Main > Series > Q & A > Michael McGreevey
(Writer, Editor, Producer)
1. How did Bruno (Lee Curreri) leave?
I don't think there was ever any attempt to explain Bruno's departure from the show. I think it was just assumed that Bruno had graduated and moved on. Occasionally, I think we had the character of Shorofsky say something about Bruno, but there was never any definitive explanation of what had happened with Bruno.
2. Who was the piano player seen behind Jesse Borrego while he was on the rooftop singing in the episode "Double Exposure"?
I had to look at this segment to jog my memory. I know it looks like Lee Curreri playing the piano. IT'S NOT! But the intent was to indicate that it might be "Bruno." The director of this episode, Bill Duke, was very intimidated with the musical numbers, so he let Debbie Allen co-direct all the numbers with him. Debbie was always interested in making a statement about what might have happened to the characters (former students) after they left the School of the Arts. When she was planning this sequence, she came up with the idea of having the piano accompaniment played by someone in an adjacent apartment and then figured -- why not make it appear to be Bruno. How ironic. The old blending with the new, completely by happen-stance. But we couldn't hire Lee Curreri to do it - MGM would never have allowed that. The pianist is either Gary Scott, our Music Supervisor, or an extra. Whoever it was, the person was made up and wardrobed to look like Bruno. Very sharp of you to pick up on it.
3. In the episode "Who Am I Really?", was there actual home video footage of Nia Peeples used for the scene where Nicole's adoptive mother is watching a video of a young Nicole?
Yes, Nia came to us after she read the first draft of the script (I wrote this episode) and volunteered that her parents had taken home movies of her when she was a kid that we could use in the episode. We all thought it was a great idea. Our Associate Producer, Frank Merwald viewed quite a bit of film footage of a young Nia and picked out several appropriate clips that we edited together and used in the episode.
4. Why was the "Making of Fame" episode only shown once?
I don't know for certain, but my guess is that it wasn't owned by MGM. An independent production company made that documentary and probably gave MGM only one free showing as part of their deal. MGM probably couldn't make any money off a second showing and didn't want to pay the license fee to the production company. When the series was sold into worldwide syndication, the "Making of Fame" was not a part of the package.
5. Why didn't RCA continue making "Fame" albums for the 4th, 5th, and 6th year of songs from the show?
I think RCA didn't exercise their option for the last three season because the first albums didn't make enough of a profit for them.
6. Whatever happened to the clothes worn on the show, the props, etc. after the show ended?
The props and wardrobe were kept by MGM and recycled for other movies and television shows. The sets were all dismantled and used to build new sets for other productions. I remember going down to Stage 27 on the MGM lot and sadly watching as the sets were taken down. On the last day of "Fame", I stood alone on the empty sound stage with the Art Director, Ira Diamond, and officially signed off on the end of the show.
7. In the episode, "The Last Dance", why did the writers (or whomever made the decision) decide to have Jesse and Nicole break up? Was it because Nia was leaving the show?
The decision for the break up was made collectively by the producers (myself, Ira Behr, Renee & Harry Longstreet). We all felt that we had done too many shows about Jesse and Nicole's relationship and that the natural progression with most high school romances was a painful break up. We also wanted to make the statement to our young viewers that couples who break up can still remain friends. We were always trying to deal with issues that every high school student faced and make some positive statements for our young audience members. Breaking them up would also give us more opportunities to get the two characters involved with new people. The two actors had also expressed that they were getting a little sick of the relationship and wanted us to pump some new life into their characters by separating them. They both wanted Jesse and Nicole to stand on their own. We really weren't sure that Nia was leaving the show in mid-season when we made this decision, so it really had no bearing on the content of "The Last Dance" episode.
