Chandler Bing on "Friends" might have been played by a famous actor not named Matthew Perry.
Legendary TV sitcom director James Burrows has just released his memoir, "Directed by James Burrows," and the book is jam packed with juicy sitcom TV tales from the beloved NBC hit series and others from his long career in Hollywood, according to Page Six.
Burrows has directed over 50 television pilots, and directed or co-created some of the most iconic network sitcoms of all time, including “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Taxi,” “Cheers,” “Frasier,” and “Will & Grace.”
But top of the dish list so far have been the many surprising revelations in the book about everlasting 1990s sitcom favorite, “Friends.”
“I made a reservation for just the seven of us at Spago,” Burrows writes. “I asked for the center table in the restaurant, where everyone could see us. I knew the show had a chance to really take off and told the cast, ‘This is your last shot at anonymity. Once the show airs, you guys will never be able to go anywhere without being hounded.’”
Burrows’ presumed innocence about his actors was soon revealed as correct when he took them over to a casino.
“I laid out $1,400,” he writes of giving the six members $200 each to bet with. “If the math doesn’t seem right, it’s because [Matt] LeBlanc had no idea how to play craps and he lost his two hundred dollars in seconds, so I gave him another two hundred.”
Once the show became a hit, Burrows says, “they each wrote me reimbursement checks for the money I gave them.”
Apparently, the Vegas trip instilled some fun habits among the “Friends” cast.
“The six became real friends and would play poker in my dressing room,” Burrows writes. “It was about bonding. They genuinely adored one another. A director and cast live for that kind of connection.”
Check below for more fun TV tidbits from "Directed By James Burrows," out now.
Jon Cryer as Chandler?!
That’s right, the gawkish “Duckie” from the classic ‘80s flick, “Pretty in Pink,” and "Two and a Half Men" star was nearly cast as Chandler on “Friends.” As Page Six reported, Burrows explained how Cryer taped an audition while in London and had it rushed overnight to Los Angeles. But the carrier lost the package and producers never even saw Cryer’s audition. Matthew Perry ultimately got the gig.
Wait – “Laverne & Shirley” weren’t always best pals?
Once Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams were cast as the leads in the beloved late-70s/early-80s show on ABC, there was consistent tension between the two actresses “from the get-go,” says Burrows. The reason? Penny was the sister of the show’s creator and producer, Garry Marshall; and their father Anthony and sister Ronny were also producers. The situation had Williams feeling left out.
“Cindy felt that the show was too Marshall-heavy and counted how many lines she was assigned versus Penny,” Burrows writes. “The two started having problems with each other, which went public. I was on the set when the s–t hit the fan and the entire writing staff, whom I loved, was fired.”
Wild times on the set of “Taxi”
Anyone who knows of the legend of Andy Kaufman – who played immigrant cab driver, Latka Gravas on the ABC hit – knows he never let his bizarre, post-modern, comedic creations lapse. No matter a small comedy club stage or a big network TV set, wherever Kaufman went, insanity often ensued due to his intense immersion in his characters.
Burrows details one particularly shaky situation.
The show had an idea to include Kaufman’s alter-ego – the loud, vulgar, portly lounge singer, Tony Clifton – into an episode. The idea was scrapped, but when the producers told Kafman’s manager, he said the comedian was fine with it, but Tony Clifton insisted that he be fired “in front of everybody, with a hooker on each knee.”
When the producers went through with the request, it turned into a huge yelling match on set. Burrows claims that co-stars Tony Danza and Judd Hirsch loved the whole meta-shtick, but Jeff Conaway was annoyed.
The “Taxi” set in general sounds like one of the most interesting sitcom working environments ever. The then-young and impetuous Danza was known to steal the security guard’s golf cart, as well as “Fonzie’s motorcycle from the ‘Happy Days’ set.” Danny DeVito used his grumpy taxi dispatcher character, Louie De Palma, to whip up a side-hustle.
“Danny developed a little cottage industry,” Burrows writes, “taking bribes from the company, including me, to announce the names of family and friends when [his character] was dispatching cabs.”
