Jon Cryer nearly played Chandler Bing on Friends, but FedEx spoiled his shot.
The “Pretty in Pink” star auditioned while in London and arranged for her to be quickly transported to Los Angeles for the night. But, as TV director James Burroughs reveals in his new book, the carrier lost the package and producers didn’t even see Cryer’s audition — paving the way for Matthew Perry to be cast.
This is just one story inDirected by James Burroughs,” on June 7, about the television guru’s six-decade career in television. He has directed over 50 pilots and has been associated with some of the greatest sitcoms of all time including “Friends,” “Will & Grace,” and “Taxi.” and “Cheers”, the creation of which he participated in.
Here are some of the most surprising stories from the book:
“Laverne and Shirley
Burroughs wrote that there was “tension” between co-stars Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams “from the start”. Penny was the sister of showrunner and producer Gary and their father Anthony and sister Ronnie were producers as well – making Williams look like the odd woman out.
“Cindy felt the show was too heavy for Marshall and counted how many lines she was assigned to Penny,” Burroughs wrote. “The two started having problems with each other, which became public. I was on set when the fan hit and the entire writing crew, whom I loved, got fired.”
Burroughs was impressed by the surreal comedian Andy Kaufman, who played the gentle mechanic Latka. Once upon a time, Kaufman’s alter-ego Tony Clifton—a vulgar singer—was set in an episode before the producers thought better of it. When they reported Kaufman’s manager, he said that was fine but Tony insisted he “should be fired in front of everyone, with a whore on each knee,” according to the book.
Tony didn’t take the shooting well and started screaming, “and a big fight broke out with everyone screaming and screaming.” Burroughs wrote that co-stars Tony Danza and Judd Hirsch loved her, but that Jeff Conway was upset by Kaufman’s play.
Burrows also reveals that Danny DeVito found a way to earn extra cash while playing evil taxi dispatcher Louie De Palma.
“Danny developed a small cottage industry that took bribes from the company, including myself, to advertise the names of family and friends when [his character] He was sending taxis,” he writes. “He had a good side hustle.”
Meanwhile, Danza was known as the rascal on the sound stage – stealing the security guard’s golf cart as well as “Fonzi’s motorcycle from the ‘Happy Days’ set.”
Burroughs had to talk to David Schwimmer to take on the role of Ross Geller, for whom he wrote candidly.
Burroughs reveals about the actor, who previously co-starred in Monty with Henry Winkler: “David initially turned down the ‘Friends’ job because he had a miserable experience on another show.” He was reluctant to commit to a minimum of five years, which all have to The sitcom actors do it… He was worried that the show wouldn’t be collaborative and that his ideas wouldn’t be welcome. We assured him that this experience would be different and it would be a group.”
To help create a camaraderie between the hexagrams, Burrows borrowed a Warner Bros. plane. To move unknown actors to Vegas for some time.
Convinced the show would be a success, Burroughs told them, “This is your last shot at hiding your identity. Once the show airs, you guys won’t be able to go anywhere without being chased. None of them believed me. None of them had any money at this point either. So I gave each of them a few hundred dollars to go gamble.
“I set aside fourteen hundred dollars. If the math doesn’t seem right, it’s because LeBlanc had no idea how to play craps and lost two hundred dollars in seconds, so I gave him another two hundred dollars. They came back to Los Angeles, and the show premiered, And they have never had a chance to remain anonymous since, and they each wrote me payment checks for the money I gave them.”
Burroughs wrote that in the first season of the show about a Boston pub, they tried to catch one legend as a guest spot: Lucille Ball to play Diane Chambers (Shelly Long)’s mother. Burroughs and brother Charles went to the star’s Beverly Hills home to discuss the part.
“[We] She sat in the living room with Lucy and her second husband, Gary Morton, whom she married after her divorce from Desi Arnaz,” Burroughs recalls. “We pitched her the idea. Gary got into something. Lucy cut him off and said, “My neighbor, remember where you’ve been.” When we left her house, we were trying to decide whether Lucy meant “remember where you were in that story you were telling” or “remember where you were before you married me”.