8. Why were Jesse and Nicole the only real couple during the whole last three seasons?
They were so good together and our audience really loved them as a couple. The Jesse-Nicole coupling worked so well that we didn't need to explore any other permanent romances between the main characters. We thought that those stories would seem redundant and pale in comparison to the Jesse-Nicole relationship. Occasionally, we would pair people up in small subplots (i.e. Cleo had a crush on Leroy; Danny had strong feelings for Nicole). In the sixth season, we created some strong feelings between Reggie and Ian. I'm certain that if the series had gone for another season, Reggie and Ian would have become a couple, albeit a very different couple that Jesse and Nicole.
9. When watching the episode "Love Kittens Go to High School" I got the impression that they were about to make Jesse and Maxie a couple. Was that the intention of the writers? And why was Jesse and Maxie not paired together as a couple?
This was the episode that introduced the Maxie character and we weren't really sure what we wanted to do with her. The role was written with Olivia Barash in mind to play it. She had auditioned for us earlier in the year for a role in the "Judgement Day" episode. We all liked her so much that we decided we wouldn't waste her for one episode, but make her the actress that would replace Nia Peeples after she left the show. In developing Maxie, we first thought that we'd throw her together with several of our regular characters and see how the chemistry worked. In Maxie's initial episode, we just happened to put her with Jesse. We never intended for them to be a couple (mainly because Jesse Borrego didn't want to be tied down in another permanent romantic relationship), but if there had been some special chemistry between Olivia and Jesse, you can bet we would have explored it further. Actually, as the Maxie character developed over the next few episodes, we discovered that Olivia had a wonderful chemistry with Robert Romanus who played Miltie Horowitz. They were an odd couple, but very interesting together. If the show had continued, you would have seen a lot more of Maxie and Miltie together.
10. Was the episode "Savage Streets" supposed to be a tribute to "Carmen" by Carlos Saura or something else? Was there some special meaning behind this episode compared to any others?
Yes, this episode was based on "Carmen." We often did episodes based on classic stories -- "The Incident" was based on the Kurosawa film, "Rashomon"; "Double Exposure" was a homage to "Jekyll and Hyde"; "Danny DeBergerac" was formed from "Cyrano DeBergerac"; "Not in Kansas Anymore" paid tribute to "Wizard of Oz"; "Ebenezer Morloch" was modeled after Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"; "To Tilt at Windmills" was derived from "Don Quixote"; "Holmes Sweet Holmes" was a send-up of "Sherlock Holmes". The "Savage Streets" episode had no special meaning. Patricia Jones, one of our Executive Producers, had always loved "Carmen" and felt that it was a perfect story-telling template to tell a story about Jesse's battle to survive in the streets of NYC. I think this episode was personally very dear to Patricia's heart. "The Incident" (which I wrote) was very special to me because I've always been a big Kurosawa fan.
11. Did the show take viewer comments to heart when coming up with storylines? And if so, can you think of any examples?
Most of the time the stories were created either by the writing staff or an outside freelance writer. Occasionally, we were influenced by viewer comments. I remember that the anorexia show about "Holly" got a lot of positive mail from parents and teenage girls. They encouraged us to do more episodes that dealt with teenage social problems. "W.S.O.A", which dealt with teen suicide, was developed because of viewer influence. "Go Softly into Morning", which dealt with teenage drinking and driving, also came from viewer influence and the prodding of an organization named S.A.D.D. (Students Against Drunk Driving ). I think those are the only two examples of where we developed stories because of viewer influence.
