Hal Cooper Chapter 4


INT: Maude…you were going to talk about the rehearsal schedule…
HC: Speaking as a dinosaur, I think its important to reflect on the fact that directors and actors as well, need rehearsal. Most directors, most actors need rehearsal in order to use their craft to the fullest of their ability and NORMAN LEAR and SHELDON LEONARD before recognized that. The rehearsal schedule on NORMAN LEAR was the ideal, I don't know if anybody has ever had any better schedule because when we met to read around the table on a Wednesday morning having done the show the previous night, you wouldn't read the script you were doing this week but the script you were doing the following week. We were always two weeks ahead. My partner ROD PARKER, I was executive producer director, he was executive producer writer, we became partners at the end of MAUDE, always insisted on that. They made the deadline the night before. They had to stay up to four in the morning to finish the following week's script to be read around the table because then everybody's input was under no pressure. The writer's could see what worked and didn't, the producer, the actors could contribute and say my attitude here is funny because..., and everybody would hear that. The writer's could then go away and fix what had to be fixed, so when we came back the following week and had that script to work on for this week's show, it had already been through a process of filtering and criticism and everything. That doesn't happen anymore to my knowledge. So, then you would read this weeks' script which had been read the previous week and most everything had been fixed. You could go to work on it and at that point, you would rehearse all day, we'd block Wednesday, rehearse all day Thursday, and then Friday afternoon after that much time for a half hour show, NORMAN, the writers would come in and you would do a run through for them, in the rehearsal hall, afterwards there would be notes of cutting for time, fixing jokes, or discussions or whatever.


INT: Rehearsal off book?
HC: Oh yes, we were off book by the end of Thursday. Friday rehearsal was off book. There would be a couple of places where people had to be prompted, but we had two and a half days with the same words. In today's world in situation comedy you read a script that no one has ever seen around the table at 9:30 in the morning and at 12:30 you have to do a run-through of the first act for the producers. And if there's anything wrong with it, nine times out of ten, when you come back the next day there's an entirely new act or an entirely new scene so that all the work that had been done on that scene was down the toilet, didn't exist. Anyways, that was an ideal way to work and it was a respecter of the craft the necessary work in the craft for the actor and the director. That's sadly lacking in today's works and I think it shows. Except in rare cases.


INT: How would you and the cast approach a scene that after a couple of times rehearsing it, you felt didn't work.
HC: We found a scene that didn't work and we didn't find a solution there, because quite often we did, quite often you'd find something that you knew sounded funny or worked in the writer's room but on its feet did not quite work. For example, let's say you had a scene in the kitchen, there was a living room adjoined the kitchen, and the front door at the other end of the living room and you had dialogue in the kitchen, the front doorbell rings, and the next line of dialogue is at the front door. Well, you would invent, if you had a DICK VAN DYKE something funny on his way to the door in terms of business or you would invent two or three lines in the kitchen after he had left so you could then cut to the front door and open... things like that, lots of things you solved right there but if something was a problem and didn't quite work, and you hadn't recognize it in the reading around the table I'd call ROD bring a couple of writers down and we'd play that scene for them, discuss it, they would understand, they would go and you'd get fixes on it


INT: So at day three, you do a run through for the writers...
HC: Writers and producers, and NORMAN. [INT: Was there a by and large a general percentage of the script that would come in fresh the next day? 20 percent, 30 percent?] Ten percent, maybe. [INT: Mostly for time?] Mostly for time, or for jokes, or punch-up, or to make something clearer, or to help the plot. At the end of the run-through by the way there was a meeting around the table including the actors. Today from my observation, on shows that I've been around the actors are excluded and sometimes even the director is excluded from discussion on what has to be done for the script and it's shameful.


INT: You're right, as you know there are so many more factions that participate in those meetings.
HC: I had on one of the last shows I did a run-through for the network executives and some guy at the end of a scene, not the end of the entire run-through, but at the end of the scene while we were moving over to the next set, walked past me and went up to an actress and said, 'I don't think you should be so angry in that scene, you yelled to loud at him,' and walked right past the director. I don't even know who he was. It was someone from the network. Now, I laughed. It was so ludicrous that I looked at the actress and I laughed. She looked at me and didn't know where to look.


