Movies

It’s Weird A Martin Scorsese Movie Became A Popular Network Sitcom That Lasted Nine Seasons

Earlier this week I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile (this used to be unremarkable; now it feels like a big deal) and, probably because human contact has been so few and far between over the last year, a lot of topics were discussed. And for the life of me I don’t remember why the situation comedy Alice was mentioned, but it was. Then I said out loud, “and Alice was based on a Martin Scorsese’s movie,” and the person I was talking to thought I was kidding. Then it hit me that what I just said out loud really does sound fake. Then I started doubting my own words even though I knew they were true.

I had seen parts of Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore here and there but never all the way through in one sitting, so I rectified that this week. It’s a pretty tremendous movie. And should be a must-watch for those who think Scorsese has never made a movie with a woman as his main character. Ellen Burstyn plays Alice and is really dynamite. But watching the movie when you grew up with the sitcom is really a trip. It almost seems reverse engendered, like Scorsese was a huge fan of the show and decided to make his own version in a very Martin Scorsese way with a lot of zooming and beautiful shots and contemporary rock hits.

Then, the next day, I tweeted something vague about how every Scorsese movie should produce a popular sitcom featuring a live studio audience that runs for nine seasons. And, yes, once again, people thought I was kidding. Because when you say it out loud it sounds fake. And when you watch the movie, there is nothing about it that says, “You know, this should be a sitcom.” At least with something like M*A*S*H, a show based on Robert Altman’s movie of the same name, it makes a bit more sense. Plus the television show wasn’t a multi-camera sitcom filmed in front of a live studio audience. (M*A*S*H did have a laugh track, which in retrospect makes no sense.) And even though M*A*S*H became one of the most popular television series of all time, most people seem to realize it was based on a movie. And having the title be the same for both the movie and the show probably has a lot to do with that, and the fact Gary Burghoff was in both the film and the show as Radar.

But this is also something M*A*S*H has in common with Alice, because one actor is in both the series and the movie: Vic Tayback as Mel Sharpels. And yes, when Mel shows up in the movie, about halfway through, it’s pretty weird. In that you can just tell Tayback has new clue this would become his signature role and that he’d wind up playing Mel for almost a decade.

Actually, it’s not completely true Tayback is the only actor to be a regular on the show. Alfred Lutter, who played Tommy, Alice’s son in the movie (and is probably surprised he’s getting a Google alert today), appeared in the pilot for the show and then was replaced by Philip McKeon. (McKeon’s sister, Nancy, played Jo on The Facts of Life and had a nice little family dynasty going at the time. I always wonder if they felt like the Batemans were their enemies.) I do not know the circumstances why he didn’t get the full-time part, but imagine being good enough for Martin Scorsese, then being told you can’t be on the sitcom as the same character. (Yes, it’s a different type of acting skill, but still.)

But the strangest thing of all about all of this is the case of Diane Ladd. Now, Ladd played Flo in the film, which garnered her an Academy Award nomination. In the television show Flo was played by Polly Holliday (who garnered multiple Emmy nominations for this role and a Golden Globes win)of “kiss my grits” fame. Holliday’s Flo became so popular that her character was given her own sitcom (which only lasted two seasons and, even though it performed okay, wasn’t renewed for a third). Now back on Alice, without Flo, a new character was needed. So Flo was replaced by Belle, played by … yep, Diane Ladd. (I somewhat remember when this happened and it was very weird. The studio audience went absolutely nuts for Belle, in a way where everyone obviously knew her and there was something special happening. But as a six-year-old I had no clue what was going on and there was no way to look this up. And, unsurprisingly, my friends in first grade couldn’t provide me with the answer that this was obviously the original Flo from the popular Martin Scorsese movie.)

This really would be like if Goodfellas was turned into a sitcom. Then in the sitcom, Jon Lovitz played the part of Tommy and his character became so popular he got his own show called I’m Funny How, or whatever. Then Joe Pesci shows up as Lovitz’s replacement, playing a brand new character named Fredrick. And on Pesci’s first show the studio audience just loves it.

As an aside, things get a little weirder when Belle is then replaced by Jolene. And it’s revealed that Jolene is related to Boss Hogg from The Dukes of Hazzard. Then Boss Hogg and Enos show up in Phoenix at Mel’s Diner, which is a long way from Georgia. So, yes, it just kind of hit me that, “Martin Scorsese made a movie that became a sitcom that takes place in the same universe as The Dukes of Hazzard.” And that definitely sounds fake.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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