A recent book, Warm up the Snake: A Hollywood Memoir (The University of Michigan Press), recounts Archive interviewee John Rich’s life in the trenches as one of television’s premier directors and producers. Rich boldly recounts his work on many classic series (and episodes) including The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan’s Island, All in the Family and MacGyver as well as his longtime involvement in the Directors Guild of America. It’s a humerous, no-holds-barred look behind the scenes at some of our favorite shows and also gives readers a glimpse into what makes a great director.
From Warm Up the Snake:
During my days as an NBC stage manager, I witnessed plenty of foul-ups that no one could have invented. One day I was assigned to monitor the time and placement of a live commercial insert within a program, produced by an outside advertising agency. The program featured “Dunninger, the Mental Wizard,” a see-all know-all “mentalist” act. As the NBC representative, I had little to do but sit in the control room behind the production team and observe the action with my notepad at the ready. The first two sales pitches went as planned, but as the program neared its end, the director became concerned that the time would run out before the final commercial. He instructed the stage manager to “give Dunninger a speed-up and signal we have one minute to go.”
The stage manager obeyed, but the mentalist’s pace continued as before. The director called, “Give him 30 seconds!” No response. “Speed him up, we’re not going to make it!” Pandemonium reigned as the performer talked right into the NBC systems cue, cutting off transmission. The last commercial was lost: disaster. I made my notes, and joined the angry mob as they boiled out of the control room and confronted a bewildered Dunninger. “W lost the last commercial: the agency men screamed. “Why didn’t you take our cues?”
“What cues?” Dunninger asked.
“The three or four speed-ups, the one-minute, and the thirty-second cues we gave to the stage manager.”
Dunninger was irate. “Why don’t you put the son of a bitch where I can see him? What do you think I am, a mind reader?”
John Rich’s Archive interview is now online. Click here to access all 14 parts.
John Rich was interviewed for nearly seven hours in Los Angeles, CA. Mr. Rich talked about his start in television as a stage manager for NBC, where he worked on The Colgate Comedy HourT. He eventually got his start as a director on The Ezio Pinza Show. He talked numerous shows he directed throughout his career including I Married Joan, The Ray Bolger Show, Our Miss Brooks, Gunsmoke, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, and All In the Family, which he also produced. He also discussed directing pilots for Maude, The Jeffersons, Barney Miller, and Newhart. Mr. Rich also discussed executive producing Benson and MacGyver. The interview was conducted by Henry Colman on August 3, 1999.