RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Jon Stewart

TV’s Greatest Replacements

Posted on

It’s pretty rare, but sometimes a TV show gets better – or in the case of a great show, maintains its greatness – when a new actor is brought in to replace someone who has left. Actually, it goes beyond acting. There are examples in TV news and reality shows, too. Here’s what I mean:

JIMMY SMITS

NYPD BLUE

Smits took over for the mystifyingly huffy David Caruso after the first season of “NYPD Blue,” in 1994. His soulful, stabilizing presence make an immediate difference – providing the show with a naturally charismatic leading man and giving Dennis Franz more room to explore his own, great character. Smits spent a decade as Det. Bobby Simone, and the episode in which his character died remains one of the most emotional in TV history.

JENNIFER LOPEZ & STEVEN TYLER

AMERICAN IDOL

It’s true, the ratings for “American Idol” aren’t as stellar as they were during the Simon Cowell-Paula Abdul years. But this reality show powerhouse could very easily have crashed and burned last year without successful replacements. Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, amazingly, have meshed perfectly into the show’s format without losing any personality or spontaneity. Bravo.

JOHNNY CARSON

THE TONIGHT SHOW

Hard to think of Johnny Carson as a replacement for anyone, since he became such a towering figure in television. But that’s what he was. Jack Paar had been a big draw as host of “The Tonight Show in the early 1960s, and it was far from a certainty that Carson, a former game show host and comic, had the chops to succeed in 1962. I have to admit, I greatly miss Johnny’s carefully crafted monologues and the way he gave his guests time to tell a story.

MATT LAUER

THE TODAY SHOW

Morning TV also has its great replacements. In this case, Lauer made the jump from “Today’s” news reader to co-anchor in 1997, replacing Bryant Gumbel. Unlike Gumbel, who exuded gravitas, Lauer had to earn his status gradually. His calm manner and likability have made him indispensable (and brought him a hefty paycheck).

DIANA RIGG

THE AVENGERS

In 1965, Rigg came on board this British spy series as Emma Peel. She replaced the beautiful, tough-as-nails Honor Blackman as partner to Patrick Macnee. The show had been around for three seasons already, but Rigg transformed the whole vibe and turned it into an international hit.

JERRY ORBACH

LAW & ORDER

My goodness, but Jerry Orbach was fine as Det. Lennie Briscoe. He had exactly the right weariness, wit and grit for the role, and he could deliver the first sequence, finding-the-body bad pun like no one else. “Law & Order” was built on the idea of constant turnover, but Orbach was its best replacement ever. He took the reins from Paul Sorvino in 1991.

WOODY HARRELSON

CHEERS

“Cheers” was a very smart show, so naturally it handled the replacement of “Coach”  Nicholas Colasanto in a very smart way. In 1985, it brought in a much younger guy, but had him play a similarly likable, doltish character. Harrelson was terrific as Woody Boyd.

HARRY MORGAN

M*A*S*H

This was another show that survived numerous replacements. My favorite example from “M*A*S*H” was Morgan, who played Col. Potter. It was a huge deal back in 1975, after the show famously decided to kill off McLean Stevenson’s character. Morgan’s commanding officer was nothing like Stevenson’s version, and it worked brilliantly. Col. Potter was gruff, but endearing.

JERI RYAN

STAR TREK: VOYAGER

Ryan, the sexy Borg Seven of Nine, revitalized “Star Trek: Voyager” when she replaced Jennifer Lien in 1997. Her character essentially took over the show, which was unfortunate, but her character trajectory was in keeping with a dominant “Star Trek” theme: finding one’s true humanity in an ever-changing universe.

WILLIAM DeMAREST

MY THREE SONS

We’re going back into the vault for this one. DeMarest, a solid character actor in films, became so associated with the crusty Uncle Charley on “My Three Sons” that people forgot he was a replacement. Originally, the show had William Frawley playing the boys’ grandfather. Uncle Charley came in five years later, in 1965. The show didn’t miss a beat.

