Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed

Aimee Heidelberg - July 6, 2023

In 1980, relishing the success of television sitcom Three’s Company, Suzanne Somors, the “blonde” roommate on the show, did the unthinkable. As her popularity escalated and she became a popular pinup, she had the gall to ask for a raise so her salary was equal to her male co-star. She was fired instead. Off-camera conflicts like Somer’s contract negotiations are harder to hide in the age of social media, but in the past, audiences didn’t have such ‘insider access.’ Television helped audiences escape, for a little while, the tensions of their own lives to vicariously join a group of friends. Fights would brew and resolve over one episode, characters kissing and making up, and a happy conclusion. But the smiling façade often hid behind-the-scenes drama. Take a look at some of history’s most popular shows, and the drama audiences never got to see.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Public Domain

I Love Lucy (1951 – 1957): Arnaz vs. Arnaz

I Love Lucy, one of television’s first sitcoms, chronicled the contentious, yet loving couple Desi and Lucy Ricardo and their bickering friends, Fred and Ethel Mertz. The show has been a beloved part of popular culture since its run from 1951 to 1957. It was art reflecting life; leads Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz married after meeting during filming Too Many Girls (1940). It was a rough start; Ball filed for divorce in 1944. They quickly reconciled, though, instead seeking opportunities to work together to strengthen their relationship. When CBS and Ball developed a sitcom, she insisted Arnaz play her husband. The network was hesitant to put a Cuban-American with a thick accent in the lead. They thought audiences wouldn’t accept the relationship, considered one of the first interracial couples on television. To prove them wrong, Lucy developed a touring show to prove their chemistry and ability to capture audiences.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Desi Arnaz, 1950. Public domain.

Arnaz was a passionate sort of man

But working together on the television show from 1951 until 1957 wasn’t enough to fix their problems. Ball knew about Arnaz’s affection for women. He hired sex workers, according to Associated Press writer Jim Bacon, who saw Arnaz singing his signature song “Babaloo” to a cadre of women surrounding him. Arnaz had extramarital affairs. When Arnaz’s affairs made the paper, Ball reportedly responded to one article, “Oh, hell, I could tell them worse than that.” Yet the couple kept their arguments off-set. The couple’s daughter Lucie recalls fighting and anger as she grew up. Arnaz built a guest house on their property so he could retreat from the couple’s home without having to pay for a hotel stay. For a time, they were able to make up and return to normalcy – until the next fight. In 1960, the fiery couple had enough and filed for divorce.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
William Frawley and Vivian Vance. Public Domain.

I Love Lucy: Frawley vs. Vance

Ball and Arnaz weren’t the only onscreen pair constantly at odds. Behind the scenes, comedy actress Vivian Vance and vaudeville and movie veteran William Frawley fights were no joke. On television, the two did their job and played their roles to their best ability, becoming part of the I Love Lucy comedy legend. But Vance felt Frawley, at twenty-two years her senior was “an old coot,” too old to play her husband. In addition to fighting with Vance, Frawley wasn’t considered dependable. He drank too much. During negotiations to play Mertz, Desi Arnaz warned Frawley that one screw-up would result in lost pay, two would result in firing. Frawley held himself together, keeping his pay and job. At one point, the studio discussed a spinoff series featuring the Mertzes, but Vance rejected it, even when she was offered a $50,000 bonus, to avoid working with Frawley.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
I Love Lucy cast. Public domain

I Love Lucy: Lucy vs. Red Scare

One of television’s most dramatic moments didn’t happen on screen. In 1953, I Love Lucy star Lucille Ball the House Un-American Committee (HUAC) interrogated Ball about her Communist activities. This could end even the most beloved star. Ball admitted registering as a Communist in 1936, she denied holding a Communist political belief. Registering was a favor for her grandfather, who aligned with the party. She denied being active in the party. During her testimony, she declared, “I am not a Communist now. I never have been. I never wanted to be.” HUAC dismissed the charges against Ball, but the newspapers had a field day, screaming her Communist affiliation across the headlines. Desi Arnaz stood up for his wife, introducing her as “my favorite redhead – in fact, that’s the only thing red about her, and even that’s not legitimate.”