12. Why was Nicole "killed" off? (She could have just left which would have made it possible for a return).
I think this was the biggest mistake we made during my four years on the series. We really blew it! I realized the extent of our blunder when I sat down to write the last episode, "Baby, Remember My Name," and was confronted with the fact that I couldn't bring Nicole back for the reunion Nia Peeples had been one of our most popular cast members and I couldn't put her in the last show (even though she was engaged to Carlo Imperato at the time and really wanted to come back). (I later realized that I could have "brought her back" in Jesse's mind, his memories of Nicole). In retrospect, I think the decision to "kill" Nicole was made for the wrong reasons. We were developing the story for "Go Softly into Morning" and we all felt that the impact of the issue of teenage drunk driving would not be felt or communicated to our audience strongly enough unless we had somebody die. In our research, we discovered that many of the victims were not drinkers themselves. They made the fatal mistake of getting into a car with a drunk driver. We liked the idea of killing off an "innocent." But would killing off a Guest Star have enough impact? Would it shock the audience enough? Would our audience identify enough with this character to have his/hers sudden death mean something to them? As we were struggling with this writer's dilemma, we got news that Nia Peeples was leaving the show. I don't remember who first came up with the idea, but somebody suggested that we use Nia's departure as a way of solving our story problem. Kill off Nicole. Great! Nobody would ever expect it and the message of the show would be driven home with an emotional sledgehammer. At the time, we all loved the idea, but we knew that we had to check it out with Nia. I truly believed that Nia would say no, but, to my surprise, she endorsed he! r character's untimely death. Nia actually felt good about the idea that her exit from the show might "save some lives." Typically, Nia was cooperative in order to make the show work. For three years, she had been the most hard-working and selfless member of the cast -- always on time, brimming over with talent and enthusiasm, willing to make any sacrifice for the good of the show. Looking back, I regret that we didn't give her a better send-off. She deserved a huge "Thank You" and a positive "Good Bye." But we killed her off instead. I will always regret it. Actually, I thought "Go Softly into Morning" was a pretty good episode. But the mail from our audience was mostly negative. They were damn mad that we had so recklessly killed off America's Sweetheart, Nicole Chapman. It was a daring move at the time, but I think the whole thing backfired on us.
13. How were the seasons determined? For instance, were episodes written out ahead of time for the entire season? Or did they just write up one episode at a time?
We were fortunate, being a syndicated show the last four seasons, that we knew way in advance if we were picked up for the next season. We would finish production in late March. The writing staff would take 2 to 3 weeks off, then come back in early April and start planning the shows for the next season. We wouldn't start shooting again until late July so we had plenty of time to develop scripts. The last three seasons we would start production by going to New York and shooting parts of the first 13 or 15 shows on location (the segments were usually the dance and musical numbers) for five weeks. This meant that we had to have 13-15 scripts completely written and ready for production by the beginning of July. This gave the production team, directors, choreographers, and music department plenty of time to prepare for the New York shoot. Most series don't have this luxury of "lead time." They develop and write their scripts just t! wo or three weeks before they actually go into production. Most of April, the Fame producers and writing staff (and a few freelance writers) would sit in a room, day after day, discussing story ideas and planning the season. We knew that we would have to do a certain amount of shows that would feature each lead character. We usually had to develop three shows a piece for Chris, Nicole, Jesse, Leroy, Reggie, Danny, etc. We also had to figure out how to introduce new regular characters to the series like Ian and Jillian, as well as write shows about certain characters, like Holly, Coco, Cleo, leaving the school. We would also plan to do shows that would feature the teachers, Lydia, Shorofsky, Sherwood, and discuss subplots for each episode that would involve the characters not being featured that week. Many of the ideas would be ensemble pieces that would incorporate our entire cast. I can't explain how we would come up with the ide! as. They just happen. Maybe one of us is interested in a certain subject, like Cowboy heroes ("Bronco Bob Rides Again") or Godzilla movies (The Monster That Devoured Las Vegas") and the next thing you know, we're developing a story about it. Ideas also come from the needs of your characters. If Nicole and Jesse are getting very serious, we end up writing a show about sex, "The First Time". Reggie is instinctively rebellious so we write a show about her getting into trouble because of her rebellious nature ("Different Drummer"). Ideas also come out of your personal experiences. My nephew had been adopted and his birth mother showed up on his door-step one day. That's how the script for "Who Am I Really?" came about. You also are influenced by the current media and what's in fashion. "Broadway Danny Amatullo" was obviously influenced by the hit Woody Allen movie, "Broadway Danny Rose". As I explained in a earlier ! answer, ideas from classic literature can also influence your development choices ("Cyrano," "Carmen," Rashomon," etc.) Often what seems like a great idea never develops into a story and you end up discarding it. Anyway, once an idea was deemed acceptable, we would all "break" the story together - outlining the story scene-by-scene, act-by act. Then the story would be assigned to a writer (either a freelancer, one of the staff, or a Producer-Writer) and they would spend the next two to three weeks writing a First Draft Teleplay. Most hour-long series scripts run about 58-62 pages. But because of all the musical numbers (which added lots of extra time to the episode) the Fame scripts usually run between 48 and 52 pages. During May and early June, everyone was writing at least one First Draft (myself and Ira Behr usually wrote two a piece during this period) so that by the second week in June we would have 13-15 completed scripts. The next two to three weeks, notes were given on all the scripts and rewriting was done until we had shooting scripts on the 13-15 New York shoot shows. The last ten or so scripts for the season were developed and written over the rest of the shooting schedule (from August through the following February). We would shoot an episode in seven days (with weekends off) and it would take about three weeks to do the post production. The finished show would then be delivered and broadcasted.
