Beloved TV show characters enter our lives as friends and impact us in crazy ways. They can make us laugh until our sides hurt, cry when things don’t go well for them, and call in sick to work when we just can’t stop watching and must know what happens. But through it all, we love them. And yet, there’s so much that the audience will never know. Some TV shows have dark secrets. Some almost didn’t exist at all. Here are some behind the scenes stories of your favorite TV shows.
10. Firefly was Inspired by Gettysburg
Joss Whedon came up with the idea of Firefly while he was on a non-working vacation. He was reading a book called The Killer Angels which told the story of soldiers in the Battle of Gettysburg. Whedon was attracted to the idea of the difficulty of the soldiers’ everyday lives. He liked that the author focused on the mundane details of how people survived when they didn’t have all of their needs conveniently met by modern technology and commercialism.
Whedon had always loved the seemingly separate ideas of sci-fi and westerns, and through The Killer Angels, he saw a way to combine them. “I wanted to play with that classic notion of the frontier,” he said. “Not the people who made history, but the people history stepped on—the people for whom every act is the creation of civilization.” And Whedon decided to set the frontier on a spaceship: a ship named Serenity.
9. Carol and Susan’s Wedding in Friends
Friends wasn’t known for being the most diverse show on television at the time, since the cast was comprised of almost entirely white actors. None of the main characters were anything other than “mainstream.” Even the acknowledgement of Ross’s first wife Carol being a lesbian was met with jokes about sexuality (mostly from Joey), and sexist comments were frequently incorporated into the script.
However, in season two Friends took a big leap toward equality by featuring a gay wedding when Carol married her girlfriend Susan. Behind the scenes, executive producer Marta Kauffman said, “NBC expected thousands and thousands of phone calls and hate mail.” However, after the episode aired, they received only four antagonistic letters. As it turns out, people just didn’t care that much.
8. The Big Bang Theory Whiteboard Has Real Equations
The Big Bang Theory is not short on geniuses. Not only is the show about highly intelligent scientists, but cast member Mayim Bialik has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. So it should come as no surprise that the cast would want to show off their intelligence and attention to detail. In Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment, there’s a large white board. The two roommates use the board frequently for everything from actual work that Leonard or Sheldon has brought home, or to decide whether to eat before or after the new Spider-Man movie.
The board is frequently covered in equations. Have you ever wondered what those equations mean? Well, we may never know what they mean, but they are all real, accurate equations. Very impressive, Big Bang. Very impressive indeed.
7. M*A*S*H Star Never Signed his Contract
When M*A*S*H first aired, the characters of Hawkeye and Trapper were meant to be equally sized roles. It was with that understanding that Wayne Rogers agreed to take the role of Trapper John. However, as Alan Alda began to make changes to the characters and have more influence on the direction of the show, Hawkeye began to seriously eclipse Trapper.
Rogers, unhappy with the turn of events, decided to leave the show after the first three seasons. The breach of contract led to a multi-million dollar lawsuit. Ironically, Wayne Rogers had never signed his contract to begin with (he had a problem with a morals clause). The lawsuit was thrown out. You could say Rogers got the last laugh, but since M*A*S*H went on for eight more seasons and Rogers’ never reached the same career success again, the last laugh might be a relative concept.
6. Jack Shephard Almost Died in the First Episode
It’s hard to imagine LOST without Jack Shephard as the group leader. Where would the show have been without him? Had the show’s writers gotten their way, we would have learned the answer to that question. When the show was pitched to ABC, Jack Shephard’s character was supposed to be killed after the pilot episode, and Kate was supposed to take on more of a leadership role in the series.
In the original casting, Michael Keaton was set to play the character. However, ABC executives begged the writers and producers to keep Jack alive. They believed the character was too likeable to die off so quickly. The writers agreed. Michael Keaton was not interested in signing up for a long-running show. Instead, the role of Jack was given to Matthew Fox. The rest is TV history.
