Bravo Planning Series on TV’s TopCharacters

Apr 19, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Bravo is set to try its hand at a celebrity countdown show in September when it airs “The 100 Greatest Television Characters,” a five-part series produced by LSL Productions.
The series will run five consecutive nights, leading up to the Emmys, and will follow a format similar to VH1’s “The Greatest” series and E!’s “101” specials, where archival footage is interspersed with commentator and celebrity interviews. Executive producers David Leaf, John Scheinfeld and Steve Ligerman, along with co-executive producer Michael Levine, had the task of figuring out the 100 best characters throughout television history and the order in which to present them. Critics such as Tom Shales were consulted, and Bravo had a hand in overseeing the selections.
“If you looked on the top 40 on the list, you’d say, `Yep, that’s about right,”’ Mr. Levine said. “But for the bottom 40, you could make an argument about who’s on the list.”
An `Intelligent’ List
Before compiling names, producers had a few ground rules: The character had to be a recurring, prime-time television character. No comic book characters, no hosts (such as Carol Burnett) and nobody whose character was spawned by another medium. That last rule was actually broken in two cases: Alan Alda’s Hawkeye Pierce on “M*A*S*H,” which was based on a feature film, and Jack Webb’s Sgt. Joe Friday on “Dragnet,” which was first a radio show in the ’40s, both made the list.
Other characters on the list include Ralph Kramden, Archie Bunker and Thomas Magnum. Two animated characters are named-Cartman from “South Park” and Homer Simpson.
“We’ve been considering this to be a sort of mini-history of television,” Mr. Scheinfeld said. “We’ve been focusing on the process of creating these characters-not trivia like `Why did Fonzie wear the leather jacket?”’
Bravo, which conceived the series, will have a poll on its Web site for best nonhuman television character. But even in the age of interactive everything, producers shied from having viewers vote for the main list. “We started with the idea that this is an intelligent list, it isn’t a fan list,” Mr. Levine said. “If it were decided on the Bravo Web site, you’d get every 17-year-old voting for Dawson.”
Which isn’t to say the producers were unwavering in their decisions. Once word of the series got out, creators and actors lobbied hard for certain characters’ inclusion. Some, they said, were persuasive.
“We often changed each other’s minds,” Mr. Scheinfeld said. For Bravo, replicating a VH1 and E! Networks show format is a curious move. But producers said the network, which conceived of the series last year, was looking for something that was more an extension of “Inside the Actors Studio” than a Bravo version of “The Greatest.”
“We went right to the horse’s mouth. We interviewed about 50 of the actors who portrayed [the 100]. We aren’t relying on secondhand opinions,” said Mr. Leaf, “which separates us from the other shows.”
This will not be the first time LSL has mined video archives for content. Previously, members of the LSL team produced biographical profiles on subjects such as Jack Paar, Andy Williams, Peter Sellers, Jonathan Winters and Bob Hope.