14. Can you describe the process of creating an episode?
I think I just did, but I can embellish on the subject. First comes the idea, then we break the story together, then the writer writes a First Draft. Notes are given and the writer does a re-write and finally a polish. Then the Producers usually do more re-writing to get the script into shooting shape. The director also has his notes and re-writing is done to accommodate his suggestions. There is a lot time spent together (the writing staff and Producers) just discussing the idea and/or script. The unified effort, many minds focused on one thing, always produces better results than just one person sitting alone in room wrestling with a complex story. Series television is definitely a collaborative effort. Each element of the show (script, music, dance, etc.) influences the final product. Creative people feed off one another and inspire each other with their input until the whole show is fashioned into a single whole that's made up of many parts.
15. Was there ever a time when a cast member didn't like a script?
Yes -- especially during that fourth season when MGM replaced Bill Blynn as Executive Producer and demanded that the show take on a lighter tone. As I said before, Valerie Landsburg, Carol Mayo Jenkins, Ken Swofford, and Debbie Allen all questioned the quality of the scripts in the beginning of that season. They felt that they lacked the dramatic impact of the previous seasons. Actually, I agreed with them. There was a lot fighting and discussion about the content of the scripts, but the new Executive Producers, Reiker and Jones, did finally try to accommodate some of the cast's suggestions and make the scripts more dramatic. Both sides compromised. About halfway through the fourth season, things settled down and everyone seemed to accept the new direction of the show. After that, I don't recall any cast member ever saying that they didn't like an entire script. All of them had criticisms and suggestions about certain scenes or dialogue that they felt could be improved. But that's normal. You're always rewriting to make it easier for the actors. You want them to feel comfortable with what they're doing and saying. Actually, one of the cast members would complain if we changed his dialogue. Billy Hufsey is dyslexic and has trouble memorizing dialogue. He'd get very upset if you changed even one word of dialogue at the last minute. I do remember there was one script that MGM didn't like. It was "The Lounge Singer Who Knew Too Much." They called me just a week before the episode was to go into production and said that it was a weak script that did not live up to the standards of a "Fame" episode. They instructed me to completely throw it out and replace it with a new script. I told them that we would honor their request, but since I didn't have a backup script available at the time, we would have to shut down production for two weeks in order to write a new script. Without hesitation, they told me to fix "The Lounge Singer That Knew Too Much" and shoot it. So much for protecting the "quality" of "Fame." All they really cared about was money. Actually, the finished show was very different, but it turned out pretty good. And it was one of our highest rated shows of the last season.
16. Why did the character of Kate just disappear? Did Page Hannah decide she didn't want to be on the show anymore? Or was it that the writers had trouble writing storylines about Kate? Or was there another reason?
