Wednesday, August 23, 2006


With its second season premiere, 'Prison Break' presents students of televisiology with a quandary - the recasting of the role of Terence Steadman, the man whose "death" set the entire plot in motion.

Last season, when Veronica finally tracked down the Vice President's brother (who was supposedly assassinated by Lincoln Burrows), he was portrayed by John Billingsley. And his sister, now the President of the United States, was played by Patricia Wettig.

But both actors have since taken roles in new TV series, and so they couldn't commit to the second season of 'Prison Break'.

With Ms. Wettig's character of President Reynolds, the producers at least had some wriggle room. With the eight escapees from Fox River Penitentiary on the run, the focus will definitely be Michael Schofield and his fellow "breakers". So the other plotline about the conspiracy to put Vice President Reynolds into the White House and her own attempts to clamp down the Truth leaking out can be put on the back burner for a while.

Then, if and when 'Brothers & Sisters' crashes and burns over on ABC (despite protests by producer Greg Berlanti to the contrary), the 'Prison Break' producers can move that storyline forward and back into play on 'Prison Break'.

But if after thirteen weeks the Greg Berlanti-produced drama proves to be a hit for ABC, the producers could always recast in hopes that enough time had passed for the audience to accept the difference in appearance.

With the character of Terence Steadman, the producers had a different problem. The first season ended with Veronica finally coming face to face with Steadman in the Montana home that was also his prison. That scene had to be resolved ... or at least given an ending.

Now, several months had gone by since we last saw 'Prison Break', but in the future, the episodes will follow almost instantaneously as people watch the show on DVD boxed sets. They'll pop out the last disk of Season One and then pop in the first disk for Season Two and right before Veronica's eyes, Terence Steadman will change actors.

So the casting had to be as close as possible in the changeover and they didn't do too badly in choosing Jeff Perry who used to be a cast member of 'Nash Bridges', but who's probably better known today as Meredith's Dad on 'Grey's Anatomy'. (I first saw him in an episode of 'Columbo'.)

Still, even though he appeared to ape a few of Billingsley's mannerisms for the role of Steadman, there are enough differences in both men so that within the reality of the show, it should be noticeable to Veronica. After all, she's standing right there when the change occurs.

So how to splain it away? With a 'Quantum Leap'.

At some point in the future, a researcher using Dr. Sam Beckett's technology leaped into the life of Terence Steadman; perhaps in order to better study this crisis point in American history. It's unknown if there was a different outcome in the events which the leaping researcher causes to change in order to make right what once went wrong.

Perhaps Veronica survived the encounter, which only made things worse in the future; sort of like the Edith Keeler situation in the classic 'Star Trek' episode of "City On The Edge Of Forever". Or maybe Steadman, as should have been played by Billingsley, killed her himself. Instead, this impersonator of Steadman, who's being played by Jeff Perry, chooses instead not to shoot her; leaving that fatal decision up to the Feds who come to the house in response to Veronica's call to the local sheriff's department.

At any event, as we used to see in every episode of 'Quantum Leap', Sam would appear to those around him as the person whose life he was acting out, while that person was trapped back in the future in the "waiting room". So Veronica wouldn't see anybody who even remotely resembled the actor Jeff Perry. Instead, she would still have seen Terence Steadman as he looked when she first met him, similar in appearance to John Billingsley.

Not that it mattered much. She was soon shot through the head and chopped up into several garbage bags.....

For some reason, I would have thought that this plot development would have helped push the conspiracy plotline into the background, and there would be no need to come back to Terence Steadman again. As such, it would have been only this episode that the producers would have needed John Billingsley for. Surely the producers of 'The Nine' (the show which has cast Billingsley as a regular) could have given him the time (What? Three days tops?) necessary to complete the storyline?

Since they didn't, it could be that the producers have more in store for Terence Steadman and that we have not seen the last of him. And that's why it became even more vital that they find a replacement actor.

In the past, several producers have decided to not only recast a role but then to go back and re-shoot the original scenes to incorporate the new actor, even though the audience had already seen the original actor in the role.

David Chase did that for an FBI agent played by Fairuza Balk in a season-ending episode of 'The Sopranos'. But before he began shooting the new season, he had rethought the direction he wanted to take that FBI agent and decided a different actress would be better for getting that vision across. So unless you have that original scene on tape somewhere in your collections, you'll never see Fairuza Balk in the role again, as her scene were re-shot and added to the DVD collection.

You'd think at least they'd have kept the scene in for a bonus feature, but nooooooooooo! It's as if she never existed in the show.

The same thing happened with John Randolph's portrayal of Frank Costanza on 'Seinfeld'. He did at least two episodes of the show but then was replaced with Jerry Stiller, who took the role to new heights and new lows; places which seem inconceivable with Randolph, as great a character actor as he was.

After the casting change, Larry David went back and re-shot the original two episodes which introduced Frank Costanza so that it would be a consistent portrayal by Jerry Stiller alone.

However, it was too late to go back and do the same thing with the pilot episode of 'Seinfeld' for Jerry's Dad. In 'The Seinfeld Chronicles', Jerry Seinfeld's father was played by Phil Bruns, best known for playing George Shumway on 'Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman'.

He only appeared in that one episode, and Barney Martin was brought in later to memorably portray Morty Seinfeld throughout the rest of the series' run. But by the time they considered re-shooting the role from the pilot as they had done with the character of Frank Costanza, it was decided Jerry's appearance (due to aging?) would have conflicted with the other scenes in the pilot.

So those people who watch the DVD versions of 'Seinfeld' will only see Jerry Stiller in the role of Frank Costanza (not sure if the John Randolph scenes survived as bonus material), but they'll get both Phil Bruns and Barney Martin as Morty Seinfeld.

But that splainin is for another time.

As for Terence Steadman on 'Prison Break', we may yet see him again on the show. And if so, Jeff Perry will be playing the role - I'm sure the producers made certain he would be available for them. But from a Toobworld perspective, we can say that the researcher continued to inhabit Steadman's aura in order to observe how the Reynolds presidency played out.

Anyways, because the POTUS is Reynolds and not Bush, 'Prison Break' has to be relegated to an alternate TV dimension. And I've already postulated that it would be the same dimension where we would find 'The Agency' and 'The District', which would have had a different president as well; one who preceded Reynolds' predecessor in the Oval Office.

So even after all of this sturm and drang, it really boils down to be no problem at all in the grand scheme of things for Earth Prime Time, the main Toobworld.


No comments: