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The William S. Paley Television Festival: A Dedication to Freaks and Geeks

By Edwin del Carpio

March 11, 2000

I arrived at the DGA theatre complex around 6:00pm, one hour before the start of the event, and the line was already a decent length. However, I managed to get a very good seat and view of the stage where the cast and crew would eventually be seated. In the lobby, several of the supporting cast members were on hand. I had the opportunity to speak with the individual who plays the role of "Gordon Crisp." His parents accompanied him to the event, and he stated how he has had such a wonderful time and experience in being part of the Freaks and Geeks production. I congratulated him on his efforts and his future endeavors.

At last, the staff at DGA allowed the audience members to enter the theatre. It filled quickly; all the seats were practically full (Looks like Paul was correct when he mentioned the event sold out). The lights dimmed, and a brief introduction over the history and past events of the festival began the Freaks and Geeks event. After the historical perspective on the William S. Paley and the museum, the host of the event gave a brief synopsis of Freaks and Geeks, and then proceeded to introduce the cast members and the crew; Becky Ann Baker appeared on stage first, and following Mrs. Baker were Joe Flaherty, Martin Starr, David (Gruber) Allen, Jason Segel, Samm Levine, Seth Rogen, Busy Philipps, John Daley, Linda Cardellini, Jake Kasdan, Judd Apatow, and last but not least Paul Feig. All of the cast and crew received a very warm welcome from the audience, especially Paul, Linda, and John.

Paul Feig initially provided another brief synopsis behind the creation of Freaks and Geeks. Paul then thanked the frequent posters on the website who were really dedicated to not only spreading the word about the show but saving the show as well. He asked those individuals to stand up, especially Greg Barber or TV Henry (although I am not a frequent poster, I do post occasionally, and I have done my part to save the show, so I stood up; it was unfortunate Greg could not attend the festivities.). The cast and crew excitingly applauded for the individuals who stood up, and Paul thanked (us) on behalf of the entire cast and crew for (our) efforts. Moreover, Paul noted this was the first time the cast and crew had the opportunity to meet their fans, and indicated the cast/crew and everyone else on the show were pleased with the strong turnout.

After Paul Feig’s introduction, the cast stepped down to their seats among the audience members and the lights dimmed once again. Before the episode, a screening of several clips from the show were displayed, even various clips from upcoming episodes. It ended with a montage of highlights familiar to all the avid viewers of Freaks and Geeks, with the infamous Styx song "Come Sail Away" playing in the background. A few of the clips shown were the scene where the Freaks are carded at the bar where the band Feedback was supposed to play, several scenes involving the freaks and geeks dancing, such as John Daley dance routine when he bought his brand new clothes from the mall, Eli dancing with Lindsay, and an upcoming scene where Lindsay Weir is dancing by herself in her room. Hilarious scenes included Neal practicing his kissing techniques on a ventriloquist’s puppet, Sam entering school with his new jump suit (which everyone in the school mocks), and the "farting" scene with Bill and Cindy.

After the montage of highlights, the episode began playing. Since I was sitting close to the cast members, at times during the montage of highlights and the episode that was previewed (i.e. "I’m With the Band"), I could hear (and sometimes see) the reactions from several of the cast members during certain scenes----sometimes they laughed, and at other times they squirmed in their seats.

The Q&A portioned began after the screening of "I’m With the Band." The host of the event set in motion the Q&A period by asking the crew about the creation behind Freaks and Geeks, starting with Paul. Paul conveyed to the audience how Freaks and Geeks was based on his life experiences in high school. He aspired to create a television program illustrating what high school was really like for virtually everyone, and not create a television program similar to Dawson’s Creek or Popular, where teenagers deal with adult issues. As Paul Feig noted, he did not want a cast where the Geeks looked like models with their glasses, and freaks "looking good" with their fast cars and their attitude on life. He wanted a cast that realistically portrayed the people he encountered at high school. In fact, Paul noted how the role of Lindsay Weir was brought to life. Since the idea behind Freaks and Geeks was portraying Paul’s horrifying life experiences during high school, of which hopefully everyone could relate to, the role of Lindsay Weir was not even considered as a character at this point. However, Paul indicated he was an only child and always wanted a sister, so he wrote in Lindsay Weir. Judd Apatow mentioned that everyday on the set, Paul would have a horrifying story to tell about his years in high school. With a little convincing, Paul told the audience one of his many horrifying moments he shared with the cast and crew.

One day, during the 9th grade, Paul had a role in a theatre production at his high school. His role required him to dress as a girl. While he was getting ready, he received a phone call, informing him that his mother had been in a car accident. Worried for his mother’s well-being, he rushed to the accident scene not realizing he was dressed as a girl. When he arrived at the scene, his mom initially was shocked and could not recognize her own son. More embarrassing was the fact that most of the entire block stared at him in shock as well.