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Danny Thomas and Jean Hagen. Public Domain (1955).

Make Room for Daddy/ Danny Thomas Show (1953 – 1965): Thomas vs. Hagen

The Danny Thomas Show (called ‘Make Room for Daddy for its first three seasons) centered around the delicate balance of work and family life for a nightclub comedian. Danny Thomas and Jean Hagen, who played Danny and Margaret Williams, often clashed on the set. She was growing dissatisfied with, as she told the Texas Corsicana Sun in 1955, “Week after week of the same role, which is enough to drive any actress crazy. There I am, always sweet, always good, holding the family together. It got bad for my morale.” Hagen had enough. She left the television show at the end of Season 3. Thomas was so angry at her departure, he had the writers kill of her character to prevent a return. After Hagen’s departure, showrunners renamed it The Danny Thomas Show and featured Thomas’s character navigating work, parenting, and dating.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
My Three Sons cast, 1962. ABC, public domain.

My Three Sons (1960 – 1972): Frawley vs. the bottle

In My Three Sons, patriarch and widower Steve Douglas, played by faces the challenges of raising three sons with only the help of his father-in-law Bub, played by former I Love Lucy alum William Frawley. Stanley Livingston, who played son Chip, remembers him affectionately. Frawley seemed to genuinely like the kids, arranging to have surfboards delivered to their dressing rooms and taking them to Dodger games. But there were troubles with alcohol again. While Frawley managed his drinking during I Love Lucy, he needed extra ‘handling’ while filming My Three Sons. Tim Considine and the other kids in the cast were charged with fetching Frawley from a local bar to film his scenes. In addition to the battle with drinking, Frawley’s health was failing. He suffered a stroke. Producers worried he might not last another season. Showrunners wrote Frawley’s character out, replacing him with William Demaret as Uncle Charley.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Buddy Ebsen (l) and Nancy Kulp (r). Public domain.

Beverly Hillbillies (1962 – 1971): Ebsen vs. Kulp

The Beverly Hillbillies followed the tales of Tennessee hillbilly Jed Clampett, played by Buddy Ebsen, who found oil on his property and moved his family to Beverly Hills. His banker, Milburn Drysdale, with his chaotic interest in keeping Jed’s money in the bank, balanced out by the stoic, practical secretary Jane Hathaway, played by Nancy Kulp. While Jed Clampett and Jane Hathaway were dear, affectionate friends onscreen, behind the scenes things weren’t so peaceful. Ebsen was a staunch conservative Republican. Kulp was a liberal Democrat. Their political discussions would devolve into name calling and yelling. Later, when Kulp ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, Ebsen recorded messages for her campaign opponent, saying “Nancy, I love you dearly but you’re too liberal for me.” Having lost the election, Kulp didn’t believe Ebsen’s message lost her the election, but she was vocal about feeling betrayed by her former costar.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Bob Denver (“Gilligan”) and Tina Louise of Gilligan’s Island. Public domain.

Gilligan’s Island (1964 – 1967): Louise vs. Cast

When a three-hour boat tour goes awry and the tourists are stranded on an island, they work together to stay alive and build high-tech gear out of coconuts in search of rescue. This simple premise made Gilligan’s Island a hit with audiences at its premier in 1964. Tina Louise (“Ginger”) had troubles from the onset. Her manager implied she would be the star of the television show, a tale of a famous actress lost on an island with supporting characters. She was irate to find she was clearly one of the supporting characters. Louise reportedly wanted a higher profile in the show. She kept to herself, often sitting alone during breaks. But in all fairness, the cast never indicated an open hostility with her, just a cool distance. Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann in the series, credits Louise for teaching her a good deal about acting and camera angles.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Dick York (l), Agnes Moorhead (c), Elizabeth Montgomery (r). Public domain.