David Schwimmer didn’t really want the job on “Friends”
Today, Ross Geller is an iconic TV character, and remains Schwimmer’s most well-known role. But when it was first offered to him, he balked.
“David initially turned down the ‘Friends’ job because he had a miserable experience on another show,” Burrows reveals. Schwimmer had recently appeared on a short-lived show called “Monty” with the former “Fonz,” Henry Winkler.
“He was hesitant to commit to a five-year minimum term,” Burrows continues, “which all sitcom actors have to do … He was concerned that the show wasn’t going to be collaborative and that his ideas wouldn’t be welcome. We assured him that this experience would be different and it would be an ensemble.”
Lucy almost landed on “Cheers”
Lucille Ball created arguably the most iconic television character ever on “I Love Lucy.” So it was no wonder when the producers of “Cheers” thought she’d make a great guest star.
But the idea never got past a strange, short visit to Ball’s home.
“[We] sat in the living room with Lucy,” Burrows remembers, “and her second husband, Gary Morton, whom she married after she and Desi Arnaz divorced. We pitched her on the idea. Gary chimed in with something. Lucy cut him off and said, ‘Gary, remember where you were.’ As we left her house, we were trying to decide if Lucy meant ‘Remember where you were in that story you were telling’ or ‘Remember where you were before you married me.'”
Frasier was only meant for a few guest spots on “Cheers”
Kelsey Grammer's "Cheers" character Frasier was originally scheduled to appear in only four episodes. Plans changed when the show's producers saw his audition tape.
“We all started laughing … He drove out from New York and for a time was living in his car on the Paramount lot.”
Grammer was soon able to get an actual home to live in. His temporary slot on “Cheers” turned into a main character, and then the titular role on the beloved sitcom, “Frasier,” that ran for 11 years.
Paramount Plus recently announced “Frasier” is getting rebooted.
Woody Harrelson revived the spirit of “Cheers”
Once Nicholas Colasanto, who played Coach on “Cheers,” passed away in 1985, the cast and crew were unsure how the then-three year old show would progress, so central was Coach to the fictional barroom’s vibe.
After Harrelson was cast as goofy bartender Woody Boyd, the energy picked up instantly.
“Woody brought foosball, water guns, and spitballs to the set,” Burrows recalls, “turning the middle-aged cast into fun monsters chasing one another around … That cast was unrestrained.”
Bob Newhart is no pushover
While working on the pilot for the eventual big '70s hit, “The Bob Newhart Show,” Burrows says producers thought the show was going a bit long and were looking for any way to save some time. When they asked the comedian to cut down on his trademark stammering, Newhart replied, “‘That stammer paid for my house in Beverly Hills.'”
It probably paid for a few more homes, as the show ran for six seasons, and CBS brought him back for the “Newhart” show, from 1982-90.
Wise casting choices on “Will & Grace”
It seems producers were about to give the iconic role of Jack McFarland to Alexis Arquette, not Sean Hayes.
“Jack is based on a man in New York who slept with everyone,” Burrows writes. “By casting Sean, who looks fairly innocent and sweet, we didn’t go to the dark side, and therefore the character became much more appealing.”
Rob Schneider behaving badly?
By the later ‘90s, Burrows was well established in the sitcom world. So, as Page Six reported, Burrows had a “fun clause” added to every contract he signed which allowed him to unilaterally walk away from any project if he wasn’t enjoying himself. Comedy tenure, if you will.
He claims though that he has only once ever invoked that clause – and it was during the production of the NBC series, “Men Behaving Badly,” which ran for two seasons from 1996 to 1997.
The show was based on a successful British comedy about two sweet roommates who do terrible things.
The show brought in “Saturday Night Live” alum Rob Schneider as one of the two leads. Schneider had a good run on that classic show; and the cluelessness of his most famous SNL creation, the “makin’ copies” guy, might’ve seemed like it would translate to the character of Jamie Coleman on “Men Behaving Badly.”
But Burrows explains his thought process on the show’s failure. Schneider was “neither sweet nor did he know how to play a sweet character,” writes Burrows, “so it became a show about a malevolent guy doing malevolent things.”