Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Scott Baio started his career as a child actor, starring alongside Jodie Foster in Alan Parker’s 1976 film Bugsy Malone, before turning his sights to television and—with no small amount of help from writer and producer Garry Marshall—becoming a teen heartthrob by playing Chachi Arcola on Happy Days. From there, Baio found further small-screen success as the title character in Charles In Charge, where he also learned the craft of directing. Although he spent the next several years flying more or less under the radar (aside from a few seasons of flirtation with reality television), Baio returned to the world of sitcoms in 2012 to star in See Dad Run, which airs Thursday nights on Nick At Nite for now.
See Dad Run (2012-present)—“David Hobbs,” executive producer
Scott Baio: The character is self-absorbed, but nice, and the show is the most fun I’ve had… maybe ever. I mean, I work with good people, you know?
The A.V. Club: How did the series first come about? Since you’re also an executive producer on the show, was it something you pitched to Nickelodeon, or did they bring it to you?
SB: It was a script that was sent to me by Jason Hervey, that was written by Patrick Labyorteaux and Tina Albanese. I originally didn’t want to read it. And our production company [Bischoff Hervey Entertainment]… Jason actually sold it without me reading it! [Laughs.] But what the hey. You never know. It’s kind of weird, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.
AVC: You weren’t looking for a full-time sitcom gig?
SB: I wasn’t looking for anything. I was done.
AVC: You were happy living the life of retirement?
SB: Yeah! I was playing a lot of golf, hanging out, living my life and enjoying it until Jason sort of tricked me. He asked me to read it, I said “no,” and I thought that was it. Then all of a sudden I was on the phone pitching it to the network, and I didn’t even know what the script was about! [Laughs.] So he kind of told me what it was about, and I still didn’t want to do it, but then I got on the set for the first day of work, shooting the pilot. For the first couple of hours, I couldn’t get my head around what I was doing, but then I found myself remembering how much I enjoyed doing it. So now I’m back at it. It’s a great thing, because I love doing it. It’s what I do, you know?
AVC: What have you brought to the character that wasn’t there when you got the script? Have they tried to adapt it to you personally?
SB: That’s a hard question, because… I bring things every day, and they write things every day, so there’s moments in the show that I’ll bring, there’s stories that I’ve brought to them that they’ve massaged into other stories. There are stories that’ve happened to me here at home that’ve become full stories. But the truth of the matter is I have a very good take on the guy, because I understand him completely. And at the end of the day, it really is kind of me. It’s me up there, my face and my body, so I try to bend it to where it’s me. But I understand the self-absorbed, sort of egotistical guy that is innocent about it.
Bugsy Malone (1976)—“Bugsy”
AVC: You first came to prominence when you appeared alongside Jodie Foster in Bugsy Malone, but was that really your first time in front of the camera?
SB: No, I’d done commercials. That would’ve been my first on-camera work. But Bugsy Malone would’ve been my first meaningful role.
AVC: How did you find your way into acting in the first place?
SB: Well, I just wanted to be on television when I was about 9 years old. I didn’t know what that meant, but I bugged my mother, and she took me to an agency and all that business, and I started doing commercials… barely, because I wasn’t a desirable-looking kid. [Laughs.] I was very Italian looking, and at the time they were looking for Irish kids—Campbell’s Soup kids.
AVC: So how’d you suddenly move from doing commercials to working with Alan Parker? That’s quite a jump.
SB: I auditioned. I had quit the business, because I didn’t like driving into Manhattan. Well, the long and the short of it is that I wanted to play with my friends after school, but it happened to be raining that day, so I went to the city to meet with Alan Parker. I read it, but I just barely read it. I didn’t even want to be there. He was English, but I didn’t even know what that was. He was just this weird guy with long hair, and I didn’t know what he was. [Laughs.] So I sort of read the script, threw it at him, and walked out the door. That was it: I’d gotten the part before I got home.