Bewitched (1964 – 1972): York vs. pain

In the late 1960s, audiences were shocked when their favorite ‘witch-who-married-a-mortal’ Samantha Stephens on television’s Bewitched returned for its sixth season with a new husband. Samantha was still married to husband Darren, but Darren looked different. Before Bewitched, Dick York shot the movie “They Came to Cordura.” According to York, an extra unexpectedly grabbed the handle of a railway handcar he was using with costar Gary Cooper. York suddenly and unexpectedly lifted the man, a weight of 180 pounds (82 kilo). This jolt snapped the muscles of his back. Despite the pain, he joined the case of Bewitched in 1964. His pain and addiction to painkillers led to passing out on the set of Bewitched in 1969. While recovering at the hospital, he knew he couldn’t continue to do the series. Dick Sargent stepped into the role of Darren Stephens, leaving audiences to guess why York left the successful series.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Cast/ Musicians of The Monkees. Public Domain

Monkees (1965 – 1968): Cast vs. Show Producers

In 1965, at the height of Beatlemania, television producers tried to capture the magic in a weekly series. They cast real-life musicians and showmen to play rock musicians who comedically never quite ‘make it’ in the industry. The Monkees put out albums to go with the show, both of which achieved quick success. Despite the musical talent that got them cast and promises of producers, producers only permitted the men to use their vocals over studio musicians and pre-written songs. This infuriated particularly Monkees skilled songwriters Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork. Nesmith called the group’s second album, More of the Monkees, “The worst album in the history of the world.” Tensions flared with producers, but the Monkees wrested creative control in later albums. The show only lasted two seasons, but their battle to win control of their art has ensured their place in musical legend.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Brady Bunch publicity still, Robert Reed (l) and Florence Henderson (r) as Mike and Carol Brady (1973). Public Domain.

Brady Bunch (1969 – 1974): Robert Reed vs. Show Production Team

The Brady Bunch has been a staple sitcom classic since its debut in 1969. But among its detractors was the show’s star, Robert Reed, who played patriarch Mike Brady. He didn’t like the show. While the kids in the cast remember him fondly, Reed clashed with producer Sherwood Schwartz, directors, and writers. Reed was a classically trained, Shakespearean actor concerned that the Brady Bunch scripts were nothing but gags and one-liners. He would send notes to Schwartz, critiquing the episodes (which Schwartz often ignored), even battling over fact-checking he did on specific lines. He refused to take part in the series 1974 final episode because he felt the plot, about eldest son Greg accidentally turning his hair bright orange shortly before his high school graduation, was too absurd. Despite the conflicts, Reed would join later Brady spinoffs and specials until his death in 1992.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Partridge Family cast (l) with ‘new’ Chris Brian Forster. ‘Old’ Chris Jeremy Gelbwaks (r). Public domain.

Partridge Family (1970 – 1974): Personal demons and One Small One

The Partridge Family was another rock band-based sitcom, running from 1970 to 1974. Like The Monkees, the happy endings in the show didn’t always reflect behind-the-scenes reality. David Cassidy, the heartthrob teen idol who played oldest son Keith, posed for a risqué Rolling Stone cover and admitted drug use in the accompanying article. Jeremy Gelbwaks, who played the youngest son Chris, was unruly and the cast found him difficult to work with. He would kick costars under the table. Danny Bonaduce, who played fiery son Danny, called Gelbwaks a “raving lunatic.” Brian Forster replaced Gelbwaks in the second season. Susan Dey, cast as oldest daughter Laurie, battled an eating disorder, at one time eating nothing but carrots, giving her skin an orange tinge. But there were Bonaduce escaped an abusive home life when costar Dave Madden let the boy stay at his house, a time Bonaduce remembers warmly.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Jean Stapleton (l) as Edith Bunker and Carroll O’Connor (r) as Archie Bunker. Public domain.

All in the Family (1971 – 1979): O’Connor vs. Show Producers

All in the Family defied social conventions of the time. It featured Archie Bunker, a cantankerous man set in his ways, his loyal (and forgiving) wife Edith, his daughter Gloria, and son-in-law Mike “Meathead” Stivic. Archie was pulled, kicking and screaming, into modern society, but that wasn’t the only kicking and screaming. Carroll O’Connor, whose portrayal of Archie made him a classic character, was certain the show would flop after its 1968 debut, but it became a staple sitcom for American viewers. O’Connor knew his worth to the show. He confronted producer Norma Lear about his contract in 1974. Salary negotiations broke down, and O’Connor was written out of the show for five episodes. Lear threatened to kill off the Archie character. O’Connor came back, but later sued for $60,000 of missing earnings. Even after these battles, O’Connor would agree to play Archie in a spinoff series, Archie Bunker’s Place.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Esther Rolle and John Amos. Public domain.

