Saturday, November 30, 2013

Stars I claim to have discovered even though I really didn't

Anyone who has been producing TV series for any length of time will have similar stories. They can look back at actors they worked with or hired that since became big names. Here are some of mine.

Shelley Long – played a nurse once in MASH when I was there. I don’t remember much except she looked very cute in army fatigues.

Rita Wilson – same thing. Also cute in army fatigues. Worked with her again when she starred in VOLUNTEERS. Amazingly, she remembered me. I looked awful in army fatigues.  Currently great recurring in THE GOOD WIFE. 

Katey Segal – From one of Bette Midler’s Harlettes to a series regular on the MARY SHOW. We knew from day one that she’d become a star. And that’s without even hearing her sing.  Or ride a motorcycle.

Leah Remini – She played one of Carla’s many daughters on CHEERS. One of my favorite episodes (written by me and David) was “Loathe & Marriage” from the final season where Leah’s character gets married. I also directed her in FIRED UP. She was funny before she was even old enough to drive.

Tim Busfield – He’ll probably cringe but one of his first acting jobs was playing a patient on AfterMASH. Yes, it was, Tim, don't deny it.

James Cromwell – Okay, he wasn’t an unknown when I worked with him but he wasn’t on anyone’s A-List either. He was pretty much a character actor who bounced around. I knew him as Jamie then. We used him on an episode of MASH as a real goofball. Couldn’t quite tell from that role that he’d go on to be nominated for an Oscar. By the way, did you know he was in both BABE and THE BABE?

David Letterman – did a cameo on an OPEN ALL NIGHT we were involved with.

Maggie Lawson – You love her on PSYCH.  You maybe sampled BACK IN THE GAME.  I’ve loved her since writing and directing IT’S ALL RELATIVE.

David Ogden Stiers – Before he became Charles Winchester on MASH he was talk-show host Robert W. Cleaver on a TONY RANDALL SHOW David and I wrote. That was the episode that got huge laughs during rehearsal but silence during the filming. Later we learned that the bussed in audience spoke no English.

Annette O’Toole – had a small role on a TONY RANDALL SHOW. Tony didn’t like her at first. By show night he was pleading with us to bring her back. The English speaking audience loved her too although I must say she was beautiful in any language.

Lisa Kudrow – Did an episode of CHEERS. Very funny even in a small role. I was not surprised. She went to Taft High in Woodland Hills.

Sanaa Lathan – Directed her in LATELINE. I must’ve given her great notes on that three-page scene because she went on to become a movie queen. I went on to write a blog.

Willie Garson – Directed him in the stellar ASK HARRIET. When that show got cancelled he was free to take another assignment – SEX IN THE CITY. He’s now a regular on WHITE COLLAR.

Julie Benz – Another ASK HARRIET alum I directed. Was once married to DEXTER. You can certainly understand the attraction considering she was also in SAW V.

Robert Pastorelli – Later to be a stalwart of MURPHY BROWN, but his greatest role was for us on the MARY show. He played sandwich guy, Mr. Yummy.

Jenna Elfmann – first cast in an ALMOST PERFECT as a whack-job secretary. She had no experience at the time and we knew it was a risk but there was something just so damn special about her. She killed in front of the audience. If ever there was someone I knew was going to make it besides Katey Segal it was Jenna.

And before I slap myself on the back too much for being such a great judge of talent, here are a few of the people I didn’t cast who once came in to read:

Martin Short, Kathy Bates, William H. Macy, Jane Lynch, Tea Leoni, Don Johnson, and Andrea Martin (although that was the network’s fault; we wanted her. They wanted Toni Tennille. Don't ask.  Andrea is now killing on Broadway in PIPPIN, doing a trapeze act over the audience.  Let's see Toni do that.),


Unknown said...

Not to be a dick, but you misspelled Katey Sagal's name. Twice.But you're right about her talent. She is a marvelous actress and singer. Her singing on the "Songs of Anarchy" cd was lovely.

Hamid said...

I first saw the heavenly Annette O'Toole in Superman III when I was a kid. Then when I was a little older I saw her in 48Hrs as Nick Nolte's feisty and briefly naked girlfriend. And she's still beautiful today.

It's funny you mention Jane Lynch because I rewatched A Lilith Thanksgiving recently and I noticed she was one of Dr Campbell's dinner guests.

fred nerk said...

I thought that before he became Charles Winchester, David Ogden Stiers was one of 'Charlies Angels'.

Gary M. said...

"Robert W. Cleaver" - Now that's a really BOSS Mashup!

unkystan said...

Annette O'Toole in "Smile" Loved her from day 1!

Unknown said...

Didn't Lisa Kudrow also win the role of Roz on Frasier before she was let go for Peri Gilpin after the first taping of the pilot?

Michael said...

Cromwell also had been Stretch Cunningham on "All in the Family," playing a more low-key goofball. When Shelley Long hosted the salute to MASH, they had a series of clips of famous actors doing bit parts, including Brian Dennehy and George Wendt.

cadavra said...

Just FYI, Andrea left PIPPIN a couple of months ago and has been replaced by Tovah Feldshuh (who's also terrific).

Back in 1995 when I was at Sony, we screened a picture we'd just acquired called THE RETURN OF THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (which I had retitled THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION to better reflect its more comedic tone). The two leads impressed the hell out of me and I predicted big stardom for both. The others just scoffed and said nothing "big" will ever come out of a schlock horror movie.

And yes, those two kids went on to well-deserved oblivion as Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger.

John H said...

The most touching moment in movies, for me, anyway, is at the end of "Babe," where the pig gets all of the sheep into the pen, and James Cromwell closes the pen, looks at Babe with pride in his eyes, and says, "That'll be all, pig." He became one of my favorite actors right then and there.

Storm said...

The spectacular sight of Annette O'Toole naked but for a pair of panties in the scary pool scene in "Cat People" helped define my sexuality, as did seeing Nastassja Kinski naked throughout. Thank you, ladies!

Cheers, thanks a lot,


Pix Nitler said...

Pure nit picking, but the line in BABE is actually "That'll do, pig. That'll do."

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Wait a minute Kenneth... IIRC, you and David Isaacs left M*A*S*H after Season Seven, and only returned the following season to rewrite "Good-bye, Radar" as a two-parter... Shelley Long's appearance wasn't until later in the eighth season... something doesn't add up here. ;P

Now I feel like I need to join that Please Get a Life Foundation that ANIMANIACS advertised.