AVC: Apparently, that was exactly what he was looking for.
SB: So goes the story. [Laughs.]
AVC: How was the actual experience of making the film?
SB: Oh, my God. It was awesome, a kid’s fantasy: You get to dress up as gangster, you get to shoot guns that fire whipped cream, you get to drive cars with pedals that look like real cars, and you get to talk like a grown-up. I mean, you couldn’t ask for a better first big gig. Talk about getting you hooked on a business! It was fantastic.
AVC: Were you familiar with Jodie Foster’s work when you signed on?
SB: Well, she’d just finished shooting Taxi Driver, so we knew who she was. [Hesitates.] I don’t think she’d done Freaky Friday yet, but she’d done a couple of other kids’ movies. So we knew her name, but we didn’t really know her caliber and all that kind of stuff.
AVC: How was she to work with?
SB: Great! She was just a girl, hanging out, being funny, goofing off. We’d hang out at night in the hotel, running around in the hallways like a bunch of idiots. [Laughs.] She was a good girl. I saw her, what, eight or nine years ago? We did a Bugsy Malone reunion for English television. It was me, her, the guy who played Fat Sam, and the girl who played Blousey, my girlfriend in the movie. It was great. And, of course, then I did Foxes with Jodie after Bugsy. She’s a good person. A good, decent human being.
SB: “Brad.” Right. I’d forgotten that, actually. [Laughs.] Okay, Bugsy Malone was with a real director, Alan Parker, but I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I was 13 and just sort of goofing off and doing what he told me. Foxes, though, that was a heavy-duty movie and a little ahead of its time. Working with Adrian Lyne… I’m sure Alan was the same way, but I didn’t get it or didn’t understand it, but Adrian was a director. He directed. He got mad, and he did all the things you think directors should be doing from having seen directors in movies. It felt like real moviemaking. I was 19 and I was finally starting to understand what was going on. But it was a great movie to be on, great fun to make. We shot all over the San Fernando Valley, and it was just a damn good movie.
AVC: With a cast that featured, among others, Cherie Currie of The Runaways.
SB: Cherie Currie, who I know a little bit now and see once in a while. Other than her, though, I don’t really see many of the people who were in it. Sally Kellerman, rarely will I see her. I never see Randy Quaid. But, man, that was a movie. Sometimes that movie will come on, and I’ll watch it and go, “Gosh dang it, that was a good movie!” [Laughs.]
AVC: Laura Dern made a point of mentioning you when she talked about Foxes. She said, “Let’s just say it was quite a day at school for me when I came back to tell stories about working with him.”
SB: Oh, that’s right, she was in it, too! She comes in, looking for the party or something like that. [Laughs.] God, I’d almost forgotten about that!
Full House (1989)—“Pete Bianco”
SB: I don’t know where they got that singing voice from, but it was ridiculous.
AVC: Surely you’re not suggesting that’s not actually your voice we hear.
SB: That’s not my voice… You’re joking.
AVC: I am joking.
SB: Oh, okay. You never know! [Laughs.] The reason I did that show was Tom Miller and Bob Boyett, who had done Happy Days, asked me to come on, and I was like, “Yeah, I’ll go on.” I knew [John] Stamos a little bit, and there was the motorcycle. “Dr. Dare Rides Again.” God help us all. It was very tough to shoot with those little girls. But they’re billionaires now, so go figure. It was fun. I love [Bob] Saget, I love [Dave] Coulier. Coulier does the best Tony Curtis impersonation I’ve ever heard in my entire life.
Gemini (1982)—“Francis Geminiani”
SB: Wow, you’re going deep! That was a play for Showtime. Broadway On Showtime. It was with Danny Aiello, Anne De Salvo, Sheree North… Oh, Sheree North: What a great broad… in the real sense of the word. I did that at Lehman College in the Bronx. I don’t even know when, don’t remember. The director was Barnet Kellman. I was very sick the day we were shooting it. I think I had a fever of 103, and I could barely get through it. I was dying backstage. But it was an interesting experience. It was like shooting a giant sitcom, because we had multiple cameras and we had a big audience. But the best story I remember about that is… I think it was at the very opening of the play, sitting on the stoop, and Sheree North had her entrance. You have to understand that I loved her… Did she pass away?
