherent rof the fraith... srorry tralking writh my mrouth frull hrere... an adherent of the faith, you'll take a SOLEMN OATH that whenever the choice presents itself you shall WITHOUT FAIL play as skins, and that should the anti-goat come to you with the impossibly-enticing promise of throwing off your slave name for a magnificent new name, somehow magically crafted from the names of your pet and the street you grew up on, that you should politely demur. Now, if you'll just follow me to the bunkbeds, we'll get you fitted for a Snuggie...

Paul Duca said...

Horsewhipping ingenues...Ken, do you want to end up on the wrong Google searches again?

chris said...

Hah hah - if you do a Google search for "Horsewhipping ingenues" - Ken's blog comes up first. If you do a GIS for "Horsewhipping ingenues" you get this image first

Cap'n Bob said...

All I can tell you. Frank, is to bring at least $500,000 and be prepared to waste it.

ChicagoJohn said...

I love your casting stories.
It makes me curious; have you ever skipped over a performer, who later on became a superstar?

And if so, is there ever any regret that you didn't cast them?

SkippyMom said...

I love that someone actually stopped to help.

Wow - all this talk about Scientology. Admit Ken, that was what you were really going for, right? I do like P. Duca's comment best [so far] heehee

Paul Duca said...

Chicago John...Ken wrote about casting Lisa Kudrow as Roz on FRASIER, but having to replace her--not that she wasn't good, but there wasn't the right chemistry.

cadavra said...

Sorry, folks, but passing judgment on an artist because of their religious (or political) beliefs is itself a form of bigotry. I'd have missed out on an awful lot of great films and TV if I ignored everyone who was right-wing and/or anti-Semitic. I have a friend who directed Elfman in a major feature a few years back and said she was nothing but delightful and helpful and that her religious beliefs never once came up. Thrown in her awesome gift for comedy and that's good enough for me to remain an unequivocal fan.

WV: "werat"--Equal rights organization for vermin.

Chris said...

This was a great anecdote, marred by the utter religious intolerance and bigotry by some posters in the comments section. And they are so proudly bigoted too. It just baffles me.

Brian Berry said...

While I'm not a fan of Scientology, or for any religion for that matter, an actor or actress, last time I checked, does have the right to their own, personal, beliefs.

When a Scientologist goes to outrageous lengths to stalk and belittle a BBC reporter, it doesn't mean his mom didn't do a good job playing Harrison Ford's wife. And while I can still have an opinion of the actress personally, it doesn't mean I have to disregard them professionally. (Unless, of course, they did a really bad job playing a Scientologist on TV.)

I have many friends who won't touch Fringe, or Brisco County Jr, and have no intention of seeing MI3 or the upcoming Prometheus, because they squandered 6 years of their life watching Lost.

Shun someone's work if you think they do bad work - because then you have a leg to stand on.

You may think Jenna Elfman a loon personally because of her beliefs, but she still was the cute hippie on that mediocre sitcom from some years back. It's true.