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15 Prized Facts About Best in Show

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Based on a thin outline written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy, Best in Show was an improvised mockumentary about five entrants in the fictitious Mayflower Dog Show. Featuring the likes of Guest, Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Fred Willard, and Jane Lynch, the movie was the second in the streak of Guest-directed improvisational comedies considered to be the standard of the genre, after Waiting for Guffman (1996) and prior to A Mighty Wind (2003) and For Your Consideration (2006). Here are some facts about Best in Show, once you stop naming nuts.

1. EUGENE LEVY DIDN’T THINK IT COULD BE DONE.

Guest—portrayer of Nigel Tufnel in This Is Spinal Tap (1984) and Count Tyrone Rugen of The Princess Bride (1987)—and his wife, actress Jamie Lee Curtis, had two dogs, leading the writer/director to make frequent trips to the local dog park. "There were people there with purebred dogs, with mutts and so on, and as I mingled with them I started thinking that this might be an interesting idea to explore in a movie," Guest said in the film’s official production notes. In mid-1998, Guest called Levy with the idea and was told no. Levy was nervous about the third act, not knowing how to make a dog show funny.

2. GUEST AND COMPANY DID THEIR HOMEWORK.

Along with Levy and producer Karen Murphy, Guest spent months attending and researching dog shows. He attended the annual Westminster Dog Show, on which he based the movie's fictional Mayflower Dog Show. The principal cast all had classes with their respective dogs and Earlene Luke, an all-breed professional handler. The usual eight-week course of Luke’s was compressed into five intensive days.

3. THEY HAD TO MAKE THEIR OWN DOG SHOW.

No actual dog show would allow them to film on site, so they had to create their own.

4. SHERRI ANN’S ORIGINAL POODLE WAS FIRED.

On account of “misbehaving,” a new poodle was hired to portray Jennifer Coolidge's beloved pooch. Meg and Hamilton Swan (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock)  initially had a pointer dog, but this was changed to a Weimaraner. When their characters had a pointer, Posey and Hitchcock decided their characters shopped at J.Crew. When they got the Weimaraner, they shopped at Banana Republic. Posey shopped for beige and tan clothes, “because Weimaraners just look so delusional and lost."

5. POSEY AND HITCHCOCK PREPARED AT STARBUCKS.

Since their characters met at a Starbucks (two different ones, technically), the actors would hang out there figuring out their characters. Guest allowed Posey and Hitchcock to work with the set designer and go through the Sharper Image and Frontgate catalogs to work on the Swans’ home.

6. HAMILTON WANTED CHANDLER BING’S HAIR.

Hitchcock figured that Hamilton Swan would think he looked like Friends' Matthew Perry, so told the hairstylists to make his hair look like Perry’s hair during the then-current season of the hit NBC sitcom.

7. JENNIFER COOLIDGE USED A REAL-LIFE ACQUAINTANCE TO HELP DEVELOP THE CHARACTER OF SHERRI ANN.

When Coolidge first got to Los Angeles, she was employed as a babysitter in Beverly Hills for a Sherri Ann type, described by the actress as a “very feminine, very phony” woman. She considered portraying someone like her old employer as “kind of revenge.”

8. JIM PIDDOCK HAD TO SOUND KNOWLEDGEABLE AS TREVOR BECKWITH.

Guest gave Piddock a book called The American Kennel Club, which he had to read for an hour every night while working on a BBC show he co-created called Too Much Sun. He described the book as “not interesting reading.”

9. FRED WILLARD WAS ONLY THERE FOR TWO DAYS.

Willard and Piddock reviewed all of the footage of the dogs for four hours one day, then shot their hosting sequence from dawn to dusk the next, so Piddock could return to England. Murphy said she never saw Guest laugh as hard as he did when watching Willard perform as Buck Laughlin.

10. BUCK LAUGHLIN WAS BASED ON JOE GARAGIOLA.

Guest sent Willard tapes from past Westminster Dog Shows and asked him to notice the musings of former professional baseball player and broadcaster Joe Garagiola, who had hosted the most prestigious dog show of them all from 1994-2002, despite, as Guest pointed out to Willard, taking “no effort” in learning about dogs. Garagiola himself said he had seen Best in Show in an interview with CNN. “I think he used some lines I wouldn't use, but he's a funny guy and, hey, we all have our tastes. I didn't particularly like the show. I thought the satire went over the top.”

11. IT WAS SHOT ON SUPER 16MM FILM.

Mostly with handheld cameras. It was later blown up to 35mm for theaters.

12. THE NARRATIVE OUTLINE FOR THE FILM WAS ONLY 15 PAGES LONG.

Levy explained the outline and the major improvisation it left room for: "Our outline gives a very solid blueprint to the actors so they know how to get from point A to point B, but how they do it is largely up to them.”

