Thursday, June 18, 2009

Can you say upstage?

Legend has it that my idol Steve McQueen, in my favorite epic, "The Sandpebbles," threw a major sht-fit during a scene where one of his co-stars, Mako, did a simple and elegant piece of nonverbal emoting: he winced, rubbed the top of head as if confused. Steve said it re-focused the whole scene and made people empathize with Mako...at his expense. Crazy, huh? Well in the days of bad TV (as if these are the golden years?) here are some classic upstagers who literally have hijacked an entire show, at the expense of the intended star(s):

1. The Fonz Upstages Opie
The idea for a sitcom set in the 1950s was inspired by a vignette on the 1970s anthology series Love, American Style. One year after “Love and the Happy Days” aired, Ron Howard starred in the blockbuster film American Graffiti, which solidified his ability to play a retro-teenager. Howard had previously played “Opie” on The Andy Griffith Show, and with his recent film triumph under his belt, it was clear that he was the intended star of Happy Days. But the producers were caught by surprise when Fonzie, portrayed by Henry Winkler, who was only an occasional character during the first season started getting a substantial amount of press. Suddenly “Ayyyy” was on everyone’s lips and you couldn’t walk past a storefront without seeing some sort of Fonz replica giving the ol’ thumbs up. The ABC brass even suggested changing the name of the show to Fonzie’s Happy Days, but Henry Winkler himself vehemently opposed such a change. In fact, Henry has always staunchly credited the success of Happy Days to the work of entire cast, particularly Ron Howard and Tom Bosley.

2. Alex P. Keaton’s Hostile Takeover
When Gary David Goldberg was casting Family Ties, a sitcom about liberal 60s-era parents raising 80s-era children, he envisioned Matthew Broderick for the role of Alex P. Keaton. But Broderick didn’t want to leave New York for a long-term project, so Goldberg was left at square one. At the urging of a casting director, he gave a young Canadian actor named Michael J. Fox a second screen test, and reluctantly hired him (his infamous comment at the time about Fox was “There’s a face you’ll never see on a lunch box.”) Much to everyone’s surprise, Michael J. Fox had that on-screen charisma that quickly made him an audience favorite; he could deliver the most extreme right-wing political rhetoric and make it palatable because he was so darned cute. Meredith Baxter-Birney was miffed, because her understanding when she signed on for Family Ties was that the parents would be the focus of the series. But teen magazine profiles and posters can have a unique impact on a celebrity’s “Q-factor,” and soon many of the show’s plots revolved around Alex. During the taping of the episode where Alex lost his virginity, the audience’s laughter went on so long that the show ran 12 minutes overtime. Goldberg was standing backstage with Baxter-Birney at the time and commented, “If you want to leave the show, I’ll understand.”

3. Jack Tripper Gets Bested by a Blonde (and T & A)
When Three’s Company was being cast, John Ritter was the only actor hired who any sort of name recognition, having played the Reverend Fordwick on The Waltons. Luckily, he also had a knack for slapstick comedy, and managed to make the most out of what was basically a one-joke role (a closet heterosexual living platonically with two beautiful young women). But even though Ritter was the acknowledged star of the show (and won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Jack Tripper), it was Suzanne Somers who got her picture on all the magazine covers and had her own mega-selling poster. Actually, as soon as Somers landed the role of Chrissy, she contacted powerhouse manager Jay Bernstein and begged him to take her on as a client. She wanted to be “bigger than Farrah,” and although (according to Somers) Bernstein questioned her looks and her talent, he was impressed by her passion, and agreed to manage her. Of course, it probably helped that Somers also pledged to give him every penny of her salary from the first six episodes of Three’s Company. Nevertheless, thanks to Bernstein’s savvy promotion, soon every episode of Three’s Company, no matter what the plot, focused heavily on Chrissy prancing around in tight T-shirts and short-shorts.

4. Yes, Urkel Did That
Family Matters was officially a spin-off of Perfect Strangers (Harriette Winslow was the elevator operator at the Chicago Chronicle). The show was supposed to focus on the everyday trials and tribulations of a department store employee, her police officer husband, and their three children. Midway through Season One, their nerdy neighbor Steve Urkel (portrayed by Jaleel White) appeared, oversized glasses, suspenders, high-rise pants, squeaky voice and all. Urkel was originally intended as a one-episode character, but after White’s initial appearance, studio audiences started chanting “Urkel! Urkel!” during subsequent tapings. Several first-season episodes were hastily re-written in order to feature the whiny-voiced, clumsy character. Interestingly enough, Jaleel White had been acting (mostly in commercials) since the age of three, and just prior to being cast as Urkel had told his mother that he wanted to quit the business in order to play JV basketball when he entered high school the next fall.