Either way, “Lucy turned us down” and the role went to British actress Glenys Jones.
Meanwhile, the character of Frasier Crane, played by Kelsey Grammer, was only supposed to be in four episodes.
But the moment they saw Grammer’s face on the audition tape, “We all started laughing…He got out of New York and had been living in his car in Paramount Square for some time.” The actor ended up playing the character for nearly 20 years, across both “Cheers” and his own show, “Frasier.”
Woody Harrelson was basically unknown when he was portrayed as the lovable but faded bartender Woody Boyd. Burroughs recalls how young actor Jo de Vivre revitalized the cast after Nicholas Colasanto, the actor who played Barkeep coach, died of a heart attack.
“Woody brought soccer balls, water pistols, and play balls to the set, turning the middle-aged cast into playful monsters chasing each other…” Burroughs wrote. “This staff was unrestricted.”
Burroughs wrote that he once asked Harrelson if he could jump over the bar instead of walking around it. He was able to” and it became a defining moment for both the character and the show. He was great at doing it, and it pissed everyone off, especially Teddy.
Rehearsal, Teddy tried to jump over the bar. It wasn’t a good moment for Ted or the pub.”
Jay Thomas was a comedian and disc jockey when he appeared in “Cheers” as Eddie LeBec, a Boston Bruins goalkeeper and caretaker waitress Carla Tortelli (Rhea Perlman). One day a caller on his radio show asked him what it was like on Cheers to which Thomas replied, “He’s brutal. I have to kiss Rhea Perlman.”
“That was him. He insulted Rhea, which means he insulted us all,” Burroughs wrote. “He crossed the family. Jay was unceremoniously fired. Since he was no longer on the show, Eddie also had to go. In our world, you don’t end up sleeping with the fish; you die a violent but comedic death.”
The book had Eddie play the penguin in a traveling ice show when he was killed by a slow-moving zamboni.
“Bob Newhart Show”
Burroughs reveals that when he worked on the pilot in 1972 for “The Bob Newhart Show,” they found that the show was going on for too long. A producer approached the comedian and said, “Bob, could you stutter a little?” Newhart’s response: “This stammer paid for my house in Beverly Hills.”
“Will and Grace”
Burroughs reveals his role as Sean Hayes and Alexis Arquette on the part of Jack MacFarland.
“Jack rests on a guy in New York who sleeps with everyone,” he writes. “By choosing Shawn, who seems rather innocent and kind, we didn’t go to the dark side and so the character became more attractive.
Bob Odenkirk was signed once to play Grace’s friend Nathan – but at the first table he read a performance by the “Better Call Saul” star was off. At the time, the actor was best known for the cult series “Mr. Show” and the producers were worried he wouldn’t be able to deliver, so Woody Harrelson took on the role. Years later, Odenkirk told Burroughs that he and his wife had just had a baby at the time and that he was exhausted.
“Men behave badly”
In recent years, Burroughs has added a “fun clause” to every comedic contract he’s signed that allows him to unilaterally walk away from the project if he’s not enjoying himself. It was only used once, on the short-lived NBC show “Men Behaving Badly.”
It was based on a British show about two cute guys who did horrible things. Burroughs explains that the original show was a success because the leads were so well-liked, and the audience forgave their misdeeds. But he adds that the US version’s number one mistake was hiring alum Rob Schneider on Saturday Night Live – who “wasn’t kind and didn’t know how to play a sweet character, so it became a show about a sly guy doing sly things.”
“No one can connect with that. Rob and Ron [Eldard, his co-star] it did not arrive. Occasionally, producers will say, “Rob is in his trailer and he’s not coming out. Can you talk to him? The stinger got so bad that during recording, in front of the audience, the actors walked through the show, saying their lines emotionlessly,” Burroughs writes. “They tried to replace Ron Peking Marino, but people find it very difficult to work with Rob. I have finished. “
In the book, Burroughs says that for him, fun is a harmonious work environment without the screaming of matches or tantrums.
“I still believe that kindness is the most important currency you can trade, in business and art…what I think I owe my success to is my way of making everyone in the lifeboat feel like keeping others afloat.”