I told this story quite a while ago on this blog.
Long ago enough that it's not even on the blog any more.
Hearing of Dick Gautier's death, I thought it bore repeating.
I was Exec-Producing a show called "She's The Sheriff" starring Suzanne Somers.
It was, as it sounds, about a lady Sheriff.
It took place in the Lake Tahoe area.
I was part of the package before she was.
They made her jump through hoops to get this part.
They made her audition.
After they signed her we had our first sit-down.
I was passionate that the only way this show could work to my satisfaction was if Suzanne played the Sheriff intelligently.
And I just knew she was itching to play it like Lucy.
I knew that this would give the show absolutely no chance at integrity, and that she was, in fact, not Lucy.
Through gritted teeth, she agreed to my terms.
We shot five episodes which Suzanne played with admirable restraint and intelligence, very
un-Lucy-like, and they were very well received by the live audience.
That weekend, the staff was all invited to Las Vegas, where Suzanne was headlining at the Desert Inn.
Opening for her were the Smothers Brothers.
They were great.
They should have been headlining.
I was already asking myself "What's wrong with this picture?"
Then Suzanne came on, and kind of cocked around on stage, really having no reason being up there.
I made it a point to notice how the rest of the audience was reacting to Suzanne.
It was tepid at best.
That night, Suzanne and her husband invited me to come to their house on the outskirts of Vegas the next day for lunch.
It turned out to be an afternoon of lunch and pummeling.
They worked me over for three hours, trying to get me to agree to make her character more like Lucy.
All those good reasons we had to not do that went out the window because we had five episodes in the can.
At that point, if I didn't listen, I became expendable. She couldn't be replaced. I could.
I didn't want to be replaced.
So I agreed to give it a shot. I thought that maybe there was a way to minimize the damage.
I thought "I Love Lucy" was great---about a third of the time.
I thought it was okay--about a third of the time.
I thought it was downright annoying ---about a third of the time.
I thought it was okay when they did shows about Lucy trying to get into show business.
I thought it was downright annoying when it involved scheming so Ricky and Fred would buy the new dresses, or hats, or whatever it was they were scheming for.
I thought it was great when Lucy was a victim of circumstance, like when she got locked in the freezer, or got the trophy stuck on her head and had to get on the subway with it on.
Or when they were all stuck in a motel room in Ohio, with the train going right outside the window every five minutes, causing their beds to travel across the room every five minutes.
This allowed Lucy to play at the top of her intelligence.
So that's what I aspired for with Suzanne. Turn her into a victim of circumstance.
So I contrived a story about an FBI agent on his first field assignment, who decided, as a practical
joke to put Suzanne and her troops through their paces with a phony assignment.
I wasn't sure it would work, but it was the best I could come up with.
We put together an at best a decent script.
I was hoping that Suzanne would see all its weaknesses, but she embraced it.
Okay, so now we had to cast the part of the FBI man.
The head of casting at Lorimar did not trust my casting ability.
For not any good reason, as I had never let her down.
It was either just casting out of my head, or choosing from the usual substandard dance-card that she would provide me with.
The politically wise thing to do was to cast one of her fair-haired boys.
I had resisted this option until now.
But as I had just as much rooting interest in this episode failing as succeeding, I cast one of the fair-haired boys. And he wasn't very good.
On Tuesday of a show that was being shot on Friday, this actor dropped out.
I then decided to take matters into my own hands.
I decided to attempt to succeed, and suffer whatever Lucy consequences might ensue.
I got out my copy of the Academy Players directory, Characters and Comedians section, which consists of, in alphabetical order, all the actors available for work, all making funny faces on their 8X10's.
Anybody who uses these books knows that you have a leg up by having a last name that begins early in the alphabet.
Casting people, myself included, are not all that ambitious.
I got all the way to the G's.
I spotted Dick Gautier's picture. I had worked with him on "Happy Days" and he was brilliant.
I bellowed to one of the other producers "Get me Dick Gautier!!!"
He was there the next morning, and did the run-through late that afternoon.
And he was, once again, brilliant.
And I told him so right afterwards.
And he said "If I'm so brilliant, why did you wait until yesterday to bring me in here??
I didn't want to admit that so much of it was political, and how powerless a position Suzanne had put me in.
We shot the show on Friday, and even with Dick's great performance, the show got the tepid response it deserved.
And Lucy went back out to pasture.
My books, "Show Runner" and it's sequel, "Show Runner Two", can be found at the Amazon Kindle Store.
Along with the newer ones, "The Man Is Dead", and "Report Cards".
They are all compilations of blog entries that have since been removed from the blog.
So this is the only way you can find them.
You can search by typing in my name, Cindy Williams, Laverne and Shirley, The Odd Couple, or Happy Days.
Check them out.
You don't need a Kindle machine to download them.
Just get the free app from Kindle, and they can be downloaded to an IPhone, IPad, or Blackberry.
The paperbacks, "Mark Rothman's Essays" and my new novel, "I'm Not Garbo" are not e-books.
But they are available for people without Kindle.
I have many readings and signings lined up for those, and the thing about Kindle is you can't sign one.
If you'd like one of the paperbacks, personally autographed, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
And now, we've got my reading of my "Laverne and Shirley Movie" screenplay on YouTube.
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- mark rothman
- Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at email@example.com. Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."