Star Tribune
MARCH 4TH, 2004

Norm MacDonald: A disturbed person?


At the onset of the 2003-04 season, I was openly rooting for only two sitcoms: "Arrested Development" and "A Minute With Stan Hooper," both of which premiered on Fox.

"Arrested" has survived, primarily on critical hosannas and its cozy Sunday-night time slot. "Hooper" got the ax in mid-January after only about a half-dozen airings. Too bad: This was the kind of mild-mannered, gentle comedy that everyone claims they crave.

Audiences might have been thrown by the fact that the show brought together Barry Kemp, a sitcom veteran who served as executive producer for "Coach" and "Newhart," and Norm MacDonald, an often raunchy comic who was even too radical for "Saturday Night Live." How in the world could these two people work together?

Apparently, they couldn't.

The night the show was officially canceled, Kemp lashed out at his star during a network cocktail party in Los Angeles.

"This is a disturbed person," said Kemp, in a interview while standing out on a wide deck, far from the star-studded crowd. "He's nuts, beyond anything I've ever experienced."

Kemp said that there was no problem when the two started working together last summer, but that MacDonald's attitude changed by the second week of shooting. He accused MacDonald of arriving five hours late to rehearsals, skipping rewrite sessions, not knowing his lines and coming to sessions in "various shades of rage or euphoria."

"It was a deadly, miserable experience," he said.

MacDonald's publicists turned down several interview requests.

Fox entertainment president Gail Berman said the show was canceled because it was incompatible with the rest of the network's programming. It should be added that the show was preempted a few times and that episodes were swapped with one another, so viewers often didn't see the show that was being promoted.

She said that MacDonald was "terrific to work with" and would "do it again in a minute." She said that Kemp and MacDonald just didn't get along.

"I'd rather stay out of it and just say that I think they had a personality clash," she said. "It just wasn't the right chemistry."

I asked Berman how often these type of behind-the-scenes clashes take place. Her answer: about 25 percent of the time, but in most cases, people work through them.

Gee, that means that when TV stars go on and on about how wonderful the producers are, and the producers moon over their stars, about one in four of them is lying.

You might want to keep that number in mind next time you see an award winner thank everyone under the Hollywood sun. You might want to keep it in mind the next time you're frustrated with your boss and you start fantasizing about how easy life would be in La-La Land. You might want to keep it in mind the next time you see a performer on a talk show gushing about how everyone back on the set barbecues together every night.

Out of curiosity, I looked back at the transcript of a conversation the cast and crew of "A Minute With Stan Hooper" had with critics last July. Sure enough, Kemp and MacDonald spent a lot of time praising each other and Kemp even said there was a "sense of joy" on the set.

MacDonald did say he planned on being in the writers' room all the time and signing off on all final drafts. Then he added: "And I'm not going to rehearse very much."

Finally. Someone speaking the truth.