5. Mr. Kotter’s Lukewarm Welcome Back (vs. John Travolta)
Veteran comic writer Alan Sacks had seen stand-up comic Gabe Kaplan’s act a few times and thought that there might be a viable sitcom to be mined out of Kaplan’s tales of his days in remedial high school classes. When previewing Welcome Back, Kotter in front of test audiences, network brass noted that John Travolta (whose character was then known as “Eddie Barbarina” ) elicited unsolicited random squeals from the crowd and decided on the strength of a possible teen heartthrob plus Kaplan’s jokes to green light the series. Travolta--now
Vinnie Barbarino," for his part, didn’t discourage the Tiger Beat aspect of his fame, but he also craved acceptance as a bona fide actor, and he spent much of his Kotter salary on a high-priced agent, who landed him progressively larger film roles, from The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, to Carrie, to Saturday Night Fever. By the fourth (and ultimately final) season of Welcome Back, Kotter, John Travolta was billed as a “special guest star” and appeared in less than half of that season’s episodes.

--compliments of Kara Kovalchik

Honorable Mentions: Dennis Franz ("Sipowicz" takes over after David Caruso bolts and refuses to let go), Marla Gibbs ("Florence" hijacks The Jeffersons), JacquƩ in 227 (and thus getting George Jefferson's revenge in Marla Gibbs!), Avery Brooks ("Hawk" flies over Spenser for Hire), Larry Hagman ("JR" was never meant to be the "star" of Dallas), Estelle Geddes ("Sophia" was supposed to be an occasion walk on, even die), Megan Mullally (cruel alcoholic slut as foil to the fags...try saying that five times fast!), Rick Nelson (first pop teen idol "Rickie" makes everyone forget Ozzie & Harriet), and Eddie Murphy (the reason Lorne Michaels will never allow an African American with talent back on SNL).

23 comments:

Lisa said...

Urkel has to be the ultimate example!! No one comes close besides the Fonz.

SevilleBarber said...

Okay I'm gay but I'll let the "foil to the fags five times fast" slide because that's damn funny, and accruate.

Dawnfire82 said...

Christopher Chambers: "TH--noting the comments especially from pieces of dogshit like Mr. Ed, feeblemind and Dawnfire, I think privately you and me have and will agree we some white men still in 2009 just don't get it. I feel bad, somber, for you...for having to tolerate these clowns for the sake of rightie solidarity."

http://tigerhawk.blogspot.com/2009/06/us-senate-resolution-apologizes-for.html

In response to a comment (and my concurrence) that the Senate resolution to 'Apologize for Slavery' is political theater with no ability to actually make up for the tremendous wrongs done and no relevance to the modern population. (seeing as how the Civil War ended and slavery was abolished, oh, 7 generations ago)

Is this how leftists come to consensus? Insulting anyone who holds the 'wrong' opinion as being 'dogshit' who 'doesn't get it?'

I thought you guys told me that this was where the adults swam?

Pebbles Flintstone said...

Oh look Nat! A Troll returns. Is he Urkel or "Stephon?" (smile)

Christopher Chambers said...

Dawnfire, listen to yourself, the hedging, etc.

"'Apologize for Slavery' is political theater with no ability to actually make up for the tremendous wrongs done and no relevance to the modern population. (seeing as how the Civil War ended and slavery was abolished, oh, 7 generations ago"

Oh my. First I'm not buying the "tremendous wrongs" thing. If you really believed that, you wouldn't be showing your ass on this blog. As for the rest, well, as Colin Powell once said, it's "code." hahaha.

Now, unless you want to talk about Vinnie Barbarino hijacking Welcome Back Kotter, depart. (I'm sure you get reruns down in your survival shelter adorned with your old military memorabilia)

Robbie said...

Hey Chambers, Dawnfire looks like he needs a free ticket to "Anne & Emmett."

AND...you have too much time on your hands. Those shows needed to be taken over by upstagers because they were so bad: as Artie Lange took over The Joe Buck Show on HBO!!