KEN CURTIS

GUNSMOKE

What the heck – let’s stay in the TV vault for one more. TV’s venerable “Gunsmoke” had a series of deputies over its 1955-1975 run, but I always liked Festus the most. He had a hillbilly drawl much like that of his predecessor, Chester (played by Dennis Weaver), and a face that was a continuous study in contortion. Curtis took on the role of Festus first as a guest star, then became a series regular in 1964.

JON STEWART

THE DAILY SHOW

I doubt anyone could have predicted what a force Jon Stewart would become in popular culture by replacing Craig Kilborn as host of “The Daily Show” in 1999. I liked Kilborn’s show, but Stewart created something truly remarkable that still resonates today. He talks about American politics in a way that is both insightful and hilarious. Right now, he might be the most irreplaceable person on television.

Now it’s your turn. Who are your favorite TV replacements?

Great Cast, Terrible Movie

Posted on

Sometimes, a movie’s casting math just doesn’t add up. You get a couple of terrific leads, surround them with dynamite supporting players and you end up with – a great big mess. It’s quite amazing, actually. Here are some of my favorite, star-studded disasters.

MIXED NUTS (1994)

Get a load of this cast: Steve Martin, Adam Sandler, Jon Stewart, Madeline Kahn, Garry Shandling, Robert Klein and Rob Reiner, plus Liev Schreiber, Rita Wilson, Juliette Lewis and Anthony LaPaglia. Its a comedy juggernaut, except it’s really, really not. This royal stinker, about a suicide hotline at Christmas, is stunningly bad.

AIRPORT ’77

I could have chosen just about any disaster flick of the 1970s, such as “Earthquake,” or “The Towering Inferno,” but this is the one I always found particularly annoying. You had heavyweights such as Jack Lemmon, Jimmy Stewart, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, M. Emmet Walsh, Christopher Lee and, of course, George Kennedy, all pretending they were in a better movie.

AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS (2001)

This one is inexplicable. The cast included John Cusack, Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Christopher Walken, Stanley Tucci, Alan Arkin, Seth Green and Rainn Wilson. To say this romantic comedy didn’t gel is a vast understatement.

LOVE AFFAIR (1994)

Speaking of bad romantic comedies, this Warren Beatty-Annette Bening picture is one of the worst ever. It’s stultifyingly bad. The thing is, it also dragged down the great Katharine Hepburn, Garry Shandling, Pierce Brosnan, Harold Ramis and Lisa Edelstein with it. This was no way to treat Hollywood royalty.

SHADOWS AND FOG (1991)

I’m using one example here to represent the many, later-period Woody Allen films that wasted great casts. “Shadows and Fog,” an ode to German expressionist films, was a boring movie that seemed to taunt audiences with all the talent going underutilized: Woody, Mia Farrow, John Malkovich, John Cusack, Jodie Foster, Lily Tomlin, Kathy Bates, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Wallace Shawn and Madonna. And that’s just a partial list.

EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY (1988)

Underneath all that colorful fur are Jim Carrey, Damon Wayans and Jeff Goldblum. It’s a shame, really. The movie makes a great effort to be fun and funky – but that fur!? Come on. Also along for the ride are Geena Davis and Michael McKean.

DEATH TO SMOOCHY (2002)

Dark, dark comedy here that might have been too caustic for its own good. It’s a story about egos gone amok in the children’s entertainment industry, with valiant efforts by Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Catherine Keener, Jon Stewart and Danny DeVito. No sale.

SPHERE (1998)

Sorry, but Dustin Hoffman in space does not work for me. When I see Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharon Stone and Liev Schreiber on a cast list together, I want a feisty, gritty urban drama – not a cold, slow-moving space thriller.

THE AVENGERS (1998)

This update on the stylish Brit TV series is a bit of a steaming pile, wot wot. It’s like some horrible hallucination in which Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, Sean Connery, Jim Broadbent and Eddie Izzard recite gibberish and run around in odd clothing. As I mentioned in a previous list, Connery actually dons a teddy bear costume in this one. Yikes.

BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES (1990)

Tom Wolfe’s famous novel about class collisions in New York City made for a glorious train wreck of a film. There was absolutely no chemistry, and often the actors seemed to be taking wild stabs at how to play the material. We may never see Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and Kirsten Dunst in another movie together.

That should get us started. Add to The List!