Friday, March 28, 2014

When Actors and Roles Don't Mix

Casting is critical to the success of any television series, but sometimes it just goes wrong. In some cases the culprit is simply bad acting, but usually there’s a disconnect between actor and character that cannot be traversed regardless of talent.

Here are five of the most egregious examples. I avoided recasts, like Dick Sargent in Bewitched or Emma Samms in Dynasty, because replacements always start out at a disadvantage. In these cases there are no such easy answers.

Kate Jackson – Scarecrow and Mrs. King
In both The Rookies and Charlie’s Angels, Kate Jackson played clever, capable professionals. She had a famous falling out with the latter series, mainly attributed to the quality of the writing. Jackson once said a Charlie’s Angels script was so light, if you dropped it from the ceiling it would take a week to get to the floor. And yet her next series, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, was just as formulaic, and this time she wasn’t even the smart one. As Amanda King, Jackson frequently had to play scenes that made her character seem as dense as Chrissy Snow on Three’s Company. It was an awkward fit for an actress that radiates intelligence. 

Lyle Waggoner – Wonder Woman
You would think playing a valiant military man would be easy for someone who held his own with the comedic geniuses of The Carol Burnett Show. But Lyle Waggoner could do nothing with Col. Steve Trevor. Admittedly it was a thankless role, but this is where it is incumbent on the actor to find something in the character or situation to elevate Trevor beyond his status as a dashing hostage. Even a little romantic chemistry with Lynda Carter would have helped the audience understand what Wonder Woman sees in this guy. 

Lesley Ann Warren – Mission Impossible
Mission: Impossible was a pretty right-wing series. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. How else can we assess a show about federal government operatives who covertly invade foreign countries and overthrow corrupt dictators? What they did could be considered justified and perhaps even noble, but it certainly wouldn’t be supported by the counterculture at the height of the Vietnam War era. So how does one explain adding Lesley Ann Warren to the IM Force, since she looked and acted like a hippie chick just back from an anti-war sit-in at Berkeley? It’s not surprising she lasted only one season. 

Ted Knight – Too Close for Comfort
Was it just that the shadow of Ted Baxter was too long to escape? Or did the role of a family man frustrated by modern life not fit with an outsized personality like Ted Knight’s? Either way, Too Close for Comfort never gelled. Knight is not the only reason it hasn’t aged well, but with hindsight it may have been better to cast someone with less classic TV baggage. 

Doris Roberts – Remington Steele
Some actors have a look or persona that pigeonholes them into certain types of roles. For Doris Roberts, it’s the interfering relative, usually a mother or mother-in-law. It’s been her meal ticket for more than 25 years, from Angie to Everybody Loves Raymond. But it’s not the type of character you expect to turn up in Remington Steele, a self-effacing but still slick and stylish detective series. Roberts’ Mildred Krebs was a constant distraction from the urbane romance between Pierce Brosnan as Steele and Stephanie Zimbalist as his partner in crime-solving. The mistake was introducing the character in the first place, but it was compounded by casting an actress who once again did it her way, even if another approach might have worked better. 

Any more that I missed? Which TV actors did you think never settled comfortably into a particular role?


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  3. Do you remember seeing Richard Hatch as Inspector Dan Robbins on "The Streets of San Francisco," Mr. Hofstede? How about Bruce Jenner as Officer Steve McLeish on "CHiPs"? If so, what did you think?

    I seriously wonder if Marcy Walker was considered as a possible replacement for Stepfanie Kramer on the NBC cop show "Hunter" when the latter actress decided to leave the series in 1990. After all, Marcy was a regular on "Santa Barbara" that year. Like "Hunter," "Santa Barbara" was on NBC. It's also worth noting that the late Stephen J. Cannell, whose production company produced "Hunter," created Walker's short-lived action-adventure series "Palace Guard." In any case, it's apparently just as well that she never appeared on "Hunter" since the show went off the air in '91. Unfortunately, it's my understanding that Marcy's Tangie Hill character on "Guiding Light" didn't fit that daytime serial very well. (Keep in mind that I never really watched "GL.")

  4. Can I put in "Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer," Dave?

    Here's another, more recent: Sarah Michelle Gellar on RINGER. People loved Buffy but no one seemed to connect to her two characters - even Sarah herself didn't appear to be feeling it.

    1. Christopher "Chip" Mayer appeared as T.J. Daniels on "Santa Barbara" for about a year and a half. He was married to Eileen Davidson for a time. Sadly, Mr. Mayer passed away a few years ago. May he rest in peace.

    2. I'd put Coy and Vance in the 'recast' category regardless of the changing names of the characters. But you are right about Sarah Michelle Gellar and 'Ringer,' - I was out after one episode, and apparently I wasn't alone.

    3. Lynda Day George would basically agree with you about Lesley Ann Warren, Mr. Hofstede. I can't REALLY prove this, but I have a feeling that Ted Knight's appearance in the hit movie "Caddyshack" was a big reason why "Too Close for Comfort" was a significant ratings success in the early 1980s. Of course, it didn't hurt that Lydia Cornell was a good-looking woman.