13. 60 HOURS OF FOOTAGE WERE FILMED.

It took Guest eight months to edit it all down to 89 minutes. A lot of the used takes were first takes.

14. MEG’S PILL-TAKING AND POT-SMOKING WAS CUT OUT OF THE FILM.

Because the drug use might have earned them an R or PG-13 rating, it was taken out; Hitchcock claimed he played Hamilton as uptight partially due to his character not liking Meg’s smoking. Also cut was Harlan Pepper (Guest)’s obsession with beach balls.

15. IT CHANGED JANE LYNCH’S LIFE.

The comedic actress met Guest when she did a Frosted Flakes commercial with him. Months later, she was asked to join the Best in Show cast as Christy Cummings. “It opened up a bunch of doors for me,” she told The A.V. Club. “I felt like I fell into a way of working that really suits me. That was another one of those happy accidents that I could’ve never planned for, and it changed my life, really.”

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The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
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Disney/Marvel

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. CUBE (1997)

This low-budget independent film may have helped inspire the current "escape room" attraction fad. Six strangers wake up in a strange room that leads only to other rooms—all of them equipped with increasingly sadistic ways of murdering occupants.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. NEXT (2007)

Nic Cage stars a a magician who can see a few minutes into the future. He's looking to profit with the skill: the FBI and others are looking to exploit it.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  

6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2 (2017)

Marvel's tale of a misfit band of space jockeys was a surprise hit in 2014. The sequel offers more Groot, more Rocket Raccoon, and the addition of Kurt Russell as a human manifestation of an entire sentient planet.

7. STARDUST (2007)

Director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel features Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro as supporting players in the tale of a man (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox) in search of a fallen star to gift to his love.

8. KING KONG (2005)

Director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) set his considerable sights on a remake of the 1933 classic, with the title gorilla pestered and exploited by opportunistic humans.

9. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

What will a teenage mope do when a giant rabbit tells him the world is about to end? The answer comes in this critical and cult hit, which drew attention for its moody cinematography and an arresting performance by a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal.  

10. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

Soon we'll have a movie for every single major or minor incident ever depicted in the Star Wars universe. For now, we'll have to settle for this one-off that explains how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the plans for the Death Star.

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15 Surprising Facts About Hill Street Blues
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NBC

Until the impressive record was surpassed by The West Wing in 2000, Hill Street Blues held the title of most Emmy-awarded freshman series, with eight trophies for its debut season alone (despite its basement-level ratings). The drama that chronicled the lives of the men and women working the Hill Street police station beat has been credited with changing television ever since its debut in 1981.

Among Hill Street Blues's innovations are the use of handheld cameras, a large ensemble cast, multi-episode story arcs, and a mix of high drama and comedy—elements which still permeate the small screen today. Here are 15 facts about the groundbreaking series.

1. STEVEN BOCHCO AND MICHAEL KOZOLL CREATED IT, DESPITE NOT WANTING TO DO ANOTHER COP SHOW.

MTM Enterprises was specifically hired by NBC to create a cop show, so Steven Bochco (who later co-created L.A. Law and NYPD Blue) and Michael Kozoll (co-writer of First Blood) agreed to do it—as long as the network left them “completely alone to do whatever we want,” according to Bochco. NBC agreed, and the two wrote the pilot script in 10 days.

2. IT WAS INFLUENCED BY A 1977 DOCUMENTARY.

The show's creators looked to The Police Tapes, a 1977 documentary that chronicled a South Bronx police precinct during a particularly hostile time in New York City's history, for inspiration. NBC's then-president Fred Silverman was inspired to create a cop show in the first place after seeing Fort Apache, the Bronx (1981), which stars Paul Newman as a veteran cop in a South Bronx police district.

3. BRUCE WEITZ HAD AN AGGRESSIVE AUDITION.

Bruce Weitz landed the role of undercover officer Mick Belker by playing the part. "I went to the audition dressed as how I thought the character should dress—and loud and pushy," Weitz recalled. "When I got into the room, I jumped up on [MTM co-founder] Grant Tinker's desk and went after his nose. I heard he said afterwards, 'There's no way I can't offer him the job.'"

4. JOE SPANO THOUGHT HE WAS MISCAST.

Joe Spano in 'Hill Street Blues'
NBC

Joe Spano auditioned for the role of Officer Andrew Renko, but ended up playing Lieutenant Henry Goldblume. “I was always disappointed that I didn’t end up playing Renko,” Spano told Playboy in 1983. Spano also wasn't a fan of his character's penchant for bow ties, which he claimed was Michael Kozoll's idea. "I fought it all the way," he said. "I thought it was a stereotypical thing to do. But it actually turned out to be right. You don’t play into the bow tie—you fight against it."

