This is the tenth in a series of examinations of legends about television and the people involved in TV and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous TV urban legends.
TV LEGEND: Jonathan Rollins on L.A. Law was based, at least in part, on Barack Obama.
In 1987, the hit television series L.A. Law introduced a brand new character, a young black lawyer named Jonathan Rollins, played by Blair Underwood. The character was created by the show’s co-creator, Stephen Botchco.
The character would become a major part of the series, staying on the show for the rest of the series’ run (all the way to the finale in 1994) and the character would become more and more of a central figure as the show went on (as other stars, like Jimmy Smits and Harry Hamlin, left).
An interesting facet of Rollins’ character was that he was the first black President of the Harvard Law Review.
This has led people, looking back, to wonder if the character was based, even in part (like perhaps the writers saw an article on the topic), on current United States President Barack Obama, who was the ACTUAL first black President of the Harvard Law Review.
As cool as that would be, Rollins’ creation actually predates Obama’s historic achievement (Underwood joined the show in 1987 while Obama did not even ATTEND Harvard Law School until 1988).
Blair Underwood, though, has told stories about a trip he and some producers of the show made to Harvard for a talk to students two or three years after his character’s introduction. At a dinner party after the event, he was approached by a student who informed him that he was the first black Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Law Review.
Ever since then, Underwood made it a point to follow the progress of young Barack Obama (who, actually, is three years OLDER than Underwood).
This past presidential election, Blair Underwood was one of the many celebrities who campaigned heavily (and successfully) for the election of Obama as the President of the United States.
TV LEGEND: The TV series Caprica was originally pitched NOT as a Battlestar Galactica tie-in!
Caprica is a television series that works as a prequel to the acclaimed television series, Battlestar Galactica.
Starting 58 years before the first episode of Battlestar Galactica, Caprica shows the rise of the artificial intelligence known as the Cylons (while also, of course, showing what human society was like at the time, as well).
The series stars Eric Stoltz and Esai Morales.
Amazingly enough, though, the genesis of the series began with a screenplay having nothing to do with Battlestar Galactica at all!
You see, around 2006, Battlestar Galactica producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick were working to develop a spin-off series of Battlestar Galactica for the Sci-Fi Channel. Their plan was to do a prequel for the series. However, as both men were still in the midst of producing the series itself, they did not have a lot of time to develop the idea.
In stepped screenwriter Remi Aubuchon, who tried to sell Universal Pictures a screenplay about artificial intelligence in 2006.
Universal Pictures turned him down, but forwarded the script to Universal TELEVISION, who realized that Aubochon’s screenplay might work beautifully with the idea that Moore and Eick were developing, so they arranged a meeting, and soon, the two ideas were merged into one and Caprica was born!
Actually, I wish it were that simple – but at the same time this was going on, the ratings on Battlestar Galactica were doing so poorly that it took a long time before the Sci-Fi Channel was willing to give Caprica a chance, and the direct-to-DVD pilot of the series JUST managed to come out a couple of months ago, with a January 2010 debut set for the first season of the series.
TV LEGEND: A major character on Dark Shadows came into existence due to a typo!
STATUS: Basically True
In June 1966, the daily soap opera Dark Shadows began on ABC.
The series began with a young governess moving to the spooky Collins mansion, where all sorts of eerie things seem to be going on – however, until about six months into the run, the spooky stuff did not involve any actual supernatural dealings.
That changed six months in, when the first ghost appeared on the series.
Then, a year into the run, the whole show dramatically changed when a vampire named Barnabas Collins, played by Jonathan Frid, made his debut.
Collins, whose character was introduced mostly as a stunt, soon became the central focus of the show, as Hird played him beautifully as a conflicted, self-loathing vampire. He was the epitome of the tragic soap opera hero – the one who is sort of a “bad boy” but not so much so that the fans can’t still root for him.
After introducing Barnabas, the show wanted to introduce a doctor who specialized in vampirism, and that doctor was Dr. Julia Hoffman (played by Grayson Hall), who would soon became Barnabas’ love interest (although it was more a case of Hoffman wanting Barnabas than Barnabas wanting her – but she DID become a very close friend to Barnabas) on the series, and therefore one of the biggest characters on the show.
However, amusingly enough, her creation came down to a typo!
Dr. Julia Hoffman originally was going to be Dr. Julian Hoffman, and was actually referred to as such by characters leading up to her introduction on the show, as they planned to enlist his help (you know, stuff like, “He’s one of the leading doctors in the field!” and stuff like that). However, during a character description in one of the scripts, the “n” in the first name was left off, and the show’s producer, Dan Curtis, was struck by the typo and said, essentially, “Hey, that would be a cool idea if she were a woman!”
So, right on the spot, Curtis re-wrote the character.
And thus, a major character was born.
Of course, though, it wasn’t THAT smooth – even as a woman, Dr. Julia Hoffman was not intended to be a major character on the series, but luckily, Grayson Hall had some significant support on the writing staff of Dark Shadows – her husband, Sam Hall!
Sam Hall kept writing Julia into major scenes, and it did not hurt that the character of Barnabas (who was also originally intended as a temporary character) took off, so Julia took off in connection WITH him.
And THUS, a major character was born!
Sadly, while Barnabas’ introduction DID help the show’s sagging ratings – he did not help them THAT much, and the show was canceled (fairly abruptly, really) in 1971.
The show became a cult classic, though, and has remained popular with fans to this day.
There has been a TV series reboot attempted since then in 1991 (with Ben Cross taking on the role of Barnabas)…
And most recently, a film adaptation of the series has begun pre-production!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org