AVC: She did, yes.
SB: [Sighs.] Yeah, I thought I remembered that. Well, she makes her entrance, and she’s got this huge speech. I mean, huge. Maybe two pages. And she walks through the back door, crosses me in the stoop, she gets down to center stage, and she says, “How ya’ll doing?” And she turns to me and says, “What the fuck is my next line?” And I fell on the floor. It was the funniest thing. I don’t know why, but I just lost my mind laughing. She had a two-page speech, and she said one word, and she forgot everything. God, that’s a long time ago.
AVC: Had you done much in the way of theater at that point? Or at all?
SB: No. I did a play when I was a young boy. It was a Noel Coward play called Nude With Violin. I don’t know what the hell I was doing there. Somebody, an agent, said, “You should do theater!” So I did, and I’m like, “This sucks!” [Laughs.]
Blansky’s Beauties (1977)—“Anthony DeLuca”
AVC: Blansky’s Beauties was your first full-time TV gig, wasn’t it?
SB: With Nancy Walker, Eddie Mekka, and Pat Morita. I’d done a pilot prior to that called Pinky, which was a Pinky Tuscadero spin-off of Happy Days that was not shot in front of an audience, so I didn’t quite understand that whole process. I remember shooting it, but… Wait, was that the Pinky pilot? You’ve got me conflating a lot of things. [Laughs.] I know the Pinky pilot was an amazing thing, but doing Blansky’s Beauties… You know, honest to God, I was just getting by on being cute. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. They gave me some sort of double entendre lines, and the crowd would go, “Woo! He’s 14, and he’s saying nasty, dirty things!” Whatever. I had no idea what I was doing, and I remember very little about it. Almost nothing, and I don’t know why. Maybe I blocked it?
AVC: The show may not have made an impression on you, but you clearly made an impression on Garry.
SB: Yeah, Garry was trying to jam me into everything!
Who’s Watching The Kids (1978-1979)—“Frankie ‘The Fox’ Vitola”
AVC: Watching the credits for Who’s Watching The Kids is like getting a crash course in ’70s sitcoms in just over a minute.
SB: Is that the one with me skateboarding my way through Vegas? [Laughs.] Yeah, that’s when the credits for shows were about three minutes long. Now they’re about 15 seconds long. Of course, that’s also when shows were 26 minutes rather than 20. Nowadays you’ve got to get time where you can. Yeah, they’re pretty cheesy. But that’s the way it was. I remember shooting those credits, though, because I remember skateboarding past Caesar’s Palace. We stayed in the Hacienda, which they leveled about 35 years ago.
AVC: You got to work with Jim Belushi early in his career.
SB: Oh, right, yeah! I remember him being very funny, very improvisational. He was young and sort of bouncing all over the place. I saw him a while back, and it was funny because he came over to me and said, “Hey!” I said, “Hi.” He said, “Jim Belushi.” I said, “Yeah, I know who you are.” He said, “Oh, I didn’t think you’d remember. We did a series together.” I said, “Yeah, I know who you are!” [Laughs.] He was sweet. He couldn’t have been sweeter to me. You have to understand that, back then, I had to go to school, so I’d go on the set, work, and then it’d be right off to school when I wasn’t working. I didn’t have any interplay with anyone. That’s when all of the good stuff happens: during the interplay. And I wasn’t really around for that.
