Empty Nest is now on Laff TV! To celebrat
ENO: Charley was the classic "wacky neighbor" character and a great foil for Carol. How would you describe him, and how was he to play?
David: When I came back to work, my actor’s ego took a shot in the behind because my character changed from a test pilot in a leather jacket to an idiot who wore white Bermuda shorts, knee socks and worked on a cruise ship. I had become “Gopher” from The Love Boat. But, let’s face it, they were writing to my acting range: lying, smarmy car salesman and obnoxious, mooching neighbor. I didn’t have to work too hard to get there. I got to barge into the kitchen, lay a couple of zingers down, get some laughs and get kicked out by Harry. It was a great character that was pretty much the real me. I’d usually have two or three scenes a week. Richard used to kid me that I was the highest paid “under five” (five lines or less) in the business. Ha ha ha, he was right! I figured out that one week (Garth Brooks week) I made money by the word. I think Park exaggerated that to $10,000 a word, but it was really only $2,500.
Richard worked hard. “You bastard,” he’d say to me, “I’ve got to carry this show on my back, memorize 40 pages, and you waltz in with your silver bullets that I set up and get laughs?” He was joking, of course, but he was right. He worked his ass off. He used the dining room table on the set as his workplace. He was always there, the captain of our ship. I learned a lot about being a professional from Richard. And he was smart! One time on the show, Charley was being kept by an older, rich woman that today you’d call a cougar/MILF. Harry has a scene with Charley where he tells him to just stop seeing her, that it’s not right and to give everything back. Basically, the writers were going for a visual gag where I take off all the clothes she gave me, and I’m left standing there in only my boxers and a pinky ring: “And give back the ring, too.” But it didn’t make any sense. This is what Charley has lived for all his life, free everything, and it wasn’t working in rehearsals.
Richard took me aside and fixed it in about a minute without rewriting a thing but switching the lines around. Pure genius. At notes, when the writers and actors go back and forth about what is and isn’t working, Richard starts talking about this scene and dances all around, telling the writers we have a problem because of this and that. I’m sitting there wondering why he just doesn’t tell them the fix he came up with. Then I finally get it. He’s so considerate and intelligent! He’s trying to get the writers to come up with it themselves and write it. They have egos, too. They got pretty close, but it wasn’t as good as what he came up with. But what a guy, huh?
ENO: Dinah Manoff said the episode where Carol and Charley sleep together is one of her favorites. What are some of yours?
David: That show where we sleep together was almost impossible to do. Dinah and I are such pals and loved being bitchy to each other on the show in character. We had to kiss. You know, it’s that moment when you stare into each other’s eyes and slowly come together, stop, then go in for the kiss. We couldn’t get through it in rehearsals because we kept cracking up. It was like incest. And in front of a live audience that knows the show and the characters, they went crazy, and we’d crack up again, which just makes the audience go crazier. I think Dinah finally said, “Fuck it. Let’s make out.” And we just kissed between takes in front of the audience for two straight minutes, so everybody could get used to it for the scene. She’s pretty smart. That’s two things; pretty and smart.
“The Fracas in Vegas” was a fun episode, written by David Richardson. He wrote a lot of great episodes, and I’m not just saying that because we’re friends and I owe him money. “Overboard” was fun. I got to wear one of my gazillion different costumes. I think I was a guru in that one. I was a one-legged pirate with a parrot on my shoulder in another show. I was always in some sort of weird costume. Once I was walking across the stage wearing a killer whale costume and our warm-up guy, Michael Burger (who was brilliant, by the way), asked me if I’d answer questions from the audience. My face came out of the whale’s mouth, and it had these two rubbery arms that bounced every time I turned my head to talk. So now I get asked by an audience member how, as an actor, I prepare for each week’s show. I have a plaque that Doug Smart gave me with the answer: “If I was a better actor, I wouldn’t have to wear these fucking costumes!”
“Brotherly Shove” was another one I couldn’t stop cracking up in. Peter Scolari played my brother, Deiter Dietz. One of those chemistry things, I guess. Years later, I guest starred on his show Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, and the same thing happened.
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