Lisa J said...

Ha-ha these are good. Totally took me down memory lane. Loved all these shows. Once John Travolta left Welcome Back, the show was just not as good. I also loved me some Alex P. Keaton, despite his political beliefs. Meredith Baxter-Birney should have been happy b/c she got paid good money b/c he was so popular and kept the show on the air for so long and she still gets residuals when they show it. Sounds like a sweet deal to me.

Anonymous said...

SoCal 82Tiger Says:

CC I do not like to offer personal commentary about your ranters so forgive me this moment... DawnFire82 are UFSOW???? Post your rants to the appropriate rant feature.

Professor Nat is jack of all trades when it comas to the subjects of his rants... Leave the politics and sociology where it belongs; among his other appropriate rants ...

Your inept ignorance ruins it for his other fans and detractors AND you undermine the legitimacy of anything you rant about...

IN ADDITION - U END UP READING & APPEARING LIKE A FDB!!!

Non-the less a GREAT TOPIC Professor - Will respond to this culture topic later!

Georgfelis said...

About the best series I can think of where upstaging happened on a regular basis was Babylon 5. Every time Peter Jurasik (Londo) and Andreas Katsulas (G’Kar) show up on screen together, everybody else seems to vanish. They both were magnificent actors in overpowering roles.

Goldwater's Ghost said...

The story goes that shortly after "Back to the Future" took off at the box office, Michael J. Fox presented Brandon Tartikoff with a BTTF lunchbox with Fox's face plastered on the front.

Viking Kaj said...

How about Jack Benny? I think he pretty much upstaged everyone he ever worked with.

Viking Kaj said...

Of course with the possible exception of Eddie Anderson.

Anonymous said...

But Jack Benny was the star of the show--you mean when he was on other variety shows in the 50s? That probably was why Lucy and Desi, all those other only had him on briefly.

Brian said...

Nat Turner, there is No WAY anyone has upstaged a TV show more than The Fonz. That's where the term "Jump the shark" was minted: the episode when Fonzie jumped his motorcyle over a live shark in a tank. The show started off as a pleasant TV take on American Graffiti and ended with the likes of Scott Baio and Pat Morita. I didn't watch Family Ties or Family Matters, but there is really no way a show went totally off its planned direction than Happy Days.

Anonymous said...

SoCal 82Tiger Says

Ok, so now thanks to a little TM and a cathartic missive aimed to DawnFire82 I'm back on track for "Upstage"

Professor you started with film and then went on to TV so does your query apply to both?

No matter, here are just a few of my nominations:

IN THE LINE OF FIRE
Dirty Harry is in a tortured chess match with “Booth” but still saves the Pres…
Co-star John Malcovich is both frightenly smart and utterly malevolent as he proceeds on his quest to see Clint Eastwood “standing over the grave of another dead president”

The usually cerebral JM casts a huge shadow over Clint and this entire movie


THE FUGITVIE
Indi finds the one armed man with the help of (Harvard’s) Agent K and "Guido the Killer Pimp". Hugely popular as I J and long before he became our "favorite film president", lead Harrison Ford's Dr. Banner took a back seat to film antagonist co-stars TL Jones and Joe Pantoliano! A surprisingly well-made remake of a hit TV show!!


MOONLIGHTING
John McLean lights up the screen and starts a romantic fire with Jacy - America's "Texas" Homecoming Queen & Ice Princess.

The one time bar tender and bar rat named Bruce Willis steals the show as the co-star in this funny and edgy TV star vehicle designed to put Cybil Sheppard back on top... She never got over the fact that the show became "Bruno's" vehicle to greater stardom!

Many more but to little space to blog - Get your ass out to the West Coast to finish this rant! :)

Anonymous said...

SoCal 82Tiger Says

Re: My Previous Post - Ooops Brain Fart!!! Not Dr. Banner but Dr. Kimble

Guess I wasn't yet over DawnFire82's stupidity after all :0

Robert M said...

I find your comment on Eddie Murphy intriguing. he not only stole the show but he upstaged every guest host they ever had on when he was on. As an AfricanAmerican I never found SNL funny after wards but it was more due to the fact they made all the jokes inside jewish NYC as though their competetion was Seinfield. That show was only funny the year they went ot hollwywood to pitch the script and had to ditch inside New York
Anonymous was so right w/ Moonlighting what was missed is Cybil got another shot but was upstaged by Christine Barshanski who stole everything that wasn't nailed down in Cybil

Robbie said...

