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Thursday, October 4th, 2012

The Lost Roles of Dana Carvey

One of the most popular SNL cast members of all time, Dana Carvey became one of only three people to win an Emmy for his tenure on the show in 1993 (joining Chevy Chase and Gilda Radner, who received the award in 1976 and 1978, respectively). Carvey was at the forefront of an eclectic group of cast members and writers (including Phil Hartman, Mike Myers, Conan O’Brien, Greg Daniels, Bob Odenkirk, and Sen. Al Franken, amongst others) who saved the show from its most tumultuous decade ever – the 1980s – and rang in what was then the most fertile period in SNL’s history since its 70s Glory Era. Dana Carvey proved to be a rare breed of SNL cast member who could demonstrate a mastery of both characters and impressions. He parlayed his character Garth from the “Wayne’s World” sketches into a starring role in the most successful SNL movie ever, the first Wayne’s World, and starred in the cult hit The Dana Carvey Show, giving early jobs to folks like Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Louis C.K., and Charlie Kaufman. Let’s take a look now at some of the projects Dana Carvey didn’t end up making, including a Hans and Franz movie, an action-comedy in which he was replaced by Will Smith, and the prestigious late night talk show gig he turned down.

The Saturday Night Live Movie (1990, unfilmed)
The role: Various characters

With Saturday Night Live arguably doing at its most popular since its 70s heyday, Lorne Michaels and company started putting together plans for The Saturday Night Live Movie, an anthology-style sketch comedy film in the vein of Kentucky Fried Movie.  The core of the show’s writing staff, composed of vets like Michaels and Al Franken and young blood like Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel, cranked out a script for the movie, which featured 16 sketches.

The current SNL cast would have presumably taken most of the roles in the film, and Carvey would have had a big part in a sketch called “Young Bush At Yale.” The biggest chunk of the film, a half-hour mini-movie, “Young Bush” was written by Jim Downey, Al Franken, and Robert Smigel, and it followed a love triangle between college-aged George H. W. Bush, Barbara Pierce, and JFK. The Saturday Night Live Movie didn’t end up getting made, and Lorne Michaels elected to turn his sketch show into a series of movies based around its characters rather than making anthologies.

For more info on The Saturday Night Live movie, check out Drew McWeeny’s script review over at Hitfix.

Hans and Franz: The Girly-Man Dilemma (1992, unfilmed)
The role: Hans

After Wayne’s World became a surprise hit in 1992, Lorne Michaels started ordering up SNL spin-off movies right and left. One of the first movies developed in the wake of Wayne’s World’s success was Hans and Franz: The Girly-Man Dilemma, a pseudo-musical written by Conan O’Brien, Robert Smigel, Dana Carvey, and Kevin Nealon and based around Carvey and Nealon’s macho weightlifters Hans and Franz. Arnold Schwarzenegger was onboard to co-star and co-produce the movie, but he got cold feet after parodying himself in The Last Action Hero didn’t go so well. Here’s Smigel talking about the movie to The AVClub:

"It just sounded as awful an idea as possible when it was pitched to me. It’s just something that Arnold Schwarzenegger instigated at the time. Arnold had appeared on the show with Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon at least once, maybe twice. They created those characters but I used to write on those sketches. He had this idea and I just thought it was awful. Because some characters you just think, forget it, it’s just ridiculous. If you hear their voices for more than three minutes your head’s gonna explode. That’s why they’re just characters. But you know, I just started thinking about what you could do, and I had this idea to make it a musical. The basic crux of the idea was that they wanted to become movie stars like Arnold. I just thought if we could get over the Hans and Franz backstory in the first 30 minutes and then have the rest of the movie be in Hollywood and be sort of a parody of Arnold’s oversized action-star career, there could be something there. Then we actually went ahead and did it, we wrote it; mostly me and Kevin Nealon, but Carvey and Conan both worked on it as well. It’s probably the funniest of the screenplays that I’ve worked on. The craziest, at least.

The movie’s plot involved Hans and Franz traveling to Hollywood to become big movie stars like their cousin Arnold Schwarzenegger (who’d be playing himself), all while a villain kidnaps the nation’s “girly men” and forces them to lift weights. In the same interview, Smigel recalled one of his favorite running gags from the movie, which involved Siskel and Ebert reviewing the movie onscreen as it was going on, with Hans and Franz barging into the screening room throughout to ask the critics how they’re enjoying the film.