Page Hannah's departure was mutually agreed upon. She didn't want to come back and MGM didn't want her back. Page and her character "Kate" just never fit in. She was a pretty good actress, but not strong on the singing and dancing fronts. In comparison to the other kids, Page just didn't measure up. She definitely felt insecure with the singing and dancing, and was embarrassed with her deficiencies in these areas. The worst thing that can happen to an actress is that she feels embarrassed. You can't hide that from the camera and the audience knows that there's something wrong. MGM also felt that compared to Nia Peeples and Cindy Gibb (whom she replaced), Page was lacking in sex appeal. Myself and the other writers didn't have trouble writing for Kate/Page, but I don't think we ever really found her character. If she had stayed longer, I believe we would have discovered what worked best for the character and the actress. There's always a period of adjustment that takes place with a new character, but, in Page's case, it was just more difficult. She was a lovely young lady and very professional. It just didn't work out for her on "Fame." I remember Ira Behr and I discussed whether or not we should explain Kate's departure. We decided not to say anything. We felt that she hadn't been on the show long enough to really warrant a mention. It might even confuse our audience, especially new ones not familiar with past seasons. We made the same kind of decision when the character of "Cassidy" was dropped from the show.
17. Why was the character of Maxie Sharp added to the show in the middle of the 6th season?
Well, once we bumped off Nicole Chapman, we all felt that there was room to add another female character to the mix. At that time, there was still a possibility that we would be picked up for another season, so we wanted to add the new character as soon as possible so our audience could get to know her and identify with her. Earlier in the year, before we knew that Nia Peeples was leaving, Olivia Barrash had interviewed for a Guest Star role in one of the episodes. She wasn't quite right for the role, but we all loved her and even said that if we ever needed to add a new regular to the cast, Olivia would be perfect. She was cute, with an earthy quality, had a wonderful singing voice, and could dance reasonably well. So we had an actress for the role, but what about the character. For a long time, I had been talking to Ira Behr about creating a character that paralleled my own experiences as an actor. I started out as a child actor at the age of six and continued working into my twenties. When I was nineteen and had thirteen years of professional experience working in movies and television with great actors and directors, I suddenly became uncomfortable with the fact that I had had no formal training. All my contemporaries had studied acting either in college or with teachers like Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. I had lots of practical experience, but no formal training. With this strong desire to fill in this gap in my education gnawing at me, I eventually started studying with several acting coaches while I continued to work professionally. So that's how the character of Maxie came to life. Even though she had already been working professionally (the goal of everyone at the school), Maxie decides to stay at the School of the Arts and really study her craft before going back into the business. Actually, I found out later that Olivia (who had started as a child actor also) had gone through a similar experience herself, and this helped her identify with Maxie. I'm not sure we ever got a chance to fully develop the Maxie character, but I really liked what Olivia was doing with her. I'm certain that in the seventh season, Maxie would have become a full three-dimensional young woman that our audience could identify with.
18. How did the episode "Stradi-Various" come about?
This was one of those rare shows that came to us from an outside writer, Ralph Phillips. Ira and I had both read some of Ralph's work and thought he'd be a good choice to write a "Fame" episode. Ralph came in and pitched us several story ideas, but none of them were of interest to us. We were all disappointed (especially Ralph), but as we started to say our good byes, Ralph blurted out this idea about a magic violin that affected anyone who possessed it. Wow! That sounded interesting. We always liked to do "fantasy" shows and hadn't done one for a long time. This one just might work. So we went through the usual routine -- long meetings with Ralph and the staff breaking down the story, beat by beat, scene by scene. Then Ralph went off and wrote a First Draft. Lots of notes, then he delivered his Second Draft, and eventually a Polish. We did our usual production rewrites and the script was ready to be shot. But then disaster struck. In the original script, Jesse's dream sequences were with Henny Youngman (the old time comedian who spit out classic one-liners while playing a violin). Youngman was famous for the line: "Take my wife... please!" Youngman had committed to appearing in the episode, but, just a week before the start of shooting, God literally "took" his wife of over fifty years. Youngman was extremely upset by his wife's passing and was unable to work. We didn't know what we were going to do. The dream sequences were all written specifically for Henny Youngman. But we didn't have Henny! Jack Benny could have done it, but he was no longer with us either. Finally, when we were just about to completely rewrite the script, our casting director suggested that we could use Morey Amsterdam. Morey had done his old standup act using a bass fiddle. Hey, it wasn't a violin, but a string instrument is a string instrument, right? But the casting director wasn't even sure if Morey was available. Supposedly, he had retired. But when she contacted him, he agreed to do the role, contingent upon having lunch with the producers. We all had a great lunch with Morey where he told us fabulous stories about vaudeville and the "Dick Van Dyke Show," then gladly accepted the role in "Stradi-Various." He was a complete professional and did a wonderful job in the episode. In fact, I think "Stradi-Various" was one of the best episodes we ever did. It turned out better than any of us ever imagined.