Good Times (1974 – 1979): Amos and Rolle vs. Walker

Spin-offs occasionally reach – or even exceed – the popularity of its original show. Such was the case with Good Times, a spinoff from Maude (1972 – 1978), about a family of five living in one of Chicago’s inner-city public housing projects. John Amos, who played father James Evans, and Esther Rolle, cast as mother Florida, lived in a small flat with artist son J.J., scholar daughter Thelma, and activist son Michael. As the show grew more popular, Amos and Rolle felt Jimmie Walker’s increasingly popular ‘J.J.’ character had become too slapstick, a caricature. Amos left the show in the third season over the depiction of African American characters. To explain Amos’s absence, his character was killed in a car accident. Rolle left after the fourth season, her character having remarried and moved to Arizona. When the producers asked Rolle to return, she agreed – if J.J. showed some maturity and responsibility.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
SNL’s Chevy Chase and Lorne Michaels meet Gerald Ford (1976). Public domain.

Saturday Night Live (1975 – Present): Chase vs. Everyone on the Show

Saturday Night Live (SNL) was a nationwide showcase for comedians with big personalities. A sketch show that featured an array of classic characters over the years, from Gumby to Mr. Bill to the Killer Bees, the show skewered modern society, and audiences loved it. But inside the studio, cast member Chevy Chase made no friends. In 2022, he was interviewed by CBS Sunday Morning, and admitted he felt he was the funniest of the cast. He had a fist fight with castmate Bill Murray. John Belushi gave him the finger whenever he could, a holdover from a feud that predated their time on SNL. In 2022, Chase responded to criticism by former castmates and crew, “I don’t give a crap! I am who I am.” Chase left SNL in the second season, and had a hit movie career, but still carries the stigma of being difficult to work with.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
‘Alice’ cast, Beth Howland (l), Linda Lavin (c), and Polly Holliday (r). Public Domain.

Alice (1976 – 1985): Lavin vs. Holliday

Alice, based on the 1974 Martin Scorsese film Alice Doesn’t Live here Anymore, focuses on a young widow from New Jersey working at Mel’s Diner and raising a young son. Linda Lavin played Alice, the titular waitress who dreamed of a singing career while trying to make ends meet. Lavin already had a reputation of being tough to work with. She was reportedly jealous of how popular costar Polly Holliday’s character ‘Flo’ had become. Flo was a tough-talking Southerner with big hair and a catchphrase, “Kiss my grits!” Holliday’s character was so popular it became a spinoff, Flo (1980-1981). The spinoff was cancelled after one season, but despite hop much audiences loved Flo as a character, Holliday refused to do guest spots on Alice.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Laverne and Shirley’s Cindy Williams (l) and Penny Marshall (r)

Laverne and Shirley (1976 – 1983): Williams vs. Marshall

Laverne and Shirley was a popular spinoff of Happy Days. It followed the hijinks of Laverne DeFazio, played by Penny Marshall, and Shirley Feeney, depicted by Cindy Williams, two women looking for love and trying to make a living in Milwaukee and their strange social circle. While Williams and Marshall had great onscreen chemistry, they admit to conflicting with each other and with writers. In his memoire, producer Garry Marshall says of the duo, “On a daily basis, there was infighting, yelling, cursing, and so much more.” Showrunners escalated the conflicts when they scheduled Williams to work on the day she was expected to delivery her baby. But the conflicts between the show’s stars didn’t last forever. Despite the bickering, they respected the other, and their differences didn’t stop them from forming a friendship that lasted the rest of their lives.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Dallas star Larry Hagman, 1983. Public domain.

