Monday, August 7, 2006


Besides the two TV versions and the film adaptation, 'Twelve Angry Men' was finally produced on Broadway back in 2004. Do a Google image search and you'll see that there have been plenty of college and community theater productions of it as well.

So I thought it might be nice to have a little Toobworld fun with our own staging of the play. To truly make it a Toobworld enterprise, all of the characters come from TV shows set in New York City.

I wanted a cross-section of all types of characters from NYC TV shows, and figured on that also meaning that I would have characters from not only sitcoms but from dramas as well - medical programs, cop shows, and lawyer/private eye series.

But then I remembered a late-night special that aired on ABC back in the mid-1970s. Back then, ABC presented original specials on Friday nights - some of them taped mysteries; others musical variety shows. And there was one in which Stanley Kramer asked three of his stars from "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" to perform dramatic monologues.

Sid Caeser played Captain Queeg from "The Caine Mutiny", doing the "strawberries" speech. Jonathan Winters was Willie Loman of "Death Of A Salesman", in a scene where he confronts his boss. And Buddy Hackett assayed "Cyrano de Bergerac" in a tuxedo rather than in swashbuckling costume. As for the legendary proboscis, he let his own rather distinctive blob of a schnozz play the scene as is.

Kramer's point in the special was that comedy was already difficult and that skilled comic actors were more than capable of handling dramatic roles. So I decided to follow that theme and looked for just characters from NYC-based sitcoms to populate the jury room.

I could have claimed that characters in Toobworld could still be alive even though the actors who played them were dead. But this is an exercise which I'd like to actually think could be seen on TV one night during Sweeps, 9 pm Eastern, 8 pm Central. Therefore, I only picked TV sitcom characters whose actors are still with us here in the Real World.

Besides, it would have been too easy to pick Archie Bunker for Juror #10......

And although I did add in some racial and ethnic diversity, I held true to the title of the piece and considered only male characters. Otherwise I would have loved to have added Brenda Morgenstern of 'Rhoda' to be Juror #2.

Best part of all is that none of these characters are actually named in the play (unlike in the movie), so that we could get away with this casting and those who owned the original rights to the characters couldn't say boo. Not my fault you can recognize who the character is by who is playing the role!

Let's take it clockwise round the table.......

JURY FOREMAN - Martin Tupper, 'Dream On'
Brian Benben is adept at displaying an easily flustered management style. He's better at romantic slapstick, but he's not going to get much action in the jury room. This would be the first rewrite of a juror's occupation (The foreman is a high school coach; Martin is a book editor.), but it won't be the last. There's just not much call for high school coaches in sitcoms. Jack Warden is dead, and besides, his coach from 'Mr. Peepers' lived in the Midwest. 'The Waverly Wonders' took place in Wisconsin, and Chet Kinkaid worked out in California.

After all the hassles from trying to manage this jury, Martin Tupper would probably be glad to get back to his editor's office... even if he would find Toby Pedalbee lying in wait for him.

JUROR # 2 - Jody Davis, 'Family Affair'
There wasn't much call for bank tellers in sitcoms. Alan Young was a possibility, despite his age. But I don't know where the single sitcom year of his TV show was supposed to take place. (The show was a sketch comedy the other years.)

So I decided to create a bank teller; not from whole cloth, but by taking a sitcom child of the past and imagining his future laid out in banking. You'd be surprised by how many of these tabula rasa-farians there are in Toobworld - sitcom children of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s who are now grown up and open to whatever destiny a writer wished to impose on them. (There I go, enabling fanfic again!)

The reason I chose Jody Davis over other sitcom kids from the NYC area like Adam Stephens, Joey Stivic, and Ricky Ricardo, Jr. is due to Johnny Whitaker. He had - and still has - such a unique look that you would know him as Jody Davis. Since we wouldn't be identifying these jurors by name, every little bit helps to make the connection in the audience's mind.

JUROR # 3 - George Jefferson, 'The Jeffersons'/'All In The Family'
This is the juror who holds out against a "not guilty" verdict until the very end. Blustery, obnoxious, not afraid to force his opinion on the others. And as he had problems with his own son, it's easy enough to imagine that George would be remembering his own past relationship with Lionel when trying to force through a guilty verdict.

JUROR # 4 - Jimmy James, 'NewsRadio'
I almost chose George Costanza of 'Seinfeld' for this, mostly because he has a look that's very reminiscent of EG Marshall. But Juror #4 must be cool under pressure and George wouldn't be able to cope. Besides, as a convicted felon, maybe he can't serve on a jury. (At the very least, I think both sides would be wary about choosing him.)

Jimmy James, like Juror #4, is a successful businessman who wears glasses (a key point for the character in the movie version, and that's the script I'd be using). And even though he sometimes seemed off the wall in his own show, he would be methodical in laying out the points of the case as he sees him.

It's because I picked Jimmy James for Juror #4 that I had to abandon the idea of using Dave Nelson from 'NewsRadio' to be the foreman of the jury. Didn't want more than one character from a sitcom.

JUROR # 5 - Willis Drummond, 'Diff'rent Strokes'
Juror #10: He was born in a slum. Slums are breeding grounds for criminals. I know it and so do you. It's no secret, children from slum backgrounds are potential menaces to society. Now, I think...
Juror #3: Brother, you can say that again. The kids who crawl out of these places are real trash. I don't want any part of them, I'm telling you.
Juror #5: Listen, I've lived in a slum all my life.
Juror #3: Now, wait a minute...
Juror #5: Please, I've played in backyards which were filled with garbage. I mean, maybe you can still smell it on me.