19. Why, in the later episodes was there a lot more real locations being used for filming instead of the studio sets that people were familiar with?
As I mentioned earlier, beginning in the fourth season, MGM decided to let us go to New York for four to six weeks to shoot real locations for parts of the first thirteen to fifteen episodes. It was always strange shooting a series set in New York City on sound stages in Culver City, California. So when we were given the opportunity to go on location to NYC, we jumped at the chance. I think it added to the reality of the show and definitely opened up the story-telling. Imagine having to shoot the ending of "Bronco Bob Rides Again" in a California park rather than Manhattan's Central Park. In my opinion, the New York location trips made the show better. But we still did lots of episodes the last three seasons that we shot entirely on the sound stages in Culver City. The exterior of the School of the Arts and the adjacent street was actually built on Stage 27 by our wonderful Art Director, Ira Diamond. We used it a lot and most of our audience never knew that it was an interior set.
20. "The Monster That Devoured Las Vegas" is all about Steven Spielberg coming to watch the show about a monster and 4-5 years later Steven Spielberg makes a movie about dinosaurs. Was that just a coincidence?
Yes. Michael Crichton hadn't even written the book, "Jurassic Park," when we shot "The Monster That Devoured Las Vegas." In retrospect, it's a very interesting coincidence though. The "Monster" episode was entirely created by Ira Behr. He wanted to do a "screwball comedy" a la the Marx Brothers. He also was a "fan" of the old Japanese monster movies like "Godzilla." The big controversy on that episode was whether or not to let Shorofsky break the "fourth wall" by talking directly to the audience (Camera). It was a big battle with MGM, but I'm glad we won. It was something new and groundbreaking at that time. Now, it's done all the time. The other thing I remember about that episode is that we almost got the real Steven Spielberg to appear at the end. The person we used as Spielberg is just a look-a-like. The Executive Producers had a friend who was a neighbor of Spielberg. We actually got a copy of the script to Steven. He read it, liked it, and said that he'd love to make a cameo appearance. Unfortunately, in the end, his schedule couldn't be cleared and we went with the look-a-like. We did send Spielberg a copy of the show and got a very complimentary letter back from him.
21. Lydia Grant and Paul Seeger seemed pretty close in the last season. Were there any plans to develop this thread into a romantic engagement? If there were no plans, did this have anything to do with the fact that interracial relationships were not commonly dealt with on TV during that era?
The chemistry between "Lydia" and "Paul" came completely from the two actors. Debbie and Eric really liked working together so their scenes always had a lot of extra energy and fire. We never intended for their relationship to be anything more than just good friends. And MGM would never have allowed us to put them together even if we had wanted to. You're right, the interracial thing was still taboo. I remember the studio was very upset with Ira and me for writing a subplot about Jesse and Dusty dating. They actually wanted us to change it to Leroy and Dusty. We never gave it a thought, but everybody (including Jesse Borrego and Loretta Chandler) commented about how unusual and daring the interracial pairing was.