Dallas (1978 – 1991): Hagman vs. Show Network CBS

Audiences love a good villain, and Dallas’ J.R. Ewing, played by Larry Hagman, perfectly fits the mold in the show about wealthy and feuding oil families. As J.R., Hagman played the foil to the show’s hero, J.R.’s brother Bobby. J.R. captured audiences, and Hagman reached new levels of fame. While the set itself was congenial, Hagman’s fame drove him to request higher pay, especially as “Who shot J.R.?” mania swept the country in response to the season finale cliffhanger. He tried to re-negotiate his contract with CBS and Lorimar Productions for a pay raise, but to no avail. Hagman decided to go on a one-man strike. He left the show. And the state. He refused to return without a raise. After ten days, Lorimar agreed to Hagman’s terms and brought Hagman back for $75,000 per episode, one of the biggest per-episode salaries of the time.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Dukes of Hazzard’s real star, the General Lee. allen watkin (2009).

Dukes of Hazzard (1979 – 1985): Wopat and Schneider vs. Warner Brothers

The Dukes of Hazzard was a good-guy-vs.-bad guy show about corruption in a small southern town. The Duke boys, Tom Wopat as Luke Duke, and Johns Schneider as Bo Duke, were a team off screen as well as on. Although they weren’t best of friends, they came together before the start of Season 5 to sue Warner Brothers for $25 million. The actors felt cheated out of their share of the extremely popular merchandise market, since their image was so closely tied to the product’s popularity. They lobbied a charge of libel and breach of contract and accused the two of trying to weasel out of their contracts. A joint statement from Wopat and Schneider expressed how they were loath to leave the show but felt cheated by the studio. Warner Brothers countersued for $90 million and hired new actors as leads for its final season in 1985.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Cheers bar, Boston, MA, used in opening credits of the show. Achim Hepp (2010, CC2.0)

Cheers (1982 – 1993): Long vs. Cast

In 1982, America was introduced to a little Boston bar where everyone knew your name. Cheers climbed up the Nielsen ratings quickly. One of the central plot lines followed the romantic “will they or won’t they” between Sam Malone (played by Ted Danson), a former Boston Red Sox player who owned the bar, and stuffy intellectual wait staff Diane Chambers, played by Shelley Long. Long left the series at the end of its fifth season, publicly saying she wanted to move into film and spend more time with family. The romantic tension on screen hid the full-on tensions between Long, the cast, and crew off screen. Long was often late to the set, but she claimed it was due to wardrobe issues. Danson and Long never openly battled, but Danson grew irritated with Long’s frequent questions and suggestions for her character.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Long and Grammar. (l) Public domain, 1984, (r) Greg2600, CC2.0

Cheers: Long vs. Grammar

In the third season, Long’s character Diane had a boyfriend that matched her in personality and intellect, Dr. Frasier Crane, played by Kelsey Grammar. Frasier and Diane fell in love, but the love fizzled when Diane left him at the altar, leaving Frasier despondent. He found solace in the one place he could, as a regular at Cheers. Frasier Crane was only supposed to appear for a few episodes. He became a series regular. Grammar suspects he was promoted specifically to irritate Long, but Cheers writer and producer Ken Levine says they just liked Grammar and how he played the character. Long felt supplanted. But that feeling must not have been too strong, as she appeared as Diane Chambers in the series finale of Cheers. She also appeared as Diane in Grammar’s spinoff series Frasier.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
A Team, Mr. T. merchandise. Joe Haupt via Flickr (2013).

A-Team (1983 – 1987): George Peppard vs. Mr. T (and everyone else)

The A -Team follows soldiers of fortune trying to clear their names for a crime they didn’t commit. Dwight Schultz, who played team leader Captain H.M. Murdock of the A-Team, recalls the first time he met costar George Peppard, saying, “I’m George Peppard, and I am not a nice man.” He told female costars that they weren’t wanted because it was, as A-Team actor Dirk Benedict says, a “guy’s show.” Peppard told Marla Heasley, who played Tawnia Baker from 1983-1984, she was there because “…the network and producers want you. For some reason they think they need a girl.” But Peppard blatantly resented costar Mr. T. Mr. T had become a popular culture phenomenon, irking Peppard, who fancied himself a higher-level actor. Tensions rose when Peppard found out Mr. T was paid more than he was. He wouldn’t even speak to Mr. T, relaying messages through Benedict.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Webster’s Emmanuel Lewis in a Bob Hope special 1987. Public domain.

Webster (1983 – 1989): Karras/Clark vs. Lewis

Webster centered around Webster (Emmanuel Lewis) who came to live with his godfather George Papadapolis and his wife Katherine (Alex Karras and Susan Clark, married in real life) after his parents died, and adjusting to this new family unit. Lewis became the show’s breakout star. Emmanuel Lewis had a medical condition that stunted his growth, making him appear to be much younger, very precocious child, despite being in his teens during filming. This resonated with the audience. Fan favorite Lewis became the center of the show, audience favorite, and pop culture phenomenon. The network sold the show to Karras and Clark as their star vehicle. It wasn’t supposed to even feature a child, just the couple, but the network wanted a vehicle for Lewis. Karras and Clark’s conflict was not with Lewis himself. They were simply irate to see their roles diminished to supporting characters.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Cybill Shepard (l) and Bruce Willis (r) of Moonlighting in the late 1980s. Public Domain

Moonlighting (1985 – 1989): Shepherd v. Willis

Moonlighting followed the antics at the Blue Moon Detective Agency, and the romantic tensions between its owners David Addison (Bruce Willis) and Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd). Costar Curtis Armstrong recalls Willis initially being very laid back, but Shepherd was a diva and wasn’t well liked. The crew members didn’t like her. As Shepard noted in a 2005 interview that Willis was particularly full of himself, and despite a great “spark’ at their audition, “it had gotten to where we just hated each other.” The tension between Willis and Shepherd escalated as Moonlighting grew more popular. Curtis says showrunners called the two to the set at the exact same time so neither had to wait. Their trailers had to be the same distance from the stage entrance so neither had to walk farther than the other. Curtis further says Shepard would have people fired if they crossed her.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Growing Pains Kirk Cameron (r) and guest star Leanna Creel (l) at 1989 Emmy Awards. Alan Light (1989)

Growing Pains (1985 – 1992): Cameron vs. Show Production

Family sitcoms in the 1980s explored the changing family dynamic as two-working-parent households became more mainstream. One of these, Growing Pains, focused on a father working from home and an office-bound mother raising their four children (and later, a young Leonardo DiCaprio). Behind the scenes there were significant growing pains. Showrunners wrote Tracey Gold (daughter Carol), temporarily off the show as she pursued help for anorexia. But more drama ensued as Kirk Cameron, the show’s teen idol, became a born-again Christian. He refused to shoot scenes contrary to his religious beliefs, such as lying in bed with a woman, even when his character ‘Mike’ was doing so as part of a play. Cameron reportedly had costar Julie McCullough, who played his fiancé Julie, fired because she posed for Playboy, although other sources note that her removal was for character reasons; ‘Mike’ being married would go against the free-wheeling character.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Alf in sinister graffitti form. Lord Jim via Flickr (2010, CC 2.0)

ALF (1986 – 1990): Show Cast vs. Alien Puppet

In the wake of movie E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial’s 1982 worldwide success, ALF fulfilled the “alien befriends normal family” market. It quickly became one of the most popular sitcoms of the late 1980s, and a merchandising machine. But for the cast, ALF was a nightmare. They quickly resented having to work around puppet logistics. The set was dangerous; there were trap doors for the puppeteer, creating a virtual land mine situation for the cast. The puppeteer was a perfectionist, keeping the cast and crew on set much longer than the average length of time for a sitcom of the era. Cast member Max Wright, who played father Willie Tanner, lashed out, “We’re all puppets here!” When the show ended, he gathered his things, high-tailed it to his car, and disappeared. In an interview with People magazine, Wright called his time on the show, “hard work and very grim.”

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Roseanne Barr (2011). Jonathan Mauer, CC 3.0.

Roseanne (original show run, 1988 – 1996): Barr vs. Production

Roseanne Barr’s recent firing from The Connors wasn’t the first conflict between Barr and her production team. In the late 1980s, Roseanne centered on an imperfect but loving working-class family struggling with money, ever-changing jobs, and very realistic teenage angst. Barr, as the one whose name was literally attached to the show, frequently fought with show creator Matt Williams over creative control and creation credit. At one point, Barr prohibited producers from coming to the set. Producers considered retooling the show to feature just the Roseanne character’s husband Dan (John Goodman) and sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf). Goodman and Metcalf refused to do the show without Barr. She hired her husband for a role, and set off a new wave of conflicts. To be fair, her efforts paid off; Roseanne was a hit, ranking in the top five of the Nielsen ratings during its first six seasons.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Seinfeld’s infamous restaurant location. Public domain.

Seinfeld (1989 – 1998): Show Cast vs. Swedberg

Seinfeld, the “show about nothing” centered on a New York comic, his friends George and Elaine, and his oddball neighbor Kramer, as they interacted with the people and places around them. George is engaged to Susan, played by Heidi Swedberg, in season seven. But things quickly went awry. Her comic chops weren’t compatible with Jason Alexander, who played George. They found it hard to work off each other. As Alexander put it in a book by Warren Littlefield, “If I went slow, she’d go fast. If I paused, she’d jump in too early. Loved her. Hated Susan.” Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who played Elaine, suggested killing off the character. They killed Susan off in a peculiar way. Susan was licking the cheap, deadly glue on the envelopes for their wedding invitations. Alexander has made it clear that they didn’t have anything personal against Swedberg, it was just incompatible comic sensibilities.

Set Secrets From Everybody’s Favorite Vintage Shows Exposed
Frasier’s John Mahoney (l) and Jack Russell terrier (r). (l) Alan Light, 1994, (r) Lilly M, 2007.

Frasier (1993 – 2004): Mahoney vs. the Dog

Frasier, a Cheers spinoff centered on erudite psychiatrist Frasier Crane, moving the character to Seattle where he lived with his ‘regular-guy’ father Martin (John Mahoney) and his father’s caretaker Daphne (Jane Leeves), and his carbon-copy brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce). Tensions on Frasier weren’t the diva-esque nightmare endured on sets like Moonlighting, but the cast and crew had to contend with star Kelsey Grammar’s substance abuse, which led to a 1996 car crash. Writers created storylines featuring Frasier’s brother Niles, giving Grammar time to work on his recovery. Even so, the cast bonded to stage an intervention to help Grammar. Cast and crew relations were strong. But there was one cast member they didn’t care for: Jack Russell terrier Eddie, played by a dog named Moose. Moose would nip at Mahoney, who once refused to hold the dog on his lap, exclaiming, “The son of a b**ch always bites me!”

Where did we find this stuff? Readings and resources:

All in the Family: 10 Behind-the-Scenes facts only true fans know. Aya Tsintziras, ScreenRant, 28 May 2020.

Dawn Wells (aka Mary Ann) dishes more here on Gilligan’s Island. Jim Clash,, 20 March 2016.

Dick York: The real reason he suddenly left ‘Bewitched.’ Colin Bertram, Biography, 8 October 2020.

Gilligan’s Island: Ginger Grant Actress Tina Louise apparently had issues with the show’s movies. Keeli Parkey, Outsider, 1 February 2021.

Greetings from Melmac: ALF creator Paul Fusco on his star alien and potential comeback. Jordan Zakarin, The Hollywood Reporter, 22 May 2012.

John Amos reveals how departure from ‘Good Times’ went down. Okla Jones, Essence, 12 August 2021.

‘Laverne and Shirley’ drama: Lead stars Penny Marshall & Cindy Williams’ behind-the-scenes feud exposed, ‘Infighting, yelling, & cursing.’ Radar staff,, 31 January 2023.

Mickey Dolenz details the making of The Monkees ‘Headquarters’ album. Ken Sharp, Goldmine, 8 May 2023.

Pity the poor producers of TV series. Karl Fleming, New York Times, 31 August 1975.

Tragic real-life details about Ethel and Fred Mertz from I Love Lucy. D.B. Kelly,, 20 July 2022.

Whether TV or true life, ‘mother’ role not easy. Phillip Potempa, Chicago Tribune, 08 May 2020.

Years later, ‘Leave it to Beaver’ remains a beloved family sitcom. Susan King, Los Angeles Times, 30 June 2010.