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10 TV Characters Who Were Inspired By Real People

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HBO/FX

From soup-makers to suspected serial killers, the small screen is filled with fictional characters who are at least partly inspired by real people. Here are 10 of them.

1. THE COUNTESS // AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL

In 2015, Lady Gaga joined the cast of American Horror Story: Hotel to play The Countess, a woman who craves sex and human blood. Though the character wasn't created with real estate heir/murder suspect Robert Durst in mind, that's exactly who Gaga used as inspiration for The Countess.

“Every day I would watch Robert Durst in The Jinx and his wife, Debrah, and I would sort of study the practical nature in which he was devious and evil,” Gaga told Variety. “He just has this extremely practical way of explaining how he’s going conceal the fact that he’s dumped a body in a river and kept it in his house and cut up his best friend.”

2. COSMO KRAMER // SEINFELD

Cosmo Kramer wasn’t always Cosmo Kramer: Originally referred to as "Kessler” in the pilot, Seinfeld co-creator Larry David modeled Cosmo Kramer after his own real-life neighbor Kenny Kramer, an eccentric comedian who continuously had odd and irregular jobs. In order to make sure his own spin on the character was unique, Michael Richards opted not to meet the real Kramer.

3. DON DRAPER // MAD MEN

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Mad Mens Don Draper (Jon Hamm) shares a lot of similarities to real-life advertising executive Draper Daniels, who was the creative head of Leo Burnett in Chicago in the 1950s. Daniels was a handsome smooth-talker who came up with the Marlboro Man campaign. Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner once called Daniels, “one of the great copy guys.” 

4. OLIVIA POPE // SCANDAL

Shonda Rhimes based Scandal's Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) on crisis manager Judy Smith, who served as special assistant and deputy press secretary to George H.W. Bush and has represented politicians and celebrities such as Clarence Thomas, Monica Lewinsky, Michael Vick, and Paula Deen. Smith also serves as a co-executive producer and technical advisor on the hit drama.

"I come up with crisis ideas and send them to Shonda," Smith told ABC 7 in Chicago. "And she will call and say, 'What do you think about this?' and we talk about it. I read every script and I send them notes, and sometimes I am on the set. It's fun."

5. OMAR LITTLE // THE WIRE 

HBO

Donnie Andrews was a reformed drug dealer and hitman turned police informant from West Baltimore; he was also the inspiration for Omar Little (Michael K. Williams), one of The Wire’s most beloved characters. Series creator David Simon became acquainted with Andrews when he worked as a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun. When it came time to make The Wire, he based the character of Omar on Andrews, and also hired him as a consultant on the series.

“They made Omar exactly the way I was,” Andrews told Vice. “David wrote [the Baltimore Sun article] ‘The West Side Story’ after my conviction in 1986 and they basically had everything down-pat. The gay part they took from a guy called Billy Outlaw, he was a gay stick-up guy.” In 2012, Andrews passed away from heart complications at the age of 58.

6. VINCENT CHASE // ENTOURAGE

The character of Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) on Entourage is based on the series’s executive producer, Mark Wahlberg, who had a very similar group of friends and rise to stardom in Hollywood.

''My assistant wanted to film my friends around me, because he just thought it was hilarious,” Wahlberg told The New York Times. “Initially we wanted to kind of go for someone who was more like myself … but we didn't think that the entourage fighting amongst themselves, like hitting each other with bottles … was going work. So we wanted it a little bit lighter.''

7. LUCIOUS LYON // EMPIRE

YouTube


Empire co-creator Danny Strong based the character Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) on rapper and media mogul Jay Z because of his past criminal life and rise to stardom through hip-hop.

"The Jay Z story, which very much inspired …  certain elements of Lucious Lyon, was that story," Strong said. "For me, the story of people who have some sort of criminal past, or gangster past are not limited to black culture … Our goal is to tell a great story, and to do the best show we can.”

8. ABED NADIR // COMMUNITY

Community creator Dan Harmon based the character of Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi) on his friend and colleague, Abed Gheith. The pair worked together on Channel 101, a monthly film festival that showcases serialized mini-TV shows in Los Angeles and New York. According to Gheith, “I think I’m a bit more aware socially. I can tell when people are uncomfortable … It seems like the one on the show has no idea that he’s around other people. Like he's watching them on TV.  So he's kind of a kid-like version of me.”