INT: Thursday morning, the fourth morning, the script comes in, you go on camera.
HC: That would be Monday. We went Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Monday camera, Tuesday show. [INT: Because it was a taped show, did the actors block it themselves or did you have stand ins?] On the taped shows the actors blocked it themselves. [INT: Run-through at the end of the day?] Yes, complete, costumes. No make-up just costumes unless make-up was part of a gag. [INT: Is that recorded in those days?] No never. It wasn't viewed upstairs either. It wasn't piped anywhere. Our mistakes to make and fix.


INT: And did any of the writers or producers look at that run-through?
HC: Oh yes they all did and notes afterward. But the notes always came through the director, they never came from the writers or the producers to the actors. It always came to me because different actors have different kinds of sensitivities, and the director senses those. He knows how to approach an actor on certain kinds of things and consequently the actors notes were always given in a session to the director and I would have a notes session with the actors, transmitting them, or arguing the note with the writer or the producer instead of the actors have to defend himself.


INT: So then Tuesday morning, whatever pages come to the script
HC: By that time on those shows there were very few changes. [INT: Rehearse the show…] Go through a leisurely blocking, it was mostly for technical, the actors were told to just mouth them, talk it through. Don't push out because you got two shows to do. [INT: Did you call it dress and air? or just show one and show two?] Call it dress and air but sometimes dress was the show.


INT: Four cameras?
HC: Three most of the time, four in film, but three in tape. [INT: How many cameras were recorded in those days?] I think I was the first to introduce the isolated camera. I always had one camera on iso. By the way, my schedule, when we finished on Friday I would wait for the final, the writers would go to work for the final script, Saturday morning it would arrive at my house and I would spend most of Saturday marking the script with every camera shot and marking the isolated camera. In other words, if I had let's say two over the shoulder shots on Cameras One and Camera Three I would isolate one or both of those, I would isolate one of them which was taped by itself so that when this character said 'who was that lady I saw you with last night?' and this one answered 'that was no lady that was my wife' and there was another camera cut after 'wife,' you could stay on that camera because it was still recording, the camera was not released. I think I was one of the first to do that. Then the following year I isolated two cameras, so there was two shows going on. those cameras twitched.


INT: So you recorded the line feed?
HC: Recorded the line feed. [INT: And two of the three cameras?] And two of the three cameras which were also switched at specific points. in other words so I could hold for a laugh on somebody, or I could lift something that was questionable by staying a little longer on one camera then I actually cut it. Then Saturday night when I was finished with that script I would send it by messenger to my AD who would then make his copy and a copy for the technical director.


INT; Who was your AD?
HC: TONY CHICKEY, for a great deal of the time, started out with a man called SAM GARY whom we had to let go during the first season, and then TONY CHICKEY for most of the rest of MAUDE was my AD and he was very good, excellent.


INT: After the dress show, no pick ups…
HC: No, never did pick ups after the dress show then we went to meal and notes. [INT: What happens if an actor goes up, just keep the tape rolling?] Sure, same way you'd do anywhere else, 'keep it rolling! give' em the line, your out, alright let's pick it up with John you say…' [INT: So dinner, come back?] Dinner come back to notes on the first show and whatever small changes we had to make a joke, a better way to do it, whatever and then go out and do the second show.


INT: Went right through the show? Straight through the show?
HC: Straight through the show. And in the second show, which we call the show, if there was a mistake, a fluffed line or something like that, my recorder would tell them, we got that on the first show it's ok, and I could cut it and I wouldn't bother with the pick up. If it was something that was questionable in the first show, at the end of the scene, we'd stop, I'd say to the audience 'Ladies and Gentlemen, you ran on a first in Hollywood, an actor made a mistake and we're going to have to do it over, I want you to please try to laugh just as loud in the same place' And I'd get a laugh, and then we'd back it a couple of lines, do that one piece, the audience would usually cooperate with a huge laugh because they were now part of the show they were in on show business and we'd go on.