Whatchoo talkin' about, Willis?

When this fantasy production reaches this point, those statements will have added resonance for the audience, and their meaning will have been altered from the original context just by the casting of Todd Bridges as Juror #5. The audience will know that Willis may have started out life in a slum, but once he and his brother Arnold were adopted by Philip Drummond, they were set for life.

And memories of Bridges' troubled personal life will certainly make it believable that he knows how to handle a switchblade!

JUROR # 6 - Richard Karinsky, 'Caroline In The City'
This juror is supposed to be a painter; more than likely he's supposed to be a house-painter, a simple working man. But why not tweak it a bit and instead make him the colorist for a comic strip who was at heart a frustrated painter?

I also think that there should be one juror who at least suggests the possibility that he might be gay. (On the show, Richard pined for Caroline and eventually dated her, but I think he was in denial.) However, there's no way I'd ever let "Just Jack" of 'Will & Grace' loose in that jury room. Even Juror #8 would vote guilty in seconds flat just to avoid being trapped in a room with that man-eater. ("Oh! I thought it was 'Twelve Hungry Men'!")

JUROR # 7 - Jackie Fisher, 'Chicken Soup'
Here I'd be asking for a re-write as to what kind of salesman Juror #7 was. In this day and age, marmalade seems just too antiquated. It should be something frivolous however, to show how good a salesman he was. So why not pajamas, which is what Jackie Fisher did until he gave it up in 1989 to volunteer at a community center. It could be that he returned to his former profession after the series was cancelled. After all, how much money could he have saved up just by selling pajamas?

JUROR # 8 - Ted Mosby, 'How I Met Your Mother'
In both the 'Studio One' presentation and the movie version, Juror #8, who stands alone at the beginning against a unanimous vote of "guilty", is said to be an architect. The most famous TV architect would have been Mike Brady and Robert Reed might have been good in the role, but he's dead in real life and Mike Brady lives (lived?) in California. There might have been another good choice from 'For Your Love' if the sitcom wasn't set in Chicago.

Ted Mosby would be the only sitcom character from a show currently on the air, which is why CBS should have first dibs on this concept. Ted's also a NY-based architect and he appears to have the chops to find the inner strength to stand alone against the majority as an everyman hero. His best friend on the show, Barney, has stated in the past that Ted thinks too much and this is a quality that Juror #8 actually does display during their deliberations.

And Barney would be so proud to see Ted finally "suit up"!

JUROR # 9 - Robert Petrie, 'The Dick Van Dyke Show'
It's hard to envisioin Rob Petrie without seeing him in the mind's eye as a human Slinky of youthful energy. But Time marches on in Toobworld and he'd be probably turning 81 this year just like his portrayer. Even then, he's still full of rubber-band vitality, but there's nothing that says Juror #9 has to be feeble and infirm.

And as we learned from the reunion movie from a few years back, Rob and Laura have moved to a large condo apartment in Manhattan. It's their son Richie who now lives in the house back in New Rochelle.

JUROR # 10 - Louie dePalma, 'Taxi'
Belligerent, loud, obnoxious, and somewhat revolting in his prejudices, who better than Louie dePalma to rail against "them"? Small as he is, Louie can easily fill the room with his pompous tirade and collapse in defeat with resonation.

JUROR # 11 - Jawaharlal Choudhoury, 'Head Of The Class'
Juror #11 is a foreigner, usually played as someone who came over from an East European country. But to add a bit more ethnic diversity to the cast, I'd enscript "Jawa". Fifteen years before, he was a transfer student from India, and an honors student at Fillmore High School. (Crossover alert - that was Edith Bunker's high school!)

"Jawa" is another juror who should have his occupation updated. Instead of a watchmaker, I'd make him a software designer to reflect his high IQ.

JUROR # 12 - Chandler Bing, 'Friends'
The role calls for a junior ad exec who could be easily swayed to change his alliances several times over, and this description is tailor-made for Chandler. Before the series ended, he had changed careers and started working in advertising, and it's not hard to picture him vacillating between one camp to the other.

Now, he and Monica had moved to the suburbs by series end, but perhaps he took an apartment in the City to have a place to crash after a long bull session for a client's product. And that's how he mistakenly gets on the rolls to be called for jury duty. (Perhaps he then decides not to contest it in order to get out of something unpleasant at work - like maybe an unwanted encounter with a client? Janice's husband, perhaps?)

And maybe he works for McMann & Tate!

COURT OFFICER - Bull Shannon or Roz Russell, 'Night Court'
A no-brainer, and thus the perfect role for Bull......

But okay, here's where I throw a bone to the ladies. Choosing once more from the 'Night Court' bullpen, the court officer could also be Bull's co-worker, Roz Russell.

JUDGE (VOICE ONLY) - Matthew J. Sirota, 'Sirota's Court'
Judge Harry Stone of 'Night Court' might be the knee-jerk first choice, but Michael Constantine as Judge Sirota carries the vocal weight to appear in voice-over to instruct the jury in its duties.

I may have been having some fun with these descriptions of who I would cast in this new production of "Twelve Angry Men", but I just want to stress that they would all play it straight. There are a few humorous moments in the script and these pros would definitely find them. But I think every one of my choices is also skilled enough to delve deep for the passion and the drama of these men struggling to confront their own images while deliberating on the fate of a young man.

So which sitcom characters might you have picked to be seated on this jury? Let me know your suggestions.....


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