Judd Apatow next enlightened the audience with more details on the creation of Freaks and Geeks. He began by conveying to the audience specifically how Freaks and Geeks came to life. When he first read the script for the pilot episode, he was amazed by it. He indicated that in the entertainment industry, whenever a producer receives an outstanding script, there is a fear the writer/creator will look for someone else despite revealing the script to one or two producers. Judd knew this script had strong potential so he convinced Paul not to "shop" elsewhere. Judd and Paul finally set an appointment with NBC. Judd stated he would not sacrifice any of the creative writing or talent (i.e. the cast) in order to convince NBC executives to pick up Freaks and Geeks. Judd and Paul’s perseverance prevailed -- NBC picked up Freaks and Geeks.

Moreover, Judd spoke about the music on the show, and why the "Kim Kelly is My Best Friend" episode will not air on March 13 (or the rest of the season —I think?). In respect to the music, Judd revealed how the music is selected. He noted in the past the music was selected after the scene was completed, but this method was tedious and time consuming because they (the creators) had difficulty selecting the appropriate song associated with the scene. Instead, Paul and Judd decided to select a song first, then shoot the scene. According to Judd and Paul, this method was easier and less tedious. Paul and Judd did mention they allocate not only a significant percentage of their time to selecting a song appropriate to the scene, but also a substantial percentage of money acquiring the rights to various songs. Judd felt this was salient to mention because the song serves as a fail-safe mechanism ---Even if the scene is terrible or not to anyone’s liking (both the cast/crew and the viewers), selecting the appropriate song will have the viewers focused on the song playing rather than the scene, and in essence establishing the scene to more likeable.

Likewise, Judd Apatow asserted his reasons for why the Kim Kelly episode would not air on March 13. According to Judd, whenever a new television program is aired, executives ideally would like the first 6 episodes to be similar to the pilot episode----both simple and understandable so that the viewers have a strong comprehension of what the show is about, and hopefully tune in for the rest of the season. Once the 6 episodes have been aired, the creators, writers, and the actors/actresses may experiment with radical approaches to storylines, theme, the characters’ actions, etc. However, since Freaks and Geeks has been preempted twice in such a short period of time, Judd (and Paul I presume) did not want to "scare" the first-time viewers on March 13 by airing the Kim Kelly episode and hence leave the impression that Freaks and Geeks is a "violent" television program. This effect would definitely hamper the chances of Freaks and Geeks surviving a second season according to Judd. Nonetheless, Paul did indicate the episode is circulating underground if anyone wishes to see it.

After the Paul, Judd, and Jake spoke on the creative ideas of Freaks and Geeks and its developmental stages in establishing itself as a television program, the host of the event asked the cast members how they were offered the role, what obstacles they encountered in attaining their respective roles, how each of them uniquely developed their characters, etc. Linda Cardellini was the first to speak of her endeavors in attaining her role as Lindsay Weir. According to Linda, she initially had a difficult time convincing Paul, Judd, and Jake-----they simply did not want to see her. Linda explained how when she initially read the script, she embraced the endearing qualities of Lindsay Weir. Despite Paul, Judd, and Jake’s attitude, Linda was determined to play the part of Lindsay and her determination paid off----she was given the opportunity to audition, and it was her presence, charm, and the qualities she instilled in Lindsay Weir during the audition that captivated the heart of Paul, Judd, and Jake. According to Paul, Linda was the 3rd (or 4th) individual to audition, and after Linda’s brilliant performance, Paul was convinced he had found what he was looking for. Linda was the perfect match to what he envisioned as the sister he never had but always wanted. Although they could have concluded the auditions for Lindsay Weir at this point, they continued auditioning other candidates, but no one matched Linda’s colorful performance. Linda finally was offered the role of Lindsay Weir, and Linda Cardellini, with excitement in her eyes, happily accepted the offer.

On an amusing note, Linda told a story about her success as an actress. One day, an individual noticed Linda walking by and proceeded her to flag her down. Although most people recognize her from her work on Freaks and Geeks, this particular person noticed her from "Boy Meets World", stopped her, and according to Linda, called her a "homewrecker." The audience laughed with amusement.

John Francis Daley initially did not wish to audition for the role of Sam Weir. However, after encouragement from his father, he reconsidered his position and auditioned. His rationale for auditioning was to simply see the Jaws exhibit at Paramount Studios. Unbeknownst to Paul and Judd, Sam was ill during his screen test, and in essence read the part in a low-key attitude. The low-key reading was exactly what Paul and Judd were looking for. However, according to John, he read in a low-key to prevent himself from vomiting during the audition (The cast/crew and the audience laughed when he revealed this informative statement)! Despite John Daley’s true intentions for his low-key performance, Paul and Judd offered the role to John.

