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Friday, April 18, 2014

Secrets of the Casting Couch

Okay, so I've been doing a lot of thinking since I wrote my last blog entry.  Admittedly when I wrote that piece, I was in one of those moods in which I was absolutely doubting myself and all the contributions that I've made over the past few months.  I was so busy focusing on all the things that I felt that I didn't have that I temporarily forgot about all of the things that I do have.  I guess it took a couple of people reminding me that maybe there are some things that I downplay that I shouldn't, and other things that I put too much importance on.

That's not to say that I'm completely cured of whatever it is that I feel whenever I get down.  I don't know if that will ever really go away.  It gets easier to deal with though, so I suppose that I could call that some sort of victory - however small it may be.

Of course, one good thing about getting all my feelings out from yesterday is the fact that I can now focus on more light hearted topics.  At least...for now, anyway.

Today's topic that I have chosen is a fun one.  And, rather than focus on one particular television show, I'll instead be talking about several shows with one common theme.

How many times have you watched a television program and wondered how certain people were cast?  Have you ever wondered what the original names of sitcom characters were supposed to be? 

Well, sit back on your sofa and pop open a nice cool beverage, because this is the blog for you.

In today's topic, we're going to be taking a look at the secrets from the casting couch.  And, before you get your minds in the gutter, I am talking about the casting couch in a professional sense...not in the horizontal mambo sense.

(Not that I actually want to explain what the horizontal mambo is.  Those of you who are old enough already know.  I hope.)

Truth be told, while I do enjoy a number of sitcoms, I tend to be a sucker for some of the backstage gossip and action.  I love finding out what makes production crews tick.  I love hearing never before heard tidbits about the stuff that goes on behind the scenes.

And, this includes how actors are cast on the show.

Here's just a few examples of what I mean.  We'll start with a show that ran for ten seasons and was considered to be one of the greatest modern day sitcoms of recent history.

FRIENDS (1994-2004)

It's been in the news lately with the speculation that the cast of "Friends" would be reuniting for a television special to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the show's debut.  Although the show's creators have reportedly put the kibosh on that plan, nothing's really set in stone.

And certainly when it came to casting for the show, apparently the main cast wasn't set in stone either.  You see, Courteney Cox was the actress who was supposed to play Rachel.  However, Courteney started reading the script for the pilot episode and was so drawn to the character of Monica that she asked to play Monica instead with the role of Rachel eventually going to Jennifer Aniston.

And another interesting fact.  Before Lisa Kudrow won the part of Phoebe, Ellen DeGeneres was offered the part!  But Ellen - who was about to embark on her own sitcom venture the same year that "Friends" debuted - turned the role down.

FULL HOUSE (1987-1995)

Now, here's a show that has a TON of casting couch secrets.  At least half the cast have their own stories to tell in regards to casting.

For instance, John Stamos was one of the first people to be cast on the show.  But his character was originally not Jesse Katsopolis.  Creator Jeff Franklin had initially planned on calling the character "Uncle Adam Cochran"!  It was John Stamos who got producers to change his character's name.  He changed the character's first name to Jesse from Adam just before the pilot was filmed, and the last name became longer as Jesse's hair became shorter at the beginning of season two - as John Stamos wanted to incorporate his Greek heritage into his character.

But at least Jesse only changed his name.  Danny Tanner changed actors completely.  Jeff Franklin wanted Bob Saget from the very beginning for the part of Danny, but he was already committed to a morning show, and John Posey was cast instead.  When the series was picked up, Bob became available again, and Franklin had the tough task of releasing Posey from his contract so that Bob could assume the role of the neurotic clean freak.

Did you know that Lori Loughlin who played Aunt Becky was only supposed to be on for a handful of episodes during season two?  I guess it's a good thing that she had chemistry with Uncle Jesse!

Oh, and the Olsen Twins?  They were the only twins who didn't cry at the audition.  That's how they became Michelle.

SAVED BY THE BELL (1989-1993)

Not too much to reveal about this show.  But I can say this.  When the role of Lisa Turtle was being cast, Peter Engel envisioned a Caucasian-Jewish tough gal from New Jersey.  Lark Voorhies - the actress who landed the role - was none of these things.  But Lark's audition impressed Peter so much that they changed the role just to suit her.

Oh, and the only other point I have to say is that Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Elizabeth Berkley, and Jennie Garth all auditioned for the role of Kelly Kapowski.  We all know that Tiffani got the part, but Elizabeth was given the role of Jessie Spano - a role that was created just for her.  And ironically enough, Jennie and Tiffani ended up working together on "Beverly Hills 90210" following Shannen Doherty's 1994 departure.

THE FACTS OF LIFE (1979-1988)

Mindy Cohn, who played Natalie on the series, had absolutely zero acting experience when she was given the role.  Believe it or not, when the production crew visited Mindy's school to search for potential actresses to cast, Mindy won the hearts of the crew over by being her happy, jovial self.  The producers actually created the role of Natalie based on Mindy's personality.  Of course, the producers couldn't make it TOO obvious.  Mindy did have to audition for the part like everyone else.

Felice Schachter played Nancy Olsen on the show's first season.  She was the first girl cast for "The Facts of Life".  Sadly, when the show went in a different direction for season two, Schachter was the first girl fired from the program!  But she did make guest appearances in 1981, 1982, and 1986.

THE BIG BANG THEORY (2007-present)

Okay, so it should come as no surprise to you all, but three former cast members from "Roseanne" have appeared on this show.  Johnny Galecki, of course, plays Leonard.  Sara Gilbert played the recurring role of Leslie, and Laurie Metcalfe plays the recurring role of Sheldon's mother.

And Kaley Cuoco was not in the show's original pilot.  And her character wasn't originally named Penny either!  In the pilot, the role of "Katie" was played by Amanda Walsh.


One thing that you need to know about this show is that the show is based off of the real life of comedian Ray Romano.  At the time of the series, Ray Romano had three children.  A daughter named Alexandra, and two twin sons named Matthew and Gregory.  In fact, in the pilot episode, the children were named Ally, Matthew, and Gregory!  It was only after the pilot was aired that the twins names were changed to Michael and Geoffrey.

Oh, and Monica Horan didn't have to try all that hard to get cast as Robert's wife, Amy.  She is, after all, married to the producer/co-creator of the show!

THE SIMPSONS (1989-present)

Okay, so it comes as common knowledge that a lot of the characters on the show were named after streets in the town where show creator Matt Groening was raised.  But I bet you didn't know that the characters in the immediate Simpson family were named after members of Matt's own family.  Matt's father's name was Homer, his mother was named Marjorie, and he has two sisters named Lisa and Maggie.  As for Bart, Matt has no family member named Bart.  Bart just happened to be named because it is an anagram of the word "Brat".

THE GOLDEN GIRLS (1985-1992)

You may know that Betty White and Rue McClanahan played Rose and Blanche...but they were originally offered each other's roles instead.  Both turned them down because they didn't want to be typecast.

But here's the more interesting fact in regards to this program.  When the show debuted in 1985, the show actually had a flamboyant chef who lived in the house with Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche named Coco.  He was played by Charles Levin - the same guy who played Vera's husband in "Alice".  He was supposed to have been a regular character throughout season one and Estelle Getty's Sophia character was supposed to be recurring.  But when test audiences reacted incredibly well to Sophia, Sophia was upgraded to full-fledged cast member and Coco was sent packing.

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