Saturday, April 10, 2021

Weekend Post

Here's another bizarre casting story.   And it has nothing to do with a cat.

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. (Believe it or not, there is a real art to being able to cry funny.  Three of the best: Mary Tyler Moore, Kirstie Alley, and of course, Lucy.)

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.

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...

The best "funny cryer" woman- Carole Lombard

Bob Gassel said...

Friday Question:

Have you ever seen a situation where a writer (or team) has pitched an idea that the showrunner liked, but then assigned it to someone else, thinking it was more suited to their style?

Roseann said...

Jenna is the Best!! I did work with her on a feature -the name escapes me right now... - but Jenna's personality has never escaped me.

Unknown said...

Who was your casting director?

Lemuel said...

Mary Tyler Moore best cryer: "And the gray hair! and the general yuckiness!"

Dave said...

I've been enjoying Jenna Elfman's performance in Fear the Walking Dead and everyone loved Bryan Cranston's role in Breaking Bad. As you've worked with a lot of actors in sitcom's have you ever been surprised by an actor performing a dramatic role very well after working with them or seeing them in a sitcom/comedic role?

DBenson said...

Used to be you'd see a lot of comedy based on somebody being old, or fat, or sexually unappealing ("Meet your blind date, Archie." "ARGH!"). I know actors auditioning for those parts know that's the gig, but is/was there ever discomfort in casting and/or directing such a character getting mean-spirited treatment?

Also, you see a lot less of the cruder bits these days -- We've grown less inclined to like or even tolerate characters who pick on what were once safe, cheap targets. I remember old movies, skits and sitcoms where a minor player's appearance was the joke, and an excuse for one-liners. "Married With Children" sort of had it both ways, with obese customers at Al's shoe store giving as good as they got, but even then you were seeing less of it overall. When "The Office" went there, the joke was darker: Michael would realize too late that everybody was offended and uncomfortable, and then would dig himself in deeper.

When you got into the writer's room, was such comedy essentially dead, or did someone still pitch "Hawkeye versus ugly WAC" or fat jokes about Roy Biggens?

Mike Bloodworth said...

I've often wondered why Jenna Elfman isn't a bigger star. She has the looks. She has the talent. Could it have anything to do with her association with... (Redacted so I don't get sued) Maybe it's just that no one has offered her the right vehicle. She should be staring in a hit series or one of the leads on a blockbuster romcom.
Note to Chuck Lorre: Since your two most recent sitcoms SUCK, you should try to come up with something for Jenna. You could have a genuine hit on your hands.


Douglas Trapasso said...

Sally Struthers on All in the Family: Now -there's- a crier!

mike schlesinger said...

I agree with Bloodworth. Elfman's the real deal and it's a shame that lately she can't seem to find a comedy vehicle worthy of her bottomless comedic talents. Is it because she's (gasp, shudder) 50?

julian said...


Apropos of nothing: there's an NHL goaltender by the name of Dave Rittich whose nickname is 'Big Save Dave', and today he was traded from Calgary to a contender, Toronto, just before the trade deadline.

I thought you might get a kick out of having a peripheral rooting interest.
Love the blog and the pod both.


JessyS said...

@ Mike Bloodworth,

I think the main problem with Jenna Elfman is that she is a member of the church of Scientology, but she appears to be happy on "Fear the Walking Dead."

Regardless, it might be a symptom of greater problems in network television, one which is that the networks micromanage everything.

Ted said...

To Mike: I'm not sure if you're joking or not. Chuck Lorre DID make Jenna Elfman the lead of a sitcom -- he co-created the show she's best known for, "Dharma & Greg." He also cast her in a few episodes of "Two and a Half Men."