This is the seventeenth 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: Kirstie Alley once had a publicist provide mother’s milk for Alley’s pet opossum.
STATUS: Oddly Enough, True
This is one of those stories where the real story is odd enough, but, naturally, people have to make the story sound a lot weirder than it actually was.
The story that gets told frequently is that Kirstie Alley is walking her pet opossum at some event and the the opossum looks sad/gets upset/something or other, so Alley asks a publicist who had recently given birth and had her give the possum some milk from her breast, and the publicist complied.
What actually happened is that Kirstie Alley was at a press event for her 1990 film, Sibling Rivalry, which she did during the break between seasons on Cheers.
Alley is a big animal lover and she routinely saves abandoned critters (her house at the time had over 40 animals living there!). At the time, she had a baby opossum whose mother had rejected it. If a baby opossum is rejected by his/her mother, it’s basically screwed as it has no other way of feeding. The only way you can feed it is by substituting another animal’s mother’s milk in place of the opossum’s mother’s milk.
At a press event, a Castle Rock publicist named Anne Reilly had just gone back to work after giving birth six months earlier. Reilly was still breast feeding and was routinely pumping mother’s milk for her child. So Alley asked if she could lend some of her milk to feed the baby opossum. Reilly agreed, and that was that (Alley sent her a floral arrangement in thanks).
In a People magazine article around the same time (actually, literally the day after the article about the press event came out – October 28 and 29, 1990), Alley was being interviewed while a friend of hers was extracting mother’s milk from Alley’s pet German Shepherd (who had just given birth to puppies) to feed the very same opossum.
So is it weird?
Yeah, it’s weird.
But it’s not THAT weird and it’s certainly not like how it has been presented over the years as some vapid celebrity demanding that a publicist deliver her mother’s milk to calm Alley’s pet down.
Thanks to Pat H. Broeske for the L.A. Times article with info from Reilly describing what happened and thanks to J.D. Reed for the People magazine article confirming that Alley was nursing a baby opossum at the time.
TV LEGEND: Harrison Page was nominated for a Best Lead Actor Emmy Award for…Quantum Leap??!
If you look at the opening credits for Quantum Leap, the science fiction series that was about (heck, let me just give you their patented description of the series that appeared before every episode):
Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Dr. Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanished…He woke to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that were not his own and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better. His only guide on this journey is Al, an observer from his own time, who appears in the form of a hologram that only Sam can see and hear. And so Dr. Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap…will be the leap home.
you would see the following actors credited…
And Bakula and Stockwell were both nominated for Emmy Awards (Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively) for four of the five seasons Quantum Leap aired.
However, in 1992, Bakula was nominated for Best Actor for Quantum Leap along with…Harrison Page?!?
Yep, Harrison Page was nominated for a Best Lead Actor Emmy Award in 1992.
You see, in 1992, the Emmy Awards decided, for whatever reason, to not have a Best Guest Actor award, so Guest Actors were allowed to enter into the Best Lead Actor category.
Like Harrison Page…
In the fourth season episode, Sam leaps into a teenage girl member of a girl group in 1963, and Page plays the Reverend father of the lead singer of the group, who opposes his daughter’s career in music (Sam, naturally, is there to change that).
As a result of not having any Guest Actor category, the Best Actor category was expanded to seven nominees.
Besides regular actor nominees such as Law & Order’s Michael Moriarty, I’ll Fly Away’s Sam Waterson, Northern Exposure’s Rob Morrow and, naturally, Quantum Leap’s Scott Bakula, there were three nominees who did just one episode of their respective series.
The aforementioned Page, plus
Kirk Douglas in an episode of Tales From the Crypt…
and Christopher Lloyd in an episode of Road to Avonlea…
Lloyd ended up winning the award.
Starting the next year, the awards were back to normal, and now, they specifically note that Best Lead Actor has to be someone who is in a continuing role.
Still, for a year, at least, we got some really odd nominees!!
TV LEGEND: MTV canceled the TV series Fear because a contestant was killed during filming of an episode.
In 2000, MTV debuted a new “reality” series called Fear, where six young adults would be taken to various “haunted” places at night and forced to perform “dares.” If they perform all the dares given to them, they each receive a sum of money (the first episode it was $3,000 but by the time it was picked up for a series, it was $5,000).
The dares often involved some pretty scary stuff, especially for the era, which was pre-Fear Factor and shows of that ilk.
For instance, in an episode set in a penitentiary, a “dare” was to go into this dark room where many prisoners were raped and murdered and stay there in radio silence for 15 minutes.
Naturally, some folks had a hard time with this situation…
The show, visually, was very well put together (look at this scene from a Season 1 episode…
and it soon became a hit for MTV. Two seasons were produced. However, six episodes into the second season the show was canceled, even though it was MTV’s second highest-rated program at the time.
Rumors started up right away that it had been canceled because a contestant had died in one of the episodes (even dumber rumors involved a cast member being possessed by a spirit).
The truth of the matter was that the show was not making enough money for MTV to continue it.
Yes, it very well could have been the second highest-rated show on MTV at the time, but that was not saying much, as most of MTV’s programs at the time were roughly in the same vicinity of each other (this was pre-Osbournes, pre-Punk’d, pre-Laguna Beach), so if you’re getting a 1.7 rating when everything else is 1.5, then that’s not saying a lot. If you check out the Top 15 Cable Ratings for the time, once you get past the Top 2 shows (which were wrestling programs at a time when wrestling was doing extremely well on television), #3 and #15 are separated by less than 600,000 viewers!! And only one MTV program was making the Top 15 at the time Fear was on, Real World, which was barely cracking a 2.0 rating. So if it WERE true that Fear was MTV’s second-highest rated show (and I do believe that), it was not doing so well that it was even cracking Cable’s Top 15.
Meanwhile, the show’s costs were high for the time. It was a bit of the trouble with being at the forefront of this genre – it was expensive because no one else was doing shows like this. At the same time, Jackass was getting good ratings for MTV (by 2001, Jackass was cracking 2.0) with extremely LOW production costs.
So I believe MTV’s explanation at the time that Fear was canceled because of the high costs not being outweighed by the ratings, not because of any contestant dying (this is helped by the fact that no contestants from the show died).
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