Empty Nest is now on Laff TV! To celebrat
ENO: Tell me about working with your castmates.
David: Dreyfuss was a big pain in the ass, because he couldn’t remember his lines. We had a photo shoot for his birthday once where I had to hold his chin up with one hand and hold a giant piece of birthday cake in front of him. The cake was made of hamburger. The drool from Bear’s mouth was cascading down my arm and pooling up on the floor. They finally had to get a mop and then a bucket. I took a shower afterwards with Mr. Clean. Hmmm, that came out kinda weird, didn’t it?
Estelle Getty didn’t drool as bad as Dreyfuss, but she was pretty bad with lines. She made that part of her character, and it worked. If you ever watch The Golden Girls or Empty Nest, watch how she nails a joke. She turns downstage, towards the camera, and delivers a punch line. She does that because that’s where the cue cards were with her lines written on them. And what’s weird is that, at the table read, she would be perfect. As the week progressed, she’d lose a little something. By tape night, she couldn’t remember a thing. Oh well, it happens to us all. Now days, I have to look at my driver’s license to remember where I live. And it’s an old license, so I end up in somebody else’s house.
Marsha Warfield and I had a connection way before Empty Nest. I’m not sure if it was an NBC connection, because she was on Night Court taking over for all the other actresses who had died in the same part. But she and I had worked together and appeared together a couple of times. Her comedy was much more than her just being droll. She had her own talk show in the early 90s and had me on with M.C. Hammer. Being the quintessential tight-assed white guy that I am, I had no idea who he was. Marsha is funny, fast and cuts deep. I can say that more than once I found myself laughing in a pool of my own blood.
Lisa Rieffel was a great kid. She had the impossible job of becoming the third sister after Kristy McNichol left the show. She was very good, but it didn’t work out. When her band, Killola, was in L.A., I went with my daughter to see her perform, met her after, and we caught up. She was totally punked out!
I’d like to catch up with Paul Provenza someday, too. After he was on our show, and we closed down, he went to Northern Exposure and shut that show down, too. If you have a show you’re trying to get rid of, Better Call Paul! He produced the movie The Aristocrats about the dirtiest joke in the world that everybody knows but you can’t tell except in private. I went to see it at a theater, and I guess a lot of people thought it was going to be like a Disney film or something because, by the end of the film, there were only 10 of us left, ha ha ha!
Park Overall had a thing about jokes involving Southern culture or the image that there is nothing but rednecks. Lines like “chiggers on a mountain woman” drove her nuts. Of course, even she would admit it’s a short drive for her to “nuts.” (Love you, Park!) But she made even that low-hanging fruit work, because she’s a good actress. What I mean to say is that she’s a good actress for someone from Tennessee. (Love you, Park!)
Kristy McNichol had the best instincts. Unlike myself, who made a meal out of every line, she did more with less. She was winning Emmys at 8 when I was waiting on tables at 30. One time, we had a guest director who was watching her performance on stage. After the scene, he got in her face and said she missed all the comic beats. She asked him where he was watching from, and he said, “Right in front of you.” She told him to go look at the monitor replay and see what comic beats are missing there. She was right on! They were all there for the camera. When she had to leave the show, the chemistry got unbalanced. Seriously, look at what they did to try and fix it. They brought in Paul Provenza, Marsha Warfield, Lisa Rieffel and Estelle Getty, all great actors, to fill that gap. When she came back for the last two shows, she slipped into that role so seamlessly that it was like she’d never been gone. There was a lull in the taping on the final day, everything was dead quiet on stage, and Victor, one of our great prop masters, accidentally verbalized what everyone had been thinking: “So, Kristy…where you been?” There was this uncomfortable moment then everybody started giggling. That turned into sweet tears.
Richard Mulligan was true to his character, Harry Weston, for seven seasons, even though every once in a while the writers would try to get him to be Burt from Soap again. He wouldn’t do it. Only once did he do it. In the last season, they ran out of ideas all the time, and we were getting last-second script rewrites constantly. One show, we were two minutes short, and even after the last set of rewrites we were still two minutes short. Richard said, “Okay! You guys have been trying to get me to do this for years. I’ll fill your two minutes at the top of the show, and you don’t need to write anything. Just roll the cameras.” So for two minutes, Richard did a Chaplinesque silent version of Burt from Soap making coffee and toast. It was the funniest thing on the show. He was incredible.
Dinah Manoff. What did Dorothy say to the Scarecrow? “I think I’ll miss you most of all.” Love her so much! Which is funny because that first season I thought she was a total bitch, and she was driving everybody crazy. And I told her so. And she replied, very calm and matter-of-factly, back to me, “Well, thank you for that information and for telling me. But would you mind calling me Dinah and not Dianna because that’s my name.” And there was a silent but implied “DUMBASS” at the end of her sentence. Been in love with her ever since. Unlike me, Dianna, sorry, I mean Dinah, has an acting pedigree. She’s been in some great films. Films I paid to see. So when I thought she was working way too hard to make things in the show make sense, it’s because she’s really an actor doing what good actors do. Unlike me, who just makes things bigger, louder and more like F Troop. But sitcom is a different animal. There just isn’t enough time ever. In the first season, Dianna, sorry, I mean Dinah, had given herself so much business she couldn’t get everything timed out right. After about three blown takes, and this is in front of a live audience, she put her head down on the counter and said, “I’m so sorry. I just wanted to do this so badly!” Hal Cooper, our producer and director at the time, came over the loud speaker like the voice of God and said for all to hear, “Well, so far you have.” That broke the tension, and the next take was perfect because she could laugh at herself. What a pro! Love me some Dinah!
Empty Nest Online is not an official website and does not intend to infringe on any copyrights. Website is not optimized for viewing on a mobile device.