9. THE SOUP NAZI // SEINFELD 

YouTube

The Soup Nazi (Larry Thomas) is one of the most popular breakout characters from Seinfeld. He was based on chef/businessman Ali Yeganeh, who owned Soup Kitchen International, a restaurant in New York City that had very strict rules about ordering and paying for soup, which retailed for $30 a pint in 1995. Despite his reportedly gruff demeanor, New Yorkers and tourists would line up around the block to taste Yeganeh’s delicious creations.

However, after the Seinfeld episode aired, Yeganeh hated the term “The Soup Nazi” and banned any use of it and/or reference to the NBC sitcom from his restaurant and all of his “Original Soup Man” franchises. He also claimed that the episode "ruined his life” and considers Jerry Seinfeld a “clown.”

10. BASIL FAWLTY // FAWLTY TOWERS

John Cleese based his Fawlty Towers character Basil Fawlty on a real-life hotel owner and manager named Donald Sinclair. In 1970, the Monty Python guys were guests at the Gleneagles Hotel in the seaside town of Torquay, England, where they came across the strict hotel proprietor. According to fellow Monty Python member Michael Palin, Sinclair wouldn’t bring in Eric Idle's suitcase because he thought there was a bomb in it.

In 1975, Cleese co-created Fawlty Towers with his then-wife Connie Booth. Cleese later described Donald Sinclair as "the most wonderfully rude man I have ever met."

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Every New Movie, TV Series, and Special Coming to Netflix in May
Netflix
Netflix

Netflix is making way for loads of laughs in its library in May, with a handful of original comedy specials (Steve Martin, Martin Short, Carol Burnett, Tig Notaro, and John Mulvaney will all be there), plus the long-awaited return of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Here’s every new movie, TV series, and special making its way to Netflix in May.

MAY 1

27: Gone Too Soon

A Life of Its Own: The Truth About Medical Marijuana

Amelie

Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures: Season 1

Beautiful Girls

Darc

God's Own Country

Hachi: A Dog's Tale

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

High School Musical 3: Senior Year

John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous Live at Radio City

Mr. Woodcock

My Perfect Romance

Pocoyo & Cars

Pocoyo & The Space Circus

Queens of Comedy: Season 1

Reasonable Doubt

Red Dragon

Scream 2

Shrek

Simon: Season 1

Sliding Doors

Sometimes

The Bourne Ultimatum

The Carter Effect

The Clapper

The Reaping

The Strange Name Movie

Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V: Season 2

MAY 2

Jailbreak

MAY 4

A Little Help with Carol Burnett

Anon

Busted!: Season 1

Dear White People: Volume 2

End Game

Forgive Us Our Debts

Kong: King of the Apes: Season 2

Manhunt

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Tina Fey

No Estoy Loca

The Rain: Season 1

MAY 5

Faces Places

MAY 6

The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale

MAY 8

Desolation

Hari Kondabolu: Warn Your Relatives

MAY 9

Dirty Girl

MAY 11

Bill Nye Saves the World: Season 3

Evil Genius: the True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist

Spirit Riding Free: Season 5

The Kissing Booth

The Who Was? Show: Season 1

MAY 13

Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife

MAY 14

The Phantom of the Opera

MAY 15

Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce: Season 4

Grand Designs: Seasons 13 - 14

Only God Forgives

The Game 365: Seasons 15 - 16

MAY 16

89

Mamma Mia!

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

The Kingdom

Wanted

MAY 18

Cargo

Catching Feelings

Inspector Gadget: Season 4

MAY 19

Bridge to Terabithia

Disney’s Scandal: Season 7

Small Town Crime

MAY 20

Some Kind of Beautiful

MAY 21

Señora Acero: Season 4

MAY 22

Mob Psycho 100: Season 1

Shooter: Season 2

Terrace House: Opening New Doors: Part 2

Tig Notaro Happy To Be Here

MAY 23

Explained

MAY 24

Fauda: Season 2

Survivors Guide to Prison

MAY 25

Ibiza

Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life

The Toys That Made Us: Season 2

Trollhunters: Part 3

MAY 26

Sara's Notebook

MAY 27

The Break with Michelle Wolf

MAY 29

Disney·Pixar's Coco

MAY 30

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 4

MAY 31

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Howard Stern

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20 Best Docuseries You Can Stream Right Now
A scene from Wild Wild Country (2018)
A scene from Wild Wild Country (2018)
Netflix

If your main interests are true crime and cooking, you’re in the middle of a Renaissance Age. The Michelangelos of nonfiction are consistently bringing stellar storytelling to twisty tales of murder and mayhem as well as luxurious shots of food prepared by the most creative culinary minds.