For Busy Philipps, the role of Kim Kelly was Busy’s first groundbreaking role in television. Initially, Busy auditioned for the role of Lindsay Weir. In her mind, she gave a wonderful audition. Despite her spectacular performance, she was not offered the role. However, Paul and Judd were writing another character in the pilot episode and thought Busy should audition for the role. According to Linda Cardellini, Paul and Judd asked Linda to convince Busy to come back once again to read for the role of Kim Kelly. Busy was at the airport on her way to her flight, and Linda fortunately found her. Linda informed Busy that Paul and Judd were interested in seeing her again and Busy went back to read for Paul and Judd. She was only given an hour to prepare, and gave a cold reading of the script they handed to her. Pleased with Busy’s audition, Paul and Judd offered the role to her. Originally, Kim Kelly was only written for the pilot, but because Busy displayed an articulate and fabulous performance during her audition, Paul and Judd decided Kim Kelly should remain as a recurring, supporting character on Freaks and Geeks. Busy did mention that part of the reason why she accepted the role was because Linda was cast in the television show as well. Busy and Linda attended college together at Loyola Maramount University in Los Angeles, where they both studied theatre and eventually became close friends. According to Busy, she would at least know one cast member on the set, and in essence accepted the role of Kim Kelly.

Seth Rogen plays the role of Ken, a sarcastic individual who always contains wise cracks for almost any occasion. This "humorous" sarcasm was vividly displayed all throughout the night. During an open casting call in Vancouver, Seth originally auditioned for Bill and stated he read the part "slowly" because that was how he imagined the character. Although not offered the part, Paul and Judd enjoyed his reading and on-screen image, so they created a character based on his personality. When he read for the role of Ken, he read the script with an angry tone. Paul and Judd loved his reading, and offered the role of Ken to Seth. On a funny note, Seth Rogen stated if he could only "find a role that was slow and angry, he would win an Academy Award." I hope he succeeds in his endeavor to find such a role. Moreover, he indicated that since the show is finished filming for the season, on Tuesday he’s getting a haircut, and by the looks of him and his tone of voice, he was serious about it. It appears he thought his look for the show did not appealing.

The role of Neal Schweiber also was uniquely created for Samm Levine, just as Ken was uniquely created for Seth Rogen. Initially, Samm auditioned for the role of Sam Weir, but unfortunately was not cast. The pivotal decision-maker in creating the role of Neal was due to Samm’s performance after the script reading. He immediately went to the camera and began impersonating William Shatner. Judd thought the impression was hilarious and original and decided to show Paul Samm’s impressions. Paul had similar reactions as Judd, and in essence the creation of Neal was born. Paul and Judd asked Samm to come back to read for the role of Neal. Impressed with the outcome, Paul and Judd offered the role to Samm Levine. Samm did note he sometimes adlibs his lines.

Jason Segel told the audience he was nervous at the onset, but I believed he was doing well throughout the evening. Although he did not speak much on how he auditioned for the role of Nick Andropolis, with some convincing from Judd, he sang a verse from a song he wrote for an upcoming episode to the audience. He was not bad at all. In fact, he may have a successful career as a singer if he decides to pursue it. According to Judd, the song was to be written by a staff writer, but Judd approached Jason and asked him to write the song. The song can be heard on an upcoming episode of Freaks and Geeks, when Nick once again serenades Lindsay. Surprisingly funny, Jason also illustrated an impersonation of James Franco in light of his absence. Jason said (in James’s voice), "If you have any questions for James, I would be happy to relay them to him." His impersonation was witty and amusing. Maybe he should pursue stand up comedy. In fact, Seth, Samm, and Jason could probably do a trio!

Although Martin Starr did not speak on his character very much, he did keep is "cool" throughout the evening. However, the audience learned from Paul the idea behind Bill’s Bionic Woman costume in Tricks or Treats. Paul intended Bill to be a country hobo, so that during the scene where Allen asks what Bill is supposed to be, Allen would be able to reply, "A country homo?". Contrarily, Judd had other ideas. He wanted Bill to dress up as the Bionic Woman instead based on a story he had heard previously. Seth Rogen commented on the believability of the costume. One day on the set he saw a woman from behind and proceeded to walk up to "her." He said, "Hey," and when Martin turned around, Seth was stunned. According to Seth, the wig convinced him that Martin was a woman.

David (Gruber) Allen substituted for James Franco. Apparently, James was promoting his new movie "Whatever Ever It Takes" and was not able to attend the Paley Festival. Seth sarcastically criticized the movie because of James’s absence, but Jason Segel defended the movie immediately, stating he saw the movie and everyone should see it.