5. BARBARA BOSSON WAS BOCHCO’S WIFE, BUT WASN’T PLANNING ON BEING A SERIES REGULAR.

Barbara Bosson played Fay, Captain Frank Furillo’s ex-wife, who was only supposed to appear in the first episode in order to “contextualize” the captain, according to Bochco. But when Silverman watched the episode, he asked, “She’s going to be a regular, right?”

6. IT TOOK MIKE POST TWO HOURS TO WRITE THE ICONIC THEME SONG.

The composer—who also wrote the themes for The Greatest American Hero, Magnum, P.I., The A-Team, NYPD Blue, and Law & Order—was instructed by Bochco to write something “antithetical” to the visuals. Post wanted to add more orchestration to the piano piece; Bochco disagreed.

Post also spent four to five hours writing five minutes of new music for each episode of Hill Street Blues.

7. THE PILOT TESTED POORLY.

According to a network memo, among the many problems test audiences noted were that "the main characters were perceived as being not capable and having flawed personalities ... Audiences found the ending unsatisfying. There are too many loose ends ... 'Hill Street' did not come off as a real police station ... There was too much chaos in the station house, again reflecting that the police were incapable of maintaining control even on their home ground." NBC picked it up anyway.

8. RENKO WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE IN THE FIRST EPISODE, AND COFFEY WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE AT THE END OF THE FIRST SEASON.

Charles Haid had other projects lined up, so he agreed to take the part of Renko, a man destined to die almost immediately. But another series Haid was relying on didn’t get picked up, and NBC claimed Renko tested too well for him to meet an early end. Ed Marinaro's Coffey was meant to be shot and killed in “Jungle Madness,” the final episode of the first season. The ending was changed to make it a cliffhanger, and Marinaro’s character survived.

9. THEY HAD HISTORICALLY BAD SEASON ONE RATINGS.

A 'Hill Street Blues' cast photo
NBC Television/Getty Images

In its first season, Hill Street Blues show finished 87th out of 96 shows, making it the lowest-rated drama in television history to get a second season. Bochco credited the show’s renewal to two things: NBC being a last place network at the time, and the NBC sales department noticing that high-end advertisers were buying commercial time during the show.

10. THEY NEVER SPECIFIED WHERE THE SHOW WAS LOCATED, BUT IT’S PROBABLY CHICAGO.

The exterior of the Maxwell Street police station in Chicago filled in for the fictitious Hill Street precinct for the opening credits and background footage. It was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1996 and is currently the University of Illinois at Chicago police department headquarters.

11. PLENTY OF FUTURE STARS MADE EARLY APPEARANCES.

Don Cheadle, James Cromwell, Laurence Fishburne, Tim Robbins, Andy Garcia, Cuba Gooding Jr., Danny Glover, Frances McDormand, and Michael Richards all found early work on the series.

12. SAMMY DAVIS JR. WANTED ON THE SHOW.

Sammy Davis Jr.
Michael Fresco, Evening Standard, Getty Images

Unfortunately, it never happened. Sometime after Bochco wrote in a reference to the singer, Davis and Bochco ran into each other. Davis said he loved it and started jumping up and down.

13. BOCHCO HAD A WAR WITH THE CENSORS.

Loving to use puns for titles, Bochco wanted to title an episode “Moon Over Uranus,” after Cape Canaveral was just in the news. Standards and Practices said no. Bochco eventually got his way, and proceeded to name the next two season three episodes “Moon Over Uranus: The Sequel” and “Moon Over Uranus: The Final Legacy.”

14. DAVID MILCH AND DICK WOLF’S CAREERS WERE LAUNCHED FROM IT.

David Milch (co-creator of NYPD Blue and creator of Deadwood) went from Yale writing teacher to a TV script writer through his former Yale roommate, Jeff Lewis. His first script for the show was season three's “Trial by Fury” episode, which won an Emmy, a WGA Award, and a Humanitas Prize. He later became an executive producer on the show. The first TV script credited to Dick Wolf (creator of the Law & Order franchise) was the season six episode, "Somewhere Over the Rambow." His first sole credit, for “What Are Friends For?,” earned Wolf an Emmy nomination in 1986.

It’s also worth noting that journalist and author Bob Woodward received a writing credit for season seven's “Der Roachenkavalier” and David Mamet penned the same season's “A Wasted Weekend” for his first television credit.

15. DENNIS FRANZ’S CHARACTER HAD A BRIEF, COMEDIC SPIN-OFF.

Dennis Franz (later Andy Sipowicz on NYPD Blue) first played corrupt cop Sal Benedetto in five episodes, before reappearing for the final two seasons as Lt. Norman Buntz. After Hill Street Blues ended its seven-season run, Franz reprised the latter character in Beverly Hills Buntz, which ran for one season beginning in 1987. In the 30-minute dramedy, Buntz was a private investigator after quitting the police force. Only nine episodes were broadcast by NBC.

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