INT: Now you worked in the booth as opposed to on the floor?
HC: I worked in the booth on the taped shows, I worked on the floor on the filmed shows. [INT: And then pick ups at the end of the evening?] And pick ups at the end of the evening and we started at 7:30 and at 9 we were finished.


INT: You gave your editing notes to the associate director?
HC: No, because I edited the show myself. [INT: You did. So, now we're into Wednesday again, you do the reading and rehearsal, then go the editing room?] Right, I'd spend all day and evening on Wednesday with the tape editor.


INT: Now, you've done your cut, where does it go?
HC: Goes to NORMAN. [INT: Does ROD see it with you?] No, no ROD sees it with NORMAN. [INT: And then the network sees it?] I suppose. I don't even know where it went after that. You know, because whatever changes were made I saw before it went to the network and usually by that time there were very few changes. The changes were just in pull ups, like too long a pause before the next line, there were very simple fixes in the editing. It was a matter of taking the best reading from show one, best reading from show two and marrying them and so forth.


INT: Did any of the actors, as the years went on, did you see any of the actors, like was BEA better in the second show consistently than she was in the show?
HC: No, that was really a throw of the dice, it could be anything, but usually the first show was pretty much the show. The second show picked up, because they were very well rehearsed, they were ready and it was adrenaline and it was now, and they did it. What wasn't done was not because of lack of concentration, it was just because of an error of some kind. [INT: Somebody went up?] Yeah, or something went up, some timing was wrong or the bell didn't ring on time the phone was late, you know whatever, but easily fixed things.


INT: It seemed like, BEA ARTHUR, flawless, you never see a false moment.
HC: A rock. I am a great believer in homework and that cast was a great believer in homework. Came to work prepared. And I've been lucky and most of the people I've worked with, most of the shows I've worked with of people wanting to be prepared because you can't really become creative until you've got a solid base. When I came on a movie set, I DREAM OF JEANNIE, or any of them, I always knew exactly how I was going to block the show, block the scene, and where the camera was going to be, and then if the prop man came up to me and said 'You know, I saw this, wouldn't' it be funny if...' I was able to change because I had a solid base to change from.


INT: Now, MAUDE in its time, was considered a ground breaking show on a lot of levels, did you have a sense of that, did the cast have a sense of that?
HC: Oh sure, we did the abortion show, and other shows that we did that broke ground, you know in the homosexual area and in all kinds areas.


INT: What was the reaction to the abortion show?
HC: It was a mixed reaction, but by and large there was none of the explosion that the network and … there were two stations in the South that did not carry it, [INT: There's always two stations in the South that don't carry it] but there was no explosion, we got a lot of notoriety, it was on the cover of Life Magazine, but it was... NORMAN had a great ability of being daring at the right time. Did a show for NORMAN which the network to this day apologizes for not continuing called THE POWERS THAT BE with JOHN FORSYTHE and a great cast, HOLLAND TAYLOR, DAVID HYDE PIERCE from which he got, it's off that he got FRASIER. For example, it was in the middle of election, CLINTON, we did a show the night of the election, Tuesday night, of the election in which BILL CLINTON was already president. Daring at the right time. If BILL CLINTON had lost that election, it was a million dollars thrown down the toilet, couldn't use the show.


INT: Were there ever show that the network said to NORMAN, we're not going to pay for this show?
HC: Interestingly enough, the abortion show was one that the sales department told the censor people and everyone else that we couldn't do it. And I believe NORMAN called BILL, the owner of CBS, Mr. PALEY, called BILL PALEY, and I'm not sure that he called him, but in any case PALEY said to the sales department and to all his people 'Look, NORMAN LEAR has never embarrassed this network, if he feels its tasteful and right, you got to leave him alone,' that came from himself.


INT: Well, you know I think that our business is at least a percentage hype, you know there's always some hype involved, but with NORMAN LEAR's shows, you always felt that if he was attacking something with one of his shows, and I don't mean by attacking, by presenting the subject out there, like MAUDE goes to the therapist, or the abortion, or some of the shows they did in ALL IN THE FAMILY, that that show was going to not only live up to but surpass the hype. It was going to be better than the hype. I don't remember one instance of a NORMAN LEAR show, when someone walked away and said 'oh well, that was just about the PR'.
HC: No never, that's why I say, he was daring at the right time. He had a great sense of where the public really was, not where the guys said the public was.


