STAGE TO SCREENS: "30 Rock" Director-Producer Don Scardino, Plus a Peek at Fall TV

By Michael Buckley
28 Jun 2009

Scardino's Off-Broadway credits include The Rimers of Eldritch, Sorrows of Stephen, I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road. Among his other Broadway shows were two musicals: Angel, based on Look Homeward, Angel and King of Hearts, in which Scardino played opposite his second wife, Pamela Blair, who, in A Chorus Line, originated the role of Val ("Dance Ten, Looks Three").

"In Boston," he states of King of Hearts, "there were six numbers that stopped the show. When we came to New York, the director [Ron Field] kind of froze. It happens when people don't trust themselves anymore. He couldn't fix the numbers that didn't work, so he worked on the show-stopping numbers and got them to not stop the show. It was sad."

About a year after Scardino had begun working on "Another World," John Whitesell, a producer new to the show, told him, "I know how old you really are, and I know that you direct. If you have an interest in directing TV, I'll put you in a training program." The course lasted eight weeks. "On the day I directed my first show, [Whitesell] offered me a contract for two years."

Hang On to the Good Times marked Scardino's farewell to the spotlight. "It was one of the things that propelled me toward directing. It had wonderful songs by Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford, but the director [Richard Maltby Jr.] couldn't find a shape for it. I thought: I could. I decided to direct full-time. Overnight, I went from 'juvenile, the eternal kid' [due to his youthful appearance] I was never able to beat my own image to 'daddy.'" He laughs.



"Acting had been a way to be someone other than who I was. When you're younger, I suppose you're less comfortable with who you are, or you don't know who you are. But when I started directing, I felt I came into my own, as to who I was. The more I became who Don was, the less interesting it was for me to be someone else."

For directing A.R. Gurney's A Cheever Evening, based on stories by John Cheever, Scardino won an Obie Award. He's also earned three DGA and two Emmy nominations. TV-directing credits include multiple episodes of many series, including "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd," "Cosby," "Law & Order," and "Hope & Faith."

Was he disappointed that he didn't get to direct "A Few Good Men" as a movie? "Not really," he replies. "Aaron Sorkin made his case for me to direct the movie, just as he fought very hard for me to direct the play. It's really through his persistence that I did.

"Also, at that point, I hadn't directed a film. It was a big-budget, big-star vehicle." Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson played the roles originated by Tom Hulce and Stephen Lang, and Rob Reiner helmed the 1992 film. "Aaron's screenplay had a lot of what he and I had worked on," Scardino comments. "I'm very proud of that."

Extreme pride, however, is reserved for 11-year-old son, Evan. Might Evan follow in his father's footsteps? Remarks Dad, "He's been on sets, or backstage, since age four. Evan likes science paleontology, marine biology but, this year, he did a school play about the civil-rights movement, and liked it a lot. If, as an adult, he wants to act, I'd be thrilled!"

Happily married to Dana Williams since 1995, they met during his tenure (1991-96) as Playwrights Horizons' artistic director. "Dana became head of their musical-theatre department."

According to Scardino, "I tried to introduce new playwrights to new audiences which is what [predecessor] Andre Bishop had done. But audiences and critics suddenly wanted 'mainstream.' It was tough on playwrights, and tough on me. They asked me to re-up, but I said, 'I don't think so. I'm going back to directing, to being a gun for hire.'"

Don Scardino
photo by Aubrey Reuben
Lennon, the 2005 Broadway musical that featured music and lyrics by John Lennon, was "the realization of a dream" for Beatles' fan Scardino, who conceived the show, wrote the book, and directed. Playing the title character were people of different sexes, races, and ages. It ran 42 previews and 49 performances.

"Critics hated it," he concedes. "I think that they'd had it with jukebox musicals, and were ready to annihilate us. It wasn't perfect, but we had standing ovations every night. Yoko Ono told me, 'John would have loved it' and no one knows better than she."

Feeling "unfulfilled" about Lennon, he wants "to do more work on it. And I'm working on an idea for a musical-theatre piece about the civil-rights movement, using gospel and Motown music.

"Meanwhile, I'm bought and sold to '30 Rock,' which leaves very little time for anything else." Scardino regrets not seeing as much theatre as he'd like. "I do make sure to see things with friends, like John Lithgow."

More than happy to roll with the 'Rock' band, he's pleased to have "won an Emmy last year," as an Outstanding Comedy Series co-producer. Says Scardino, "We start shooting Season Four the last week of August, and we'll be working with New York stage actors again. They're the best!"

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A Look at Some New (and Returning) TV Series in 2009-10

ABC

"Flash Forward" (Thursdays, 8 PM ET) features Tony winner (Frozen) Brian F. O'Byrne and two-time nominee Courtney B. Vance.

CBS

"NCIS: Los Angeles" (Tuesdays, 9 PM ET) stars Chris O'Donnell, LL Cool J, and Oscar winner Linda Hunt ("The Year of Living Dangerously").

"The Good Wife" (Tuesdays, 10 PM ET) stars Emmy and SAG winner Julianna Margulies ("ER"), two-time Tony winner (Rumors, The Real Thing) Christine Baranski, who's also an Emmy and SAG winner, and Golden Globe and SAG nominee Chris Noth ("Law & Order," "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," "Sex and the City").

NBC

Chevy Chase is in "Community", which starts Thursdays at 8:30 PM ET, and switches to 8 PM ET when "30 Rock" returns.