But these aren’t the only genres that documentary series are tackling. There’s a host of history, arts, travel, and more at your streaming fingertips. When you want to take a break from puzzling out who’s been wrongfully imprisoned, that is.

Here are the 20 best docuseries to watch right now, so start streaming.

1. WILD WILD COUNTRY (2018)

What happens when an Indian guru with thousands of American followers sets up shop near a small town in Oregon with the intent to create a commune? Incredibly sourced, this documentary that touches on every major civic issue—from religious liberty to voting rights—should be your new obsession. When you choose a side, be prepared to switch. Multiple times.

Where to watch it: Netflix

2. FLINT TOWN (2018)

If your heart is broken by what’s going on in Flint, Michigan, be prepared to have that pain magnified and complicated. The filmmakers behind this provocative series were embedded with police in Flint to offer us a glimpse at the area’s local struggles and national attention from November 2015 through early 2017.

Where to watch it: Netflix

3. MAKERS: WOMEN WHO MAKE AMERICA (2013)

Narrated by Meryl Streep, this three-part series covers a half-century of American experience from the earliest days of second-wave feminism through Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court nomination in the 1990s. Ellen DeGeneres, Condoleezza Rice, Sally Ride, Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and more are featured, and the series got six more episodes in a second season.

Where to watch it: Makers.com

4. THE JINX (2015)

After the massive success of Serial in 2014, a one-two punch of true crime docuseries landed the following year. One was the immensely captivating study of power, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, which chronicled the bizarre, tangled web of the real estate mogul who was suspected of several murders. The show, which could be measured in jaw-drops per hour, both registered real life and uniquely affected it.

Where to watch it: HBO

5. MAKING A MURDERER (2015)

The second major true crime phenom of 2015 was 10 years in the making. Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos uncovered the unthinkable story of Steven Avery, a man wrongfully convicted of sexual assault who was later convicted of murdering a different woman, Teresa Halbach. Not just a magnifying glass on the justice system and a potential small town conspiracy, it’s also a display of how stories can successfully get our blood boiling.

Where to watch it: Netflix

6. WORMWOOD (2017)

Speaking of good conspiracies: documentary titan Errol Morris turns his keen eye to a CIA project that’s as famous as it is unknown—MKUltra. A Cold War-era mind control experiment. LSD and hypnosis. The mysterious death of a scientist. His son’s 60-year search for answers. Morris brings his incisive eye to the hunt.

Where to watch it: Netflix

7. FIVE CAME BACK (2017)

Based on Mark Harris’s superlative book, this historical doc features filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro discussing the WWII-era work of predecessors John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens. Also narrated by Meryl Streep, it looks at how the war shaped the directors and how they shaped the war. As a bonus, Netflix has the war-time documentaries featured in the film available to stream.

Where to watch it: Netflix

8. THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY (2011)

If you can’t afford film school, and your local college won’t let you audit any more courses, Mark Cousins’s 915-minute history is the next best thing. Unrivaled in its scope, watching it is like having a charming encyclopedia discuss its favorite movies. Yes, at 15-episodes it’s sprawling, so, yes, you should watch it all in one go. Carve out a weekend and be ready to take notes on all the movies you want to watch afterward.

Where to watch it: Sundance Now

9. UGLY DELICIOUS (2018)

David Chang, the host of the first season of The Mind of a Chef, has returned with a cultural mash-up disguised as a foodie show. What does it mean for pizza to be “authentic”? What do Korea and the American South have in common? With his casual charm in tow, Chang and a variety of special guests explore people through the food we love to eat as an artifact that brings us all together.

Where to watch it: Netflix

10. JAZZ (2000)

A legend of nonfiction, Ken Burns has more than a few docuseries available to stream, including long-form explorations of the Civil War and baseball. His 10-episode series on jazz exhaustively tracks nearly a century of the formation and evolution of the musical style across the United States. You’ll wanna mark off a big section of the calendar and crank up the volume.