INT: So we talked about the therapist show, we talked about the abortion show, is there two or three other shows that jump out at you as being just one that was just bitingly funny, one where BEA was just wonderful?
HC: Well, there were so many. There was one, you asked, that jumps out at you. There was one that we did where the two guys went on a fishing trip and got caught in a speed trap and were put in jail. And the two gals are at home indulging in chocolate éclairs and putting on grease... and they're allowed one phone call, and they call home to get a lawyer and they just laugh at them they think they're funny and they hang up that they're kidding and so their one phone call... And HECTOR ELIZONDO is the jailer, and he said, give us one more phone call. Now this was the day, just that afternoon, that FORD the newly president FORD pardoned NIXON and at the last minute, BOB SCHILLER or BOB WEISKOPF, one of the writers, came up with this line where HECTOR ELIZONDO says to the two guys in the cell, 'Why don't you put in a call to President FORD, He'll pardon anybody' And the house came apart because it was that afternoon that it had happened. So that jumps out of memory, it was a huge, the laughter went on forever. People screaming.


INT: Do you have a favorite show, of MAUDE?
HC: An episode you mean? I think it has to be the psychiatrist because it was a challenge to keep the director out of it if you know what I mean. I wanted to stay hidden, it was all her. And that's why I removed any possible camera cut unless it was absolutely necessary so you were not conscious of the camera or anything, you were just with this woman in this huge arc of emotion from dismissal, what am I doing here, into the very depths of her soul about her father giving her a coat for her prom that she knew he couldn't afford when she thought he didn't care about her, and it was a marvelous show. There are so many that I love though.


INT: Is there anything else about the show that you'd like to talk about?
HC: About MAUDE… Yeah, it was sad that it ran its life. It ran out of what it was. [INT: Did you feel that in the last season?] Yeah, you felt it in the last season, And then they tried to revivify it by having her elected to Congress, and there were a few episodes of her in Congress, and it was just… didn't work. [INT: So it was time to move?] Yeah, every show has a life span, some more than others. But MAUDE was such a topical show which is why it has never done huge ratings in reruns because its jokes are so contemporary to President NIXON and all that, that they don't play, well as a show like JEANNIE is universal, goes on, the human situation have nothing to do with anything topical [INT: Five years?] Six.


INT: Now coming off a show like that, do you have a feeling of, okay what's next?
HC: Well, ROD and I had plans to go into partnership and we were lucky enough that because of the success, to have people kind of bidding for our services and we signed with CBS because that was home at that time and signed a pilot deal for four pilots in five years or something like that, five pilots five years, and one of them was very successful and was cut after six shows, a show called PHYL & MIKHY. It was a story of a Russian defector who fell in love during the OLYMPICS with a girl and came to this country trying to adjust to the American way of life. It was like MORK & MINDY in a sense. He was trying to find out, you know, if you have a dishwasher, why do you rinse the dishes out in the sink out before you put them in the dishwasher, you know, and he discovered credit cards and things like that. But it went on the air and it was number three in the ratings was a summer replacement, it went to number two, number four the third week and the third week president JIMMY CARTER pulled us out of the OLYMPICS because the Russians had invaded Chechnya and Afghanistan, and they didn't want a Russian hero and they just cancelled it. BOB DAILY cancelled it. Summer replacement over. And it was in the top ten. [INT: Purely for political reasons?] Yeah they really felt a wave of , everyone was angry, I don't know if you remember, but everyone was really angry that we were pulled out of the OLYMPICS. And this was about OLYMPICS and about a Russian, they just felt it was very bad PR, and they were scared of it. [INT: I was at NBC at the time and that was the first year that NBC had that Olympics] It was devastating to us because here we had a hit, on our own without anybody else.


INT: Who was the cast?
HC: Oh gosh, I wish I could remember the name of the people they were very good... LARRY HAINES, who was from SEARCH FOR TOMORROW, and JACK DODSON who was from MAYBERRY from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and I can't remember the names of the two kids who played the leads but they were excellent.


