This is the nineteenth 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.
There’s a vague connective theme with the legends this week – they’re all basically about how various actors went about getting their notable roles (or losing them).
TV LEGEND: Omar was going to be killed off during Season 1 of The Wire.
Omar Little, played by Michael K. Williams, was one of the most interesting characters on The Wire, which is saying a lot, as The Wire is FILLED with interesting characters.
Omar is also caught up in a bit of a legend that started due to…Michael Williams!
Williams has given interviews that said that Omar was originally intended to be killed off at the end of Season 1, but the show’s head, David Simon, decided he liked Williams’ portrayal of Omar so much that he changed his mind and kept him for the rest of the series (practically).
Simon, however, explains in a brilliant interview that Alan Sepinwall did with Simon, that it was all a misunderstanding on Williams’ part:
It came from some early interviews that Michael (K. Williams) did. I’ve never corrected him, because he wasn’t saying it (out of bad intentions). I think he got a little confused in this regard: In the first season we told him he’s only doing seven episodes. That’s as many as we needed. We said, it was seven and we didn’t know if there was work to be had next year, because we didn’t know if we’d be renewed. And I think he took that to believe he was going to be killed after seven.
If the show continued, Omar was going to return. No, he was not going to die in that shoot-out. There was nothing to suggest that we didn’t have some fundamental plan for him. Nor did we write more to the character because of how well Michael played him. Omar was going to have to exist for narrative purposes throughout. Did we write the lines a little differently? Did we enjoy a moment or two that Michael could give us that another actor couldn’t? Absolutely. That’s what you do. that’s the biofeedback that goes on when the dailies come back and you see what you have. The idea that he was going to be killed off and he marched his way back in the show, I think he just misunderstood when we told him, ‘You only have seven this year.’
That’s about as definitive of an answer as you can get, no?
So I’m saying false here.
Thanks to David Simon for the information and thanks to Alan Sepinwall for GETTING that information!
TV LEGEND: Meg Foster was replaced as Christine Cagney because she made the show seem too much like it was about a pair of lesbians.
STATUS: Sadly True
When Cagney and Lacey first debuted, it was as a TV-movie, starring M*A*S*H’s Loretta Swit as Christine Cagney and Tyne Daly as Mary Beth Lacey.
When the TV movie led to CBS agreeing to start the show as a regular series, Daly quickly agreed and Swit wanted in, as well, seeing as show M*A*S*H was clearly coming to a close pretty soon and Swit saw an opportunity for a new series. However, they would not let her out of her M*A*S*H contract, so they were forced to recast.
They ultimately decided upon actress Meg Foster. Here she is with Daly…
However, after a mere three episodes, CBS decided to recast the role of Cagney.
They went with Sharon Gless, who played the role for 119 episodes (and won two Emmy Awards in the process).
People get recast often, it’s not THAT big of a deal (although typically they’re not recast after three episodes have been aired), however, the REASONS behind the change are a big deal.
An anonymous CBS executive explained the reasons behind the change to TV Guide back in 1982:
[T]oo tough, too hard and not feminine. They were too harshly women’s lib. The American public doesn’t respond to the bra burners, the fighters, the women who insist on calling manhole covers ‘people-hole covers.’ These women on Cagney & Lacey seemed more intent on fighting the system than doing police work. We perceived them as dykes.
I don’t know what’s more shocking – that an executive said that, or that an executive figured it was okay to tell a reporter that was the reasoning behind the actress’ removal!
Thanks to TV Guide for the quotes!
TV LEGEND: Doris Roberts hid a back injury so that she could be cast on Remington Steele.
STATUS: I’m Going With True
Doris Roberts played Mildred Krebs, the assistant to the investigators Laura Holt and Remington Steele on the TV series Remington Steele.
What’s amazing, though, is what she put herself through to GET the job!
When she was cast for the role, she had just spent six months suffering from a terrible inflammation of her sciatic nerve in her back. When she auditioned for the role, she wore a back brace.
However, while she was able to fake her way through an audition using a back brace, she then had to get a company physical in a back brace!
Now it’s certainly true that companies are often willing to work with actors when it comes to physicals – they’ll occasionally come up with ways around them (often saying “we’re willing to risk going without insurance”). However, that treatment is typically reserved for “stars,” and while they MIGHT have come up with a way to get Roberts on to the show despite her sciatica, she was not taking any chances!
So Roberts actually went to her physical wearing her back brace and basically hoping for the best.
When there, she must have convinced him that she was in good health, because he did not give her a thorough examination and thus never discovered her little secret.
The rest is, as they say, history.
Now the only reason I have “I’m going with True” rather than flat-out true is that we’re really just going on Doris Roberts’ word that this story actually happened. She wrote about it in her book, Are You Hungry, Dear?: Life, Laughs, and Lasagna, and, really, it’s not such a shocking story that I think we should doubt her, so I’m going with true, but I suppose it COULD be a random, elaborate lie – I just sincerely doubt it (enough for me to say true, at least).
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