SoCal:

I am only agreeing with you opinion regarding "Moonlighting." Bruce Willis is an asshole and not a very good actor. No one should throw "12 Monkeys" or "Pulp Fiction" at me.

I disagree about Clint. I think he carried "In the Line of Fire and kept Malkovich from absconding with it and making it very weird.

I think Tommy Lee Jones tried to steal "The Fugitive" but there was too much of Harrison Ford in it and that cancelled out TLJ' battle with Joe Pantoliano's personalities and scene-chewing.

Anonymous said...

SoCal 82Tiger:

Robbie - Re Clint and Harrison:

The strength of the good guy in film is directly proportional to the strength of the "evil doer" nemesis...
On that basis I picked Line Of Fire & Fugitive... The foil of both leads in these movies was so large that they dwarfed the "star-power" of the lead. BTW I think both Tommie Lee and John Malcovich received Oscar Noms for their work! FYI - A Runners up could be Gary Oldman in Air Force One!

As for Pulp Fiction - Yes Bruno was part of a weak chapter in the story, but the eerie scary presence of Ving Rhames saves the day (not to mention a D-List cameo by Kathy Grffin)!!

For what it’s worth the interaction between Travolta and Jackson (and every actor they meet up with) are as good a "twisted" buddy flick moments that I have ever seen on screen

Oh yah some more choices:

JERRY MAGUIRE
In Rod Tidwell We Trust… Dam Right as Cuba gives a kinetic performance that dwarfs (great word choice for both men) the presence of the “son” of L Ron Hub – AND at a time when TC was the film industry’s most bankable star.

RUNAWAY
Ok it’s trashy “B” List Sci Fi BUT Gene Simmons nails the roll as the evil genius bad guy and makes you forget the movie’s star was Magnum PI – Seriously this was suppose to be a T S’s breakout role that was to take him from little to big screen star…

Anonymous said...

SoCal 82Tiger:

Robbie - Re Clint and Harrison:

The strength of the good guy in film is directly proportional to the strength of the "evil doer" nemesis...
On that basis I picked Line Of Fire & Fugitive... The foil of both leads in these movies was so large that they dwarfed the "star-power" of the lead. BTW I think both Tommie Lee and John Malcovich received Oscar Noms for their work! FYI - A Runners up could be Gary Oldman in Air Force One!

As for Pulp Fiction - Yes Bruno was part of a weak chapter in the story, but the eerie scary presence of Ving Rhames saves the day (not to mention a D-List cameo by Kathy Grffin)!!

For what it’s worth the interaction between Travolta and Jackson (and every actor they meet up with) are as good a "twisted" buddy flick moments that I have ever seen on screen

Oh yah some more choices:

JERRY MAGUIRE
In Rod Tidwell We Trust… Dam Right as Cuba gives a kinetic performance that dwarfs (great word choice for both men) the presence of the “son” of L Ron Hub – AND at a time when TC was the film industry’s most bankable star.

RUNAWAY
Ok it’s trashy “B” List Sci Fi BUT Gene Simmons nails the roll as the evil genius bad guy and makes you forget the movie’s star was Magnum PI – Seriously this was suppose to be a T S’s breakout role that was to take him from little to big screen star…

rikyrah said...

I love the Fonz...

you forgot...JJ ' DY-NO-MITE' Evans on Good Times.

JR wasn't supposed to be the center of Dallas?

Anonymous said...

Back to movies.

Goldie Hawn was the lead in "Swing Shift." Pretty enough and a good actress.

But Christine Lahti, pretty much unknown then, totally blew Goldie off the screen.

Christine was cast as Goldies friend and then she seduced Kurt Russell, playing Goldies boyfriend.

Probably the hottest no nudity scene I ever saw. And that includes Kathleen Turner at the beginning of Body Heat.

Reportedly Goldie got several of Lahti's scenes cut. But the seduction was integral.
K

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

What a great and fun post.

Yes the industry term "jump the shark" comes from that infamous Happy Day's episode.

I was watching a show about "Good Times" (maybe E!'s THS) and they were talking about all the tension behind the scenes as the J.J. character became more popular and more broad.

Without Karen and Jack, Will & Grace would be zzzzzzz.