"Parenthood" (Wednesdays, 8 PM ET) stars Maura Tierney ("ER"), Peter Krause ("Six Feet Under," "Dirty Sexy Money"), Bonnie Bedelia ("The Division"), and Craig T. Nelson ("Coach," "The District").

FOX

"Glee" features Broadway's Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele, and R&B singer Eve signed for two appearances.

"24" begins its new season Jan. 17, 2010, with a two night, four-hour premiere (9-11 PM ET). New to the cast: Katee Sackhoff ("Battlestar Galactica"), Mykelti Williamson (Bubba in "Forrest Gump"). Bob Gunton fans will be happy to know that he returns with a new job.

Showtime

Michael C. Hall, "Dexter," returns for Season Four, on Sept. 27. Six months have past, and Dex and Rita (Julie Benz) are parents. Off-screen, Hall married Jennifer Carpenter, his TV sister. The new nemesis for "Dexter," this season, is two-time Tony winner (The Changing Room, Sweet Smell of Success) John Lithgow.

"Nurse Jackie" is new to Showtime (Mondays, 10:30 PM ET; On Demand), starring Emmy, Golden Globe, and SAG winner Edie Falco. It made a debut at the beginning of June and has already been picked up for a second season. A regular on the series is two-time Tony nominee (A Moon for the Misbegotten, The Homecoming) Eve Best. On last week's episode, the guest star was nonpareil nonagenarian Eli Wallach. It was great seeing the 1951 Tony winner (The Rose Tattoo) in a guest turn, with the gifted Lynn Cohen as his wife.

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Various and Sundry

Tony winner Donna McKechnie (A Chorus Line) choreographs and Richard Jay-Alexander directs Guys and Dolls, which sets up shop at the Hollywood Bowl for three nights (July 31-Aug. 2), with a stellar cast.

Brian Stokes Mitchell, a Tony winner (Kiss Me, Kate) whose TV background includes regular roles on "Trapper John, M.D.," "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air", is Sky. Jessica Biel ("Easy Virtue"), Sarah; Scott Bakula ("Star Trek: Enterprise"), Nathan; and Ellen Greene ("Pushing Daisies"), Miss Adelaide.

Arvide is Beau Bridges, whose father, Lloyd Bridges, played Sky several times. Three actors reprise their Broadway roles: Ken Page (Nicely-Nicely, in the 1976 revival), Ruth Williamson (Gen. Cartwright, in '92), and Herschel Sparber (Big Jule, '92).

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Season Three of "30 Rock" will be released on DVD, Sept. 22.

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Looking forward, the 2009-10 Broadway season will welcome (or welcome back) some movie and TV stars.

  • Roundabout's After Miss Julie (September-December, at the American Airlines Theatre) marks the debuts of two Brits who share a surname. Sienna Miller ("Alfie," "Interview") and Jonny Lee Miller, no relation to his co-star. Once married to Angelina Jolie, he played TV's "Eli Stone," and on PBS, in October, he co-stars with William Hurt in "Endgame."

  • Carrie Fisher brings her solo show Wishful Drinking to Studio 54, in September. This is her fourth Broadway turn. Daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, and Princess Leia of "Star Wars" fame, she made her debut as a teen in Irene, starring her mother, followed by Censored Scenes from King Kong and a replacement stint in Agnes of God.

  • Best known to the younger generation as the title character's Aunt May in the "Spider-Man" movies, Rosemary Harris is an eight-time Tony nominee.

    A winner for The Lion in Winter, Harris portrays matriarch Fanny Cavendish in a September Broadway revival of The Royal Family, the 1927 George S. Kaufman-Edna Ferber parody of the famed Barrymore theatrical family. In 1976, Harris was Tony-nominated as Julie Cavendish, based on Ethel Barrymore, and Eva Le Gallienne played Fanny.

    A year later, most of the cast appeared in a PBS telecast, for which Le Gallienne (1889-1991) won an Emmy. Noel Coward directed the 1934 London production, entitled Theatre Royal, which starred Laurence Olivier as Tony Cavendish, based on John Barrymore.

    Filmed in 1930, as "The Royal Family of Broadway," starred Fredric March as Tony, a role he reprised, 20 years later, on a 1954 TV version, co-starring Claudette Colbert as Julie, and Helen Hayes as Fanny. Actually, Hayes was three years younger than March, and three years older than Colbert. (Oh, those scandalous theatre folk!)

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    Guest stars on upcoming episodes of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (Sundays, USA, 9 PM ET). June 28, a double header: On the Jeff Goldblum (8 PM ET) special showing are Eric Balfour ("Six Feet Under," "24") and Shawn Hatosy ("Southland"). Following, at 9 PM ET, is a Vincent D'Onfrio entry featuring four-time Tony nominee Raul Esparza. July 12: Will Chase.

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    Linda Lavin, a Broadway Bound Tony winner, returns to Broadway next April in Collected Stories. Lavin starred in a 2002 TV presentation of the two-character drama, with Samantha Mathis (33 Variations). The play was produced, August 1998-February 1999, at Off-Broadway's Lucille Lortel Theatre, and marked the last New York stage appearance of Uta Hagen. Prior to the opening, the actress-teacher told me, "It should be titled Collected Stories: The Play. "People think I'm doing a reading."

    Stage to Screens is Playbill.com's monthly column that connects the dots between theatre, film and television projects and people. Contact Michael Buckley at stagetoscreens@aol.com.