Saturday, November 11, 2017

Stars I claimed to have discovered... even though I 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 later became big names. Here are some of mine.

Kat Dennings -- Star of 2 BROKE GIRLS was in a pilot of ours called SNOBS. We never had her say "vagina", which is why it never got picked up.

Aaron Paul -- Emmy winner for BREAKING BAD was in that same pilot. Okay, these first two I am claiming credit for. It's not like I'm getting any royalties off that damn project. 

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.

Katey Sagal – 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 seeing her riding 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.  Now on KEVIN CAN WAIT and Scientology free. 

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. 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 bused 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. Became a regular on WHITE COLLAR.  And now he's in fifteen things. 

Julie Benz – Another ASK HARRIET alum I directed.  She's in DEFIANCE, was in DEXTER, A GIFTED MAN, NO ORDINARY FAMILY, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and more. 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 Sagal 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.),


Peter said...

You left out RAMBO IV from Julie Benz's credits. Believe it or not, she actually gave a very good performance in what was essentially 90 minutes of entertaining violence.

Paul Duca said...

Letterman was already well known by the time of OPEN ALL NIGHT...

Bryan north of Seattle said...

Annette O'Toole... The only reason to watch Cat People, over and over again.

Jon said...

I've known of Willie Garson since he played a friend of Kevin's on MR. BELVEDERE, though I don't know if he'd want to be reminded of that now.

Dave Creek said...

I got to see Maggie Lawson in action years ago when she was a teenager performing in "Kids Club" segments on Louisville TV station WDRB. The segments aired during afternoon kids programming and she and other young people would perform skits or hear advice from a local celebrity or politician. And do commercials.

I couldn't honestly say that any of us would've predicted she'd become a successful actress in Hollywood, but we all knew she had that special "something" that made her stand out from the rest of the kids.

Rashad Khan said...

You didn't cast Don Johnson? Consider yourselves blessed.

Dr Loser said...

This is a fun game to play even for those of us who only sit and watch...

I'm presently bingeing on Bilko (and thanks for reminding me to do so), and it's practically a drinking-game's worth of these name checks. My favorite so far is "The Eating Contest," which features a nice, tall, young man as "The Stomach" who -- and I will swear to this -- actually steals his entire introductory scene from Phil Silvers. Yes I know, hard to believe. But I swear, he did it.

I couldn't recognise him in black and white, so I waited eagerly for the credits. "Ed Honergan was played by Fred Gwynne."

Obviously another Fred Gwynne, because the Fred Gwynne I know looked nothing like "The Stomach." I wonder what happened to this one?

Mike Bloodworth said...

I don't know if this is good or bad, but with only a few exceptions, I've actually heard of these people. And, I've also enjoyed many of their performances. As I said in previous blogs, I'm available to be discovered. (But I won't watch you shower)

Anne said...

Thanks for mentioning PSYCH! I wish I had something important or interesting to say about it, but I don't except I was a fan and I can't wait for the movie. Could this be a Friday question for Ken? Review the movie and comment on the series? (character evolution, Roday directing, writing vs. improv...)

I couldn't get my friends to watch the show, so have to turn to online friends for support. Maybe some other Psych fans will chime in with pithy observations? (You can hear 'pithy' both ways.)

Buttermilk Sky said...

I discovered James Cromwell on ALL IN THE FAMILY (Stretch Cunningham). But thank you for discovering him again.

Chuck Cavender said...

Still hard to believe that Stretch Cunningham was also the crooked homicide captain in "L.A. Confidential" and one of several former Presidents in "The West Wing." Abd I still feel he's underrated. James Cromwell is an ace.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Also remember Cromwell vaguely from "Hot L Baltimore," a short-lived Norman Lear effort on ABC in 1975.

Saw the "Loathe & Marriage" episode recently. Loved Jean Kasem and the Polka Pirates version "What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?"

Doug said...

So Timothy Busfield went from an After MASH episode to series regular on Trapper John?

VP81955 said...

James Cromwell is the son of director John Cromwell, whose films included "Of Human Bondage," "The Prisoner of Zenda," "Since You Went Away," "The Enchanted Cottage" and two Carole Lombard vehicles in 1939, "Made For Each Other" with James Stewart and "In Name Only" with Cary Grant and Kay Francis.

Terrence Moss said...

I'd love to know what you didn't see in Tea Leoni. She was perfectly cast in "Flying Blind" -- which was when I first heard of her.

Anonymous said...

Willie Garson was in a Cheers very early in his career. And very young. Probably before your time on Cheers.

Played a waiter at an Inn that Sam took not Diane to when she was dating Frasier.