David discussed how he attained the role of Mr. Rosso and how he prepared for the role. Paul and Judd asked David to audition, and David gladly did. Initially, he auditioned acting like Gruber, a character from a previous production. Paul and Judd noticed he was trying to hard, hampering his chances at being offered the role. Paul and Judd suggested he be himself, and once David did, they knew he was perfect for the role and offered him the role of Mr. Rosso, Guidance counselor and sometimes nuisance of Lindsay Weir. David (Gruber) enlightened the audience on how he prepared for the role. He indicated he was a substitute teacher for two years at Glendale, and utilized his experiences in portraying Mr. Rosso as a believable character. It appears his experiences paid off --- on the show he’s is very believable, no doubt about it. Likewise, Paul and Judd suggested he grow out his hair long to create the believability of Mr. Rosso.

Joe Flaherty comical yet informative as always. Joe furthermore was the only cast member who had the most to say not only about Freaks and Geeks but the entertainment industry as well. Initially, Joe wished pursuing the role of the gym teacher, but Paul and Judd convinced him to reconsider his position and audition for the role of Harold Weir. As in most cases, his audition proved successful and was offered the part. On an intriguing note, Joe gave insight on how the entertainment industry works. For instance, he discussed how one day his agent called about a role he would be perfect for. Joe auditioned for the role, and returned home waiting anxiously by the phone, as most actors/actresses do according to Joe. Joe’s agent and manager kept repeating how he knew Joe would be chosen. Unfortunately, he was not offered the role, as Mr. Flaherty recounts, "You audition for a part, return home and wait by the phone [your agent claiming he’s certain you have the role] and then finding out you don’t." Well, I am gratified Joe Flaherty was offered the part of Harold Weir because I could not imagine anyone else playing the part.

Before playing the role of Jean Weir, Becky Ann Baker previous role was in "A Simple Plan", in which she played a redneck mother who dies horribly in an explosion. Paul and Judd loved her performance, and asked Mrs. Baker to audition for the role of Jean Weir. At first, Mrs. Baker could not see the connection between Jean Weir and the redneck mother, and was perplexed on why Paul and Judd would consider he for the role based on her performance in "A Simple Plan." She auditioned, and then was asked by Paul and Judd to screen test with Joe Flaherty to determine if any chemistry between the two genuinely existed. Although she thought otherwise, Paul and Judd perceived such genuine chemistry with excitement, and proceeded to offer Becky Ann Baker the role. As a practical joke, Paul and Judd let an hour pass while Mrs. Baker anxiously waited for the news. The hour passed, and when Paul and Judd approached her, she appeared very upset while talking on the phone. According to Paul, he thought she was mad because she was certain she did not acquire the role, and needed to let out her frustrations. Unbeknownst to Paul and Judd, she was not upset. Instead, she was worried because he received a phone call from New York City informing Mrs. Baker that her son contracted the chicken pox.

After the host completed his questions for the cast and crew, he proceeded to address questions from the audience. The majority of the questions pertained to the uncertainty of Freaks and Geeks returning for a second season. In fact, Paul indicated an NBC executive was in the audience, and one audience member asked the NBC representative exactly what he and the rest of the devoted viewers of Freaks and Geeks could do in order to save the show. The cast, crew, and all the audience members complemented his question very well with an enormous round of applause. Other questions among the audience either made me laugh, squirm in my seat, or confused me. One in particular was an individual who nervously expressed his love for Linda. When he spoke, I writhed in my seat in utter embarrassment. Despite his nervousness, Linda thanked him for his compliments.

After the Q&A concluded, audience members had the opportunity to interact with the cast and crew and personally display their devotion to the show. All of the cast and crew were very receptive to all of the people who approached them, signing autographs, conversing about the show, and even taking pictures with a few of them. But as well all know, all good things must come to an end.

Rarely do I express my attitudes on my favorite television programs. However, Freaks and Geeks is a special case worthy of consideration. Freaks and Geeks has established itself as a television program everyone can relate to in a powerful way because of its superb, refreshing writing and directing, the creative and original talents of the cast, and because of the remarkable imagination of Paul Feig and Judd Apatow. And because the shroud of uncertainty lingers before Freaks and Geeks, and because of my devotion to the show, I believe I am obligated to do whatever it takes to save the show. There is no doubt in my mind that the turnout of the many avid fans at the William S. Paley Festival indicates the tremendous impact Freaks and Geeks has had upon numerous individuals. Paul, Judd, Linda, John, James, Busy, Samm, Jason, Seth, Martin, Joe, and Becky Ann Baker ---- I wish you well on the success of Freaks and Geeks and on all of your future endeavors.