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5 Dumb Moments in TV Careers

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I suppose that unless you hire Sylvia Browne as your manager, it's impossible to predict which TV shows are going to be hits when considering prospective scripts. But it's always fun to laugh at self-important celebrities after the fact, isn't it? Or do I just have a mean streak?

1. Jerry Van Dyke turns down Gilligan

03.jpgWe've all read interviews with actors who lament about being typecast, and that list includes some of the folks who worked on Gilligan's Island. Interestingly enough, Bob Denver almost didn't get the title role because series creator Sherwood Schwartz couldn't picture Denver as anyone but the bearded beatnik Maynard G. Krebs from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. The actor that Schwarz thought would be perfect for the part of Gilligan was Jerry Van Dyke, who had perfected the art of playing a hapless goofball. Van Dyke, in a typically savvy career move, turned down the offer, describing the script as "inane."

Instead, he accepted the lead on a different sitcom, My Mother the Car. Hmmm... stranded castaways, or mom reincarnated as an automobile?

Which one ranks higher on the inanity meter?

The famous TV roles Mickey Rooney and Bing Crosby could have had, after the jump.

2. Mickey Rooney rejects All in the Family

05.jpgNorman Lear's first choice for the lead role in his edgy new sitcom was Mickey Rooney. He pitched the role of bigoted Archie Justice (the show was called Justice for All at the time) to "the Mick" and gave him a script to read. Rooney responded, "'Norman, they're going to kill you in the street. They're going to kill you dead." He felt that such an offensive show would spell career death for anyone involved. (Even Lucille Ball commented "How can they show this on CBS?" after viewing the pilot.) Of course, All in the Family went on to not only win ratings and awards but also made a star out of the man who ultimately played Archie, Carroll O'Connor.

3. Bing Crosby as Columbo

07.jpgThe role of bumbling detective Lt. Columbo had been written with an older man in mind. Indeed, when previous incarnations of the character had appeared on stage and on the old TV show Chevy Mystery Theater, Columbo had been played by Burt Freed and Thomas Mitchell (Scarlett O'Hara's dad in Gone with the Wind). So when network execs gave the green light to starring the rumpled detective in his own prime time series, producers first approached Bing Crosby for the role. However, Crosby considered himself semi-retired, and while he didn't mind the occasional guest spot, he knew that the grind of a regular series would interfere with his first love, golf. Peter Falk seemed an unlikely replacement, but he made the role his own, and today it's hard to picture anyone else in that wrinkled raincoat, fumbling for a pencil and mumbling "Oh, just one more thing..."

4. Barbara Cowsill and The Partridge Family

09.jpgThe Cowsills were a singing family who'd hit the #2 spot on the pop charts twice, with "The Rain, the Park, and Other Things" and "Hair." Unlike other family groups of that era (The Osmonds, The Jackson 5ive), mini-skirt-clad mom Barbara Cowsill was also a part of the band. The American Dairy Association signed the family to a million dollar contract and featured them drinking milk in commercials and print ads. It was the logical next step to have Hollywood come a-callin'. A proposed TV series about a musical family was pitched to the band's manager, Bud Cowsill, ex-Navy officer and patriarch who ruled his family with an iron fist. The producers wanted the Cowsill kids for the show, since the older brothers were already getting extensive coverage in teen magazines, but they were leaning towards hiring an experienced "name" actress for the role of the mother. Bud held his ground and said it was Barb or nothing, and he ultimately got his wish. None of the Cowsill clan were used, and The Partridge Family not only made a star out of David Cassidy but also revived Shirley Jones' flagging career.

5. Van Johnson snubs The Untouchables

01.jpgWhen Desilu Productions was preparing The Untouchables for television, Van Johnson was offered and had accepted the lead role as Eliot Ness. Johnson's wife, Evie, also acted as his manager, and tried a last-minute strategy to boost her husband's salary; with shooting scheduled to begin on Monday, she phoned Desi Arnaz on Saturday night and demanded that he double Van's salary. Arnaz told Evie, "You know what you can tell Van"¦?" He browsed through the Screen Actors Guild directory and saw old pal Robert Stack listed. He phoned Stack at two o'clock Sunday morning and offered him the role. Stack (who came from a wealthy California family and didn't really need a job) asked, "Is it gonna be anything good?" Desi replied, "Amigo, we're gonna make it the best damn show in all of television."

Past 'Confessions of a TV-Holic'...

When Sitcoms Go Global
5 Cases of Unwanted Fame
When Sitcom Stars Start Expecting
7 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The Golden Girls
We Still Love Lucy
6 Backdoor Pilots (and why they belong at the back door)

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The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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Family Communications Inc./Getty Images

For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before he was called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior, in 1980, to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their original poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and said that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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