SB: I don’t know what that was. I got sent a script called Cursed where it was a story about…well, whatever it was, I was the werewolf in the movie. I shot one scene. I think they shot a good chunk of the movie, shut it all down, and then rewrote it… and then I wasn’t the werewolf. So they shot more of the movie, shut it all down again, and rewrote it again. At that point, I asked to be fired. I said, “Why am I in this movie anymore?” So I have not seen it, I don’t know what the problem was or why they were doing all that. It was one of those cases where they took a $30 million movie, shot it three times for $90 million or whatever the budget was, and the movie made $4.00. [Laughs.] That’s one of those decisions where you’re just left wondering, “Who knows where, when, or how this thing even happened?” I don’t know any of those answers. That was one of those things where I was just a hired gun. I met Christina Ricci, who couldn’t have been nicer, and that was it.
Alice In Wonderland (1985)—“Pat The Pig”
SB: Oh, my God. It was the first time I had done prosthetics, which was kind of interesting. It was an Irwin Allen production. Harry Harris directed. I got to hang out with Red Buttons. I got to hang out with Lloyd Bridges, who was a great guy. And a big guy. My daughter watched it recently. It’s really cheesy. [Laughs.]
But the great story about that for me was when I was on the set… Shelley Winters was in it, and we were all on the set, in makeup. It was a giant set. I don’t know how many soundstages he had taken over and how many sets he had built. But it was downtime, and I was sitting next to Lloyd Bridges, who I think was the White Knight. The stage door opens up, and in walks Shelley Winters with four people behind her, and she’s just, “I need a massage, it’s 6:15, and if you don’t get me my Coke now, I’m leaving, and my shoes hurt, and somebody come over here, dammit, and get me the thing, I need the chair,” and just going on and on and on and on, and yelling. And I’m sitting there going, “Wow! This is really incredible!” So I looked at Lloyd Bridges, and he shrugged his shoulders. And I got up and walked over—she’s still going, “I need this, that, and the other”—and I said, “Excuse me, Ms. Winters, can you keep it down?” “Oh, go and eff yourself!” [Laughs.] I’m like, “Okay, I’ll go and eff myself. See you later!” It was fantastic. How often do you get a legend like that to tell you where to go? It was brilliant.
AVC: Eric Roberts said that, on his first film, he learned everything not to do on a movie set from Shelley Winters.
SB: Oh, yeah, from King Of The Gypsies! Good movie. Yeah, she’s a crazy lady. [Laughs.] But God bless her. She’s an Academy Award winner.
DJ Lubel, “Wrong Hole” (2009)—himself
SB: [Starts to laugh.] DJ Lubel just called my agent and said, “I’ve got a video I want Scott to be in.” I said, “Ah, I don’t even know who this is.” And my agent said, “Wait! What are you doing?” And he showed me a video that DJ Lubel had just done that had, like, 150 million hits or something. And I looked at it, and it was funny, so I said, “Okay!” I get a lot of action from that, a lot of people commenting on that. It was very funny. And I like that guy.
Detonator (1998)—“Zack Ramses”
AVC: This feels like a must-ask just because it’s such a brilliant/ridiculous action-hero name.
SB: Ugh. Detonator. Well… [Sighs, then starts to laugh.] Uh…
AVC: If you start to discuss this and find yourself making a statement you wish to retract, let me know.
SB: No. What happened was, I got a call to do a Roger Corman film, so I thought it was going to be an actual film by Roger Corman. You know, something along the lines of, like, Little Shop Of Horrors or something like that. A cheesy horror film. But then I read it, and I was like, “Uh, well, okay, this isn’t what I was expecting, but I guess they’re gonna turn it into something.” So I agreed to it, because I still thought it’d be cool to do a Roger Corman movie. Then I got to the set, and that’s when I realized that they weren’t trying to make a Roger Corman movie. The director was trying to make a serious movie! And I just went, “Oh, God… I’m stuck!” [Laughs.] And that was it. Sometimes I should read stuff a little bit closer than I do. I don’t like reading very much, and sometimes I get burned. But you know what? Nobody saw it. And even if they did see it, who cares anymore?
AVC: There’s not even a clip on YouTube, so you really dodged a bullet.
SB: [Surprised.] Is there really not a clip on YouTube?
AVC: If there was, it would absolutely be accompanying the piece. But there isn’t.
SB: Listen, I don’t know if that’s worse that Skatetown, U.S.A., or if Skatetown, U.S.A. is worse than that. I’ve seen neither one.
Skatetown, U.S.A. (1979)—“Richie”
AVC: Well, you opened yourself up for that one.
SB: I did not remember that character’s name. I have blocked that movie from my memory, it was so bad. I remember shooting it at the Hollywood Palladium. I remember taking a picture with Patrick Swayze. He was in it. A lot of people were in it. I think the idea was, “If a lot of people are in it, maybe people will go see it.” That was that whole time where Xanadu and Roller Boogie and all that crap was coming out. That was one of those things where they sent me the script and I said “no,” but they just kept calling and offering more money! I mean, they offered me a lot of money. And finally I said, “Well, hell. What is it? Two weeks’ work? Whatever, okay, fine.” And it was… You know, sometimes money isn’t everything. [Laughs.] It was just bad. I mean, it was bad shooting it. I’m trying to think of any real stories that I have, but it was just insanity. When was that? ’79? It was just a guy making a film who didn’t know how to make a film, and I don’t even know what the story was! But Greg Bradford was in it, who I worked with later in Zapped! I’m sure you’re gonna get to that one. But Skatetown, U.S.A., that was crapola.
AVC: You made that comment about how a lot of people were in it, but it’s interesting to look at the headliners of the film: It’s you, Flip Wilson, Ron Palillo, Maureen McCormick, and Ruth Buzzi, none of whom were particularly known for film work.
SB: Exactly! I think that and Can’t Stop The Music with Bruce Jenner might be two of the worst films ever made. That, and maybe The Lonely Lady, with Pia Zadora. That’s another real stinker.
Oh! I just remembered a great story about Skatetown. We were working nights, and we were on the Santa Monica pier. We were at the top of the pier—it must’ve been about 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, so it was completely dead, except maybe for a couple of junkies walking around—and the camera dolly was on top of the hill. I was sitting there, talking to somebody, and out of the corner of my eye, I can see the camera dolly starting to move very slowly by itself. And I didn’t really do anything, because it didn’t register. All of a sudden, it starts going… and going. And nobody can get in the way of this thing, because this was a big dolly. It got all the way to the bottom of the pier, hit the railing, the camera came off the head, and went flying into the ocean. It was awesome. [Laughs.] So there you go, there’s a story for you.
Zapped! (1982)—“Barney Springboro”
SB: Great movie. Loved it then, love it today. I get more people asking about that movie than anything, no lie. And I had a ball making that. A cute, fun teen movie, and it made money. And it had Scatman Crothers! He was a good guy, and supposedly he smoked pot every day. That’s what I was told, but I don’t actually know. But I got to work with Willie [Aames], and it was a great experience. I really enjoyed doing that movie. There were some great stories on that set. People were fun. Greg Bradford was great. I think he wanted to play Peyton, but they went with Willie. But Greg was very funny. And I’d get to my trailer in the morning, and there’d be a guy cooking omelets. I was like, “Whoa!” We shot it all over L.A., which is always fun to do, and… it was just great.
What was most fun for me was all the effects. There was no CGI or anything, so all of the bottles flying around was a guy up above us, like a puppet master, moving stuff with wires. That’s how the effects were done. We had to walk in and out of it. It was kind of cool. Dick Albain was his name. He had one finger missing from an explosion years before. As for other stories… I don’t think I have anything crazy that happened. It was just a fun movie to do. Good people, good crew, good director.
AVC: When you did Zapped!, did you have visions of it being a stepping stone to doing more films, or was it just something to do during the hiatus from Happy Days?
SB: No, I just did it to do it. I liked the script, it was fun, they paid me good money. I thought it was good, and that was it! If it was anything else, it wasn’t a conscious thing, I don’t think. When you start rolling, sometimes at a certain point just kind of do whatever comes your way if it’s decent enough. That was it, really.
The Boy Who Drank Too Much (1980)—“Buff Saunders”
SB: Oh, yeah! Wow, really good movie. A serious movie. I think that was, like, the first really serious thing I’d done. That was the big time. That was Jerrold Freedman, who was a big director. And Mimi Leder, who became a big director, was the script supervisor on it. That was a good experience. I learned a lot, I worked hard, and it was a lot of work. We went to Madison, Wisconsin for a couple of weeks. There was a lot of rehearsal and really working into characters, which I’d never really done before. A little bit with Adrian Lyne, but not to this extent, because Foxes wasn’t my movie. This was my movie, and it was a lot of character, a lot of business, and a lot of getting in and finding stuff. We had fun playing hockey with the state champions of Wisconsin, who were great guys. No funny stories, really. It was just a very good time and a very good experience for me.
ABC Afterschool Special: “Stoned” (1980)—“Jack Melon”
ABC Afterschool Special: “Run, Don’t Walk” (1981)—“Johnny Jay”
CBS Schoolbreak Special: “All the Kids Do It” (1984)—“Buddy Elder”
SB: “Stoned” was another one like that. That was the marijuana one. [Hesitates.] Who directed that one? Big director.
AVC: John Herzfeld.
SB: John Herzfeld, yeah! A good director. Oh, I’ve got a story about that one, if I can remember it correctly. We were on a lake, and it was a scene where Vinnie Bufano played my brother, and were about to do this big swimming scene where he’s in the lake, and I’m rowing a boat next to him. It was kind of cold, the lake’s kind of cold, and as we’re about to do this scene.
I liked Vinnie, who was a little bit older than me, and I was sort of messing with him. He was a pretty hairy guy, and as we were about to do this scene, I said to the director, “You know, John, most swimmers have their bodies shaved.” And I saw Vinnie’s face, and he went, “Oh, Christ…” And he looked at me, and he wanted to kill me. I said, “But they do! They have their bodies shaved!” And John said, “You’re right! We have to go shave his body!” He cursed me for two days. “I’m gonna get you, you son of a bitch!”
Then when we shot that scene, the camera boat… it was actually two boats tied together, and we were out in the distance, shooting. We’d shot this very intricate scene, a very emotional scene, and the director yelled, “Cut!” A minute or two went by, Vinnie jumped in the boat, and about 25 yards away from us was the camera boat. And I see John Herzfeld jumping up and down. Seriously, he was jumping up and down. And I start rowing back toward the camera boat, because I want to see what’s going on. Well, we’d shot that very difficult scene, and the camera loader accidentally double-exposed the film. We had to shoot the whole thing again. It was brutal.
But, yeah, “Stoned” was good. And “All The Kids Do It” was good, too. Henry [Winkler] directed that. Wait, I did two specials with John Herzfeld. One was “Stoned,” and the other was “Run, Don’t Walk.” I played a crippled guy in that one.
AVC: You were really hitting all the Very Special Episode touchstones for a few years there.
SB: Yeah, I was the go-to guy for social conscience. [Laughs.]
Battle Of The Network Stars (1979-1984)—himself
AVC: When I talked to Jimmie Walker [for an upcoming Random Roles], he said that one of the high points of his career was kicking Penny Marshall’s ass in Battle Of The Network Stars.
SB: [Laughs.] You know, that was a serious show. We were serious as a heart attack. I remember one morning we were sitting in the trailer, the whole team, except one guy was missing. I think it was Jimmy Farentino, who just passed away. But we were sitting in the trailer going, “We’re gonna kill ’em! We’re gonna do this!” And Jimmy walked in and went, “What the hell?” And he turned around, walked out, and left! Because he thought it was just going to be a publicity stunt. I think he ended up doing one later anyway, but it was a serious show. But it was a lot of fun, and I was really good at it. I think I held the record for the obstacle course. We always got upset that there had to be women on the team because none of them could catch a football, and they were always upset about their makeup. Well, most of ’em, anyway.
Bill Garnet was the producer of that show, and I was very friendly with him. It was a wonderful weekend up at Pepperdine University, but my favorite story about that whole experience was either my first or second time doing it—I did about six or seven times—as I was going into the production trailer, I was singing a Sinatra song, just goofing around or whatever. And I walk in singing “New York, New York,” and I hear, “Hey, Baio! C’mere.” And I turn around, and it’s [Howard] Cosell. And I say, “Hey, Mr. Cosell, how are you?” “What are you singing?” I say, “It’s Sinatra!” He says, “Let me show you something.” He takes off his watch, he turns it over and says, “Read the back of my watch.” It says, “To Howard, Love Francis Albert.” He says, “You know who that is?” I said, “Yeah, Sinatra.” He said, “Yeah, he’s a friend of mine.” After that, the guy loved me, and I loved him.
Cosell was so good to me. And he always sang “New York, New York” when I would win the obstacle course… on camera! He could be a gruff guy, he could be a pain in the ass and all that, but he was so sweet to me. I remember one year I couldn’t do it because I was hurt, so I hosted it with him, and after hosting it, he goes back and he does the play-by-play. Because I was his sidekick, I did the play-by-play with him. I think they flew me to New York, or wherever the heck it was we recorded it, and he’d not seen it, but we go into the studio. It’s pitch black, we’ve both got a microphone and a headset. We’ve got a television sitting in front of us, and he goes, “Okay, let’s go!” And we started from the beginning, and I’m telling you, for an hour and 40 minutes, he did not stop. And it was all off the cuff. All of it. And he’d throw it to me, “Baio, what do you think about that?” “Great, Howard!” “Okay!” [Laughs.] It was like a walk in the park to him. To watch him do that was one of the most truly awesome things I’ve ever done. He just knew everybody’s name, he knew the events, he knew the scores… he knew everything. It was a wonderful experience doing that whole show.
Arrested Development (2005 & 2013)—”Bob Loblaw”
SB: I get a lot of questions about that. I did four episodes, and you’d think I did the whole series. I think the name is so great. They sent me that, and I read it, and I didn’t know the name was pronounced “Bah Blah Blah.” I thought it was “Bob Lob Law.” Because I’m a New Yorker, and my accent just went that way. So we were doing it the first day, and someone said, “Hey, our attorney, Bah Blah Blah.” And I went, “That’s my name? That’s brilliant!” [Laughs.]
But the character… There’s really no character. There’s nothing there! I just did something where someone asked me about it – a SAG interview, I think it was – and I said, “If you watch it, I’m not doing anything in that show but saying words. I have no feeling behind it, I have no intention, no motive…nothing! It’s just saying the words that are on the page, and that’s it.” And people come up to me and say, “God, your choice in that was so wonderful!” And I’m, “Yeah, right? Great choice I made!” I did nothing! [Laughs.] And that’s the truth! But it was fun, and the people were great. I’ve known (Jason) Bateman forever, I think (Jeffrey) Tambor’s hilarious, and I worked with Jessica Walter on…oh, God, on Joanie Loves Chachi. Jesus Christ… But I love her, and isn’t she married to Ron Leibman?
AVC: She is. We’ve actually talked to both of them for this feature.
SB: Oh, yeah? Well, I love him, so just by marriage I’d love her. [Laughs.] But I love her as a person and as an actress. I mean, Play Misty For Me, for Christ’s sake. She’s great. So, yeah, doing the show was a great experience.
AVC: How did you end up on the show? Was it something that came through Henry Winkler or Ron Howard?