Where to watch it: Amazon

11. THE STAIRCASE (2004)

In 2001, author Michael Peterson reported to police that his wife had died after falling down a set of stairs, but police didn’t buy the story and charged him with her murder. Before the current true crime boom, before Serial and all the rest, there was Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s Peabody Award-winning docuseries following Peterson’s winding court case. The mystery at the heart of the trial and the unparalleled access Lestrade had to Peterson’s defense make this a must-see. (Netflix just announced that it will be releasing three new episodes of the series this summer.)

Where to watch it: Sundance Now

12. PLANET EARTH II (2016)

The sequel to the 2006 original is a real stunner. Narrated (naturally) by Sir David Attenborough, featuring music from Hans Zimmer, and boasting gorgeous photography of our immeasurably fascinating planet, this follow-up takes us through different terrains to see the life contained within. There are snow leopards in the mountains, a swimming sloth in the islands, and even langurs in our own urban jungle. Open your eyes wide to learn a lot or put it on in the background to zen out.

Where to watch it: Netflix

13. THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA (2009)

The cheapest way to visit Yosemite, Yellowstone, Muir Woods, and more. This Emmy-winning, six-part series is both a travelogue and a history lesson in conservation that takes up the argument of why these beautiful places should be preserved: to quote President Roosevelt, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Where to watch it: Amazon

14. CONFLICT (2015)

Experience the too-often-untold stories of conflict zones through the lenses of world class photographers like Nicole Tung, Donna Ferraro, and João Silva. This heart-testing, bias-obliterating series is unique in its views into dark places and eye toward hope.

Where to watch it: Netflix

15. LAST CHANCE U (2016)

Far more than a sports documentary, the story of the players at East Mississippi Community College will have you rooting for personal victories as much as the points on the scoreboard. Many of the outstanding players on the squad lost spots at Division I schools because of disciplinary infractions or failing academics, so they’re seeking redemption in a program that wants them to return to the big-name schools. There are two full seasons to binge and a third on the way.

Where to watch it: Netflix

16. VICE (2013)

Currently in its sixth season, the series is known for asking tough questions that need immediate answers and giving viewers a street-level view of everything from killing cancer to juvenile justice reform. Its confrontational style of gonzo provocation won’t be everyone’s cup of spiked tea, but it’s filling an important gap that used to be filled by major network investigative journalists. When they let their subjects—from child soldiers suffering PTSD after fighting for ISIS to coal miners in Appalachia—tell their stories, nonfiction magic happens.

Where to watch it: HBO

17. CHEF’S TABLE (2015)

From David Gelb, the documentarian behind Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this doc series is a backstage pass to the kitchens of the world’s most elite chefs. The teams at Osteria Francescana, Blue Hill, Alinea, Pujol, and more open their doors to share their process, culinary creativity, and, of course, dozens of delicious courses. No shame in licking your screen.

Where to watch it: Netflix

18. NOBU’S JAPAN (2014)

For those looking to learn more about culture while chowing down, world-renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa guides guest chefs to different regions of Japan to ingest the sights, sounds, and spirits of the area before crafting a dish inspired by the journey. History is the main course, with a healthy dash of culinary invention that honors tradition.

Where to watch it: Sundance Now

19. THE SYSTEM (2014)

Should a jury decide if a child is sentenced to life in jail without parole? How can you go to jail for 20 years for shooting your gun inside your own home to deter thieves? These are just two of the questions examined by this knockout series about the conflicts, outdated methods, and biases lurking in America’s criminal justice system. Insightful and infuriating, it makes a strong companion to Ava DuVernay’s 13th.

Where to watch it: Al Jazeera and Sundance Now

20. BOBBY KENNEDY FOR PRESIDENT (2018)

It won’t be available until April 27 (so close!), but it’s well worth adding to your queue. This four-part series utilizes a wealth of footage, including unseen personal videos, to share the tragic story of Robert F. Kennedy’s run for president in the context of an era riven by racial strife. Watching this socio-political memorial told by many who were there (including Marian Wright and Congressman John Lewis), it will be impossible not to draw connections to the current day and wonder: What if?

Where to watch it: Netflix

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