5. Bryan Cranston was a Murder Suspect
Many years before Bryan played “Walter White” on Breaking Bad, he and his brother worked in a restaurant in Florida. The head chef was a very mean man. In a 2011 podcast for Marc Maron, Cranston described him saying “No matter how nice you may have been to him, he hated you.” Not surprisingly, all the wait staff routinely discussed how they wanted to kill him. Cranston says it was “all [they] talked about!”
Talking about wanting to kill your boss may not be that uncommon, but it does put a damper on things when said boss actually ends up murdered. When the police came to ask questions, they ended up learning that the Cranston brothers had recently resigned to ride their motorcycles cross-country. Until they could be cleared, the two men were both suspects.
4. Sex and the City Caused a Rush on Cupcakes
In Sex and the City, Miranda and Carrie frequent a place called Magnolia Bakery at 401 Bleeker Street. After the episodes aired, hordes of people had to investigate those cupcakes. Nothing can incur cupcake mania quite like Carrie Bradshaw can. Magnolia Bakery received a huge boost in sales and customers. In fact, they were so popular that they had to hire a “bouncer” of sorts. Not quite your typical club bouncer, this bouncer was friendly and very interested in the finer points of cupcakes.
He was responsible for monitoring how many cupcake aficionados were allowed in the store at one time. Of course Magnolia Bakery isn’t exactly complaining. The store proudly displays memorabilia from the show on the walls of their many locations. Today, Magnolia Bakery is known for their banana pudding, but they will always owe their initial success to Carrie Bradshaw and a red velvet cupcake.
3. The Andrea Yates Trial Inspired Desperate Housewives
In 2002, Marc Cherry (the creator of Desperate Housewives) was watching the news with his mother in her home. The lead story on the news that day (and many days before) was the Andrea Yates trial. Andrea was on trial for drowning her five children in the bathtub. Marc turned to his mother and asked, “Could you imagine a woman being so desperate that she would murder her own children?”
Martha Cherry took a cigarette out of her mouth, murmured, “I’ve been there,” and resumed smoking. Marc was in shock (which, let’s face it, is a pretty healthy response when you realize your own mother may or may not have had thoughts of murdering you while you bathed). He realized for the first time how desperate and lonely it could be to be a housewife. He realized then and there that he was upon a very good idea for a TV show. This conversation was the birth of Desperate Housewives.
2. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air was Almost Bankrupt
Will Smith had a very successful career in the late 80s and early 90s as the second half of rap duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. But in spite of his financial success, Smith did not manage his money well. It’s a pretty classic tale, really. New fame, lots of money, no future plans, and lots of fancy toys added up to a lot of overspending. This lack of oversight and fiscal irresponsibility landed him on the brink of bankruptcy. He owed the government back taxes that he had not paid.
When he was offered the role of “Will” on Fresh Prince, he had 70% of his wages garnished for the first three seasons. After three years, he was able to take home his full salary. Basically, the first line of the theme song could have been written about Will Smith’s real life: “This is a story all about how/My life got flip-turned upside down.” Except in real life, the “guys making trouble in [his] neighborhood” was the IRS.
1. “The Little Kicks” in Seinfeld Almost Didn’t Happen
In the episode “The Little Kicks,” we get to see Elaine’s fabulously hilarious dance moves. It’s almost impossible to imagine a version of Seinfeld in which Elaine doesn’t dance in such a funky way. And yet shockingly, this was almost the case. Writer Spike Fereston knew that series creator Larry David was against the dance, and he was only able to get it approved after David left. He was able to get the dance approve, but still received a lot of push back from the other writers.
Fereston recalls when writer Jennifer Crittenden stopped him in the hallway after filming and asked him, ‘Are you sure about this? Are you sure you’re not ruining Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ career?’ Considering Dreyfus won an Emmy that same year, it’s safe to say the dance was a good career move for the actress. And now to reminisce, here is Elaine doing her famous “Elaine Dance.”