SB: No, they just called up my agent and said, “Does Scott want to do Arrested Development? Here’s a script.” And I said, “Okay!”
Charles In Charge (1984-1990)—“Charles”
SB: That was given to me the year Happy Days was ending, and I thought it was a very good script. We shot the pilot, and it was one of those nights in front of the audience where every single thing worked. Every joke. Everything. The audience just got it. And I remember that night pretty much knowing that that show was going to be picked up for a series by the network that was there. But the series was on CBS, and I think the writing was just too soft. Not to knock Michael Jacobs. I think he was trying to write something that should’ve been a little edgier. [Hesitates.] I hate that word: “edgier.” But I played such a perfect human being that it was just insane. I should’ve screwed up a lot more. Which is what the second version did, when it was in first-run syndication.
That was a good time. That was really my first time with my own show….because Joanie Loves Chachi doesn’t really count as being my own show, it was such a fiasco. People weren’t all there, and… well, whatever. But with Charles in Charge, I was 23 or 24 years old, kind of knowing what the game was by then, starring in my own show, understanding the power that that entails in terms of work and the thing that it affords you outside of work and being able to understand all that. It was a great experience. I learned how to direct on that show. Al Burton was such a dear man, a good guy who taught me a lot. It was… fun. Big fun. Giant fun.
Happy Days (1977-1984) / Joanie Loves Chachi (1982-1983)—“Chachi Arcola”
AVC: And so we come to Chachi.
SB: And that’s sort of the whole thing for me, you know? That’s the whole entrée into everything. Everything that I have, everything that I do, extends from that. Garry Marshall created me, basically, and I owe everything to him. And I was very close to getting fired from that show, because I wasn’t doing my job. I thought the screaming audience was enough, and it wasn’t. But because I thought it was, I stopped taking my job seriously. I stopped rehearsing, I stopped performing to my ability, and they were thinking of getting rid of me. But Garry said, “No,let him get through this.” And I did. But I only did because of him and my old man. My old man verbally smacked me around. [Laughs.] And deservedly so! Because to have any success in this business is… It’s a privilege. It’s amazing. But it was different then than it is now. There wasn’t YouTube, where you can urinate in the street and you’re famous all of a sudden, for some reason, even though you didn’t do anything to warrant it. I don’t understand that. But that’s the way it is. But to be on Happy Days, where 40 million people a week were watching you and the country only had about 200 million people in it at the time… that’s a lot. So it taught me everything. Everything. It was a learning experience. People were amazing. There were little squabbles here and there, but that’s about it. I mean, God, it was my school.
AVC: So I’m sure you’re aware that Joanie Loves Chachi has finally come to DVD.
SB: And thank God. Because I was wondering when that was going to happen.
AVC: Clearly, the masses have been clamoring for it.
SB: Yes, they have… and you think I’m joking, but I get asked that question four or five times a week. [Laughs.] I have it, but I can’t even watch it. I don’t even want to watch it. I don’t know why. I just think, “It’s probably bad,” although I don’t know. I have it sitting around here. I’m sure one of these days, late at night when everyone’s asleep, I’ll put it on, sit there, and just go, “Oh, my God…” But, again, as an actual experience, it was great. It taught me a lot about how to handle people.
AVC: You called it a fiasco a minute ago, but did it actually feel like that from the get-go? It seems like they came up with the idea for the spin-off, but then didn’t really know what to do with it from there.
SB: Well, it was a couple of things: All the Happy Days people had written the first four episodes, when the show got picked up for series, but then they left to go back to Happy Days, and we were stuck with new writers who didn’t know us. So that was a problem. And then some of the people on the show had chemical issues, and that was a problem. It was just on and on and on, and it just sort of all crumbled and fell apart. In retrospect, if given the choice again, I would not have done that show. That was just the wrong idea. If I had to do it all over again, I would’ve waited ’til Happy Days was over until I did anything else.