INT: What was next after that?
HC: We did five pilots, one made the air, two or three came close then were washed out in the last week and then LOVE, SIDNEY I believe. I got a call from TONY to take over that show. [INT: At WARNER BROS?] The compromise he made with the network was, first 13 would be done in New York, and the bottom 13 at WARNER BROS. It was under WARNER BROS aegis, but we shot it in New York at CBS, the first 13. [INT: And that show was two years?] Two years. Great ratings in all the big cities but nothing in the hinterlands because it was about a homosexual. You know, I guess, at that time… about a gay guy, he was really adorable. TONY was adorable in that show, with a little girl and SWOOSIE KURTZ. Great cast. That's where I directed HELEN HAYES. I told her, which was true, my mother's sister, when I was a child and they were all young, looked very much like HELEN HAYES, who was then a movie star, and I said, you know HELEN I have to tell you, I had an aunt who when she was younger looked exactly like you, and she said 'Oh poor thing.' [INT: That was a terrific show, LOVE, SYDNEY, it was one that should have gone on] Oh yes, it was well written and beautifully acted and funny and good and dealt with human relationships with the kid, on a great level.


INT: Did you continue your relationship with ROD?
HC: Oh yeah, we did that together then after that we took over GIMME A BREAK! with NELL CARTER. NBC asked us when we finished with SIDNEY could we please take it over because NELL was not getting along with the producer, they were really at odds and I had somehow developed a reputation of being able to handle difficult people and I didn't find... NELL was difficult but not difficult difficult, she had her quirks and had her demons she was always into something that was going to save her life, either one religion or another.


INT: Now, talk about difficult people, When somebody says to you, this is a difficult actor, what's the first thought that comes to your mind?
HC: Difficult how? Difficult why? People don't want to be difficult, they want perhaps power, control, they have bad taste… you know and make wrong selections. If they are the star they have something that the public has bought and wants so you have to examine how to keep that, what is it that person has that comes through the camera and is saleable, marketable and people want to watch it. So that's the only, you know, I try to find what that difficulty is. If the difficulty is not showing up to rehearsal on time, there are ways to deal with that.


INT: Did you find that by and large that approach worked? You said that most of the time a difficult person just wants to be heard.
HC: Yes. Sure it works. There's no set rule. You handle things in different ways. I remember the story that GEORGE STEVENS, great director, told me in one of our meetings one time during a break, of how in directing SHELLEY WINTERS, the marvelous movie with ELIZABETH TAYLOR where she gets killed by MONTY CLIFT, you know the movie, she called in one day to the location and said she wasn't feeling well, maybe they could do that scene another day, and STEVENS said 'oh no don't worry about it SHELLEY, we can do the scene without you, I have a stand in, I'll put a wig on, we'll shoot over her shoulder, it's mostly his scene anyway, it's MONTY's scene so don't worry about it you stay at home'. She was on the set in a half hour. So, you know, and I remembered that and with a quite difficult actress one time who kept being late, I set up the scene, I had an isolated camera that she didn't know about, I set up the scene so that it was over her back the entire time and she said, 'Well, where's?..." I said, 'Oh you weren't here so we had to stage the show we had to stage the scene I can't waste anymore time so you know if you're here we can set it up, but I didn't know what you were going to do' And from then on that person was on time on the set. So you just find little tricks, you're a half assed psychiatrist sometimes and some people are very easy. I mean, LARRY HAGMAN for example has been known to be difficult. He was not difficult. He was, for the show, he was not for LARRY HAGMAN. If something was wrong he would fight, it wasn't right for his character, it wasn't right for the scene and he had a point of view and he wasn't difficult he was difficult only if you said 'just do the lines.' If you got that attitude then you have a difficult person but if you listened to what his objection was and maybe he was wrong, and if you heard what his objection was you could point out what was wrong about his objection and why it served the script to do it the other way and he would, like any person, he was reasonable but he was difficult, difficult in that he felt it had to be right, he wanted it to be right, he never sloughed anything off, I admired that, I admired that difficulty.