Recasting TV Characters

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 26 August 2014.

With the first episode of Doctor Who starring Peter Capaldi hitting the small screen (and the big screen for the truly addicted) this past Sunday, let’s have a wander through my top 4 least successful recasting of characters in the world of television.

For the record, I thought Deep Breath was a solid start for the twelfth Doctor and I’m looking forward to enjoying Capaldi’s prickly, all business Time Lord.

4. The First Doctor – Doctor Who: To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original run of Doctor Who, a feature episode was produced in 1983. The Five Doctors was to reunite all five lead actors. Unfortunately, Tom Baker refused to participate so footage from the unaired story Shada was slotted in instead. The original Doctor William Hartnell had passed away in 1975 and was replaced by Richard Hurndall. Although endorsed by Hartnell’s widow, Hurndall portrayal of the acerbic first Doctor is the least believable aspect of the special, despite the wobbly sets and rubbery aliens. Hurndall passed away in the same year, supposedly before he was paid for the role.

3. Catwoman – Batman: If Batman is the world’s greatest detective, why was he incapable of noticing when his arch nemesis Catwoman changed from white actress Julie Newmar to black cabaret songstress Eartha Kitt in the campy TV series which ran from 1966-1968? Catwoman even changed again to the white Lee Meriwether for the movie. I suppose she was wearing a mask.

2. Becky – Roseanne: For the first five seasons of Roseanne Barr’s sitcom, daughter Becky was played by Lecy Goranson. When the actress chose to pursue university, her character was written out of the show. By season six, the role was recast with Sarah Chalke (later of Scrubs fame) who continued until the end of season seven, when Goranson’s university schedule allowed her to return. Scheduling conflicts midway through season eight resulted in Becky being played by both actresses in different episodes. Chalke reclaimed the role full time for the show’s ninth and final season. The show producers dealt with the regular changes in Becky’s appearance with a running gag.

1. Jan Brady – The Brady Bunch: When the cast of The Brady Bunch were approached in 1976 to return to television in the all singing, all dancing, all terrible Brady Bunch Variety Hour, all were coaxed back with the exception of Eve Plumb (Jan) who wisely stayed away. She was replaced by “Fake Jan” Geri Reischl, a talented singer and actor. Luckily for everyone involved, and TV audiences, the show only lasted nine episodes and is considered one of the worst ever produced. Geri retired in 1983, but returned to singing in 2000. My brother bought me an autographed copy of her 2011 album, entitled 1200 Riverside for my birthday last year. It is not very good, but the CD makes a great drink coaster.


Television’s Guilty Pleasures

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 17th August 2010.

So what’s your favourite television guilty pleasure? Something probably from the seventies or eighties that you’ve bought on DVD but have to hide at the back of your shelf for fear of friends finding it. Someone must be buying those Baywatch boxed sets, especially season three which sees the introduction of renown Shakespearian actress Pamela Anderson as pneumatic lifeguard C.J. Parker. How the Baywatch team saved anyone from drowning is beyond me, considering that every time they ran across the beach, it happened in slow motion. Perhaps the name Gordon Shumway floats your boat? A wise-cracking alien from the planet Melmac, ALF starred in his own sitcom from 1986 to 1990 and for a short time, was so popular on Aussie television that he was regularly beating Sunday night juggernaut 60 Minutes in the ratings. Seasons one and two of ALF have recently been released on DVD. My rather embarrassing guilty pleasure features a completely bizarre concept. Take the classic American sitcom family and teleport them into an all singing, all dancing variety show and you have the notorious Brady Bunch Variety Hour. The original Brady series aired on US network CBS and closed up shop in 1974 due to falling ratings, however, with syndication, the show became even more popular. It is claimed that since 1975, an episode of The Brady Bunch has aired somewhere in the world every single day. At the time of its demise, the Brady cast were not aware of their status as American cultural icons and were keen to escape their Brady alter egos. In 1976, producers Sid and Marty Krofft of H.R. Pufnstuf and Banana Splits fame managed to coax the entire Brady cast, with the exception of Eve Plumb (Jan), to US network ABC for a one-off hour long special, The Brady Bunch Variety Hour. Out of the returning Brady kids, only Barry Williams (Greg) and Maureen McCormick (Marcia) considered themselves capable singers and dancers. Florence Henderson, who portrayed wholesome matriarch Carol Brady, was a veteran of musical theatre. Strangely enough, the most enthusiastic of the Brady cast was Robert Reed (Mike), who hated his on-screen goody two shoes persona but was intrigued by the prospect of showing off his (limited) singing and dancing abilities. Jan Brady was recast in the guise of talented country singer Geri Reischl. So as the theme tune goes, here’s the story. The Brady family gets the opportunity to star in their own variety show. Leaving behind Mike’s architectural job and the original house, the Brady’s move to Los Angeles with housekeeper Alice in tow. Their neighbour, camp comedian Rip Taylor, also participates in the hi-jinks. Makes perfect sense, yes? No seventies show is complete without a kitsch set and the Variety Hour was no exception. Imagine a psychedelic glittered set, with its centrepiece, a swimming pool. The Krofftettes, a troupe of synchronised swimmers and dancers, featured heavily in the show, splashing around to the Brady clan badly singing and dancing to disco versions of such gems as Yankee Doodle Dandy, Al Jolson’s Toot Toot Tootsie and most bizarrely, Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die. The Brady Bunch Variety Hour staggered on for a total of nine episodes, featuring guest stars such as Donnie and Marie, Tina Turner, Vincent Price and Lee Majors. American magazine, TV Guide, recently pronounced the Variety Hour as the fourth worst television show of all time. Only two episodes of this cult classic have been released in the US on DVD. In fact, Aussie pay TV channel, TV1, was integral to the rediscovering of this long forgotten series, re-airing it in the late nineties for the first time since its original broadcast. Highlights of the series can be found on YouTube and are well worth a laugh. The Brady Bunch Variety Hour is my favourite television guilty pleasure because it represents a (perhaps imaginary) time of innocence, where sequined jumpsuits were perfectly acceptable for women (and men) and the lack of singing and dancing skills was no obstacle to shaking your groove thing around the swimming pool on the sparkly set of your family’s very own musical variety show. Any time the Bunch is on my TV, all is right in the world.

Published in: on August 17, 2010 at 11:35  Comments (2)  
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