Stars invade my shows: Cameos! [classic article]

As first seen in Graffiti magazine

They’ve been doing cameos – appearances of big-time celebrities – since the earliest days of television. There’s an art to the best cameos: the celebrity should be totally unexpected, the story line should be well-developed to accommodate the celebrity, and the celebrity should have good acting ability. Unfortunately, shows will often stick in random celebrities during Sweeps Week or whenever they feel they need a shot in the arm, viewer-wise.


The most trite and nauseating cameos are from celebrities who are stuck into a show, often a younger audience one, merely as a public service announcement. Maybe the all-time worst one was when Nancy Reagan came on “Different Strokes” to push her Just Say No to Drugs First Lady/pageant girl platform. I mean, I always thought “Different Strokes” was creepy, what with its “A very special episode,” when Arnold gets molested by a pedophile played by “WKRP in Cincinnati’s” Gordon Jump. Is this entertainment? But I felt like network entertainment had been hijacked by the RNC when Mrs. Reagan was given her first tv role since the 1950’s.


Most just say no or stay in school cameos are usually done by aging sports stars, who have the on camera charisma of Phil Hartman’s Frankenstein character. They stand around awkwardly, grunting out their message. The shows have trotted out the Harlem Globetrotters (horrible pun not intended), Joe Namath, Terry Bradshaw . . . the list goes on and on. Do extra people really tune into these shows, just to see a sports guy past his prime in a custom made suit?


Oh, how about the musical cameos? They seem to pop up in all kinds of places. In doing my research, I saw that “The Flintstones” had actually hosted many cameos of up and coming rock bands. How cool is that?! They even had the Memphis garage band, “The Guilloteens”. When I was a kid watching “The Flintstones” re-runs in my mismatched Garanimals, I just thought those bands were part of cartoon world. You don’t see risks like that taken today. Recently, “The Young and the Restless” had a cameo of Little Richard in his ordained minister life role, marrying Jeff and Gloria. Now, I love Little Richard and his music helped form rock and roll. But he seemed like he’s had a stroke or something and the characters had to pretend like he was still their rock idol all these years. Uncomfortable doesn’t even begin to describe the scene. Soaps aren’t the only ones with bad musical cameos: when “The Simpsons,” which has prostituted itself to cameos, put on The Backstreet Boys, I thought they reached a level of uber-uncool.


One Simpsons cameo that did work was when they had John Waters playing an antique dealer. First of all, it’s better when the cameo actor doesn’t play himself. Trust me – John Waters being a neighbor of mine – this is much more appealing. Better to keep up that carefully crafted persona. Plus, can’t you just see an antique store being run by him?


One of the best cameos hit all the marks – unexpected, good acting – when the late Suzanne Pleschette played Bob Newhart’s wife in the last episode of his other show. They made it out like it was a dream sequence, his playing an innkeeper on “Newhart”. How genius! But the ultimate cameo appearance was one that added to tv history: Sammy Davis, Jr. appearing on “All in the Family”. When Davis planted a kiss on Archie, it dredged up all his fears: race, homosexuality, affection. That one moment defined the Archie Bunker character just through his facial expression. Now that’s a cameo!

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