Late Night (1993)
The role: Host
Who got it:Conan O’Brien

Before Conan O’Brien, who was then a Simpsons and SNL writer with barely any on-camera experience, was named David Letterman’s replacement as host of NBC’s 12:30am talk show Late Night, Dana Carvey and Garry Shandling were each offered the job. Carvey, who was just coming off of a seven-year stint on Saturday Night Live, was Lorne Michaels’s first choice for the job. Robert Smigel explained the situation to Vice:

"A lot of the way that show was conceived was by thinking about what talk shows weren’t doing. Dana Carvey was asked to do that gig months before it landed in anyone else’s hands, right after Carson announced that he was retiring. Lorne knew that he was going to get to oversee the show, and the first person he wanted to host it was Carvey. He wanted Conan and I to work on it, and at that time no late-night talk show was doing any sort of sketch comedy at all. That idea expanded when it was decided that Conan would become the host. But before that happened I thought that the show would feature Carvey playing a lot of different characters. Months later Conan called me and said that this idea would work in reverse—he could be the straight man to all of these crazy characters."

At the time, Carvey was coming off of a major hit movie with the first Wayne’s World in 1992 and staying on TV for a five-day-a-week job probably didn’t seem to appealing to him, especially with Wayne’s World 2 on the horizon and the Hans and Franz movie and Bad Boys (see below) in development. A late night talk show does make a lot of sense as a vehicle for Dana Carvey though, and it was even something he made fun of in a 1992 appearance on The Larry Sanders Show, the plot of which involved Sanders being scared his guest host Carvey would try to steal his show from him.

Bad Boys (1995)
The role: Mike Lowery
Who got it: Will Smith

Yes, it sounds crazy, but Dana Carvey and SNL buddy Jon Lovitz signed on to play the leads in Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer’s buddy comedy Bad Boys, then called Bulletproof Hearts, in 1992. The movie was quickly retitled Bad Boys but faced script problems. Carvey and Lovitz stayed attached to the project well into 1993, but the movie was then recast. Here’s Lovitz telling The AVClub about what went wrong:

“[Don] Simpson and [Jerry] Bruckheimer, they wanted Dana, and then they added me into it afterward. But the script—oh, another George Gallo script—the script was awful. They rewrote it for three months, but Disney didn’t want to do the new script. They wanted to do the original one, and it ended up going to Columbia. And Barry Josephson—who is a friend and used to be my manager—he decided to make it with two black actors, and that’s what happened. It was disappointing. I wanted to do it… In an interview with Don, he said, ‘Well, the script was shit.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s what we were saying.’ The funny thing is, I’ve become really good friends with Jerry Bruckheimer, and every time I see him I go, ‘Give me another chance!’ And he says, ‘No, you’ll turn it down!’ And I go, ‘But I said yes!’ But that stuff happens. Then you had Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, and they were great in it. Oh, and Jerry said, “Well, you guys could have improvised,” and I was like, ‘You never said that!’”

Beverly Hills Ninja (1997)
The role: Haru
Who got it: Chris Farley

Dana Carvey’s SNL costar Chris Farley eventually won the lead role in this movie in 1997, but Dana Carvey was attached to the project way back in 1990. At the time, Carvey had just broken through on SNL and was starting to transition into movies. After some supporting turns, he starred in his first movie, the con man comedy Opportunity Knocks, which bombed at the box office. Beverly Hills Ninja was supposed to be his follow-up and was set to begin filming in summer of 1991. “It's not a film that's going to hold up well under intense scrutiny. I mean, film students probably shouldn't write papers about it. It's a light romantic comedy,” Carvey said about the movie in an interview at the time. After Opportunity Knocks tanked, the studio likely got cold feet about another solo Dana Carvey outing, and Carvey wisely opted to spend that summer’s vacation from SNL filming Wayne’s World, which proved to be his biggest movie ever.

Wayne’s World 3 (unfilmed)
The role: Garth Algar

After the surprise success of the first Wayne’s World movie, the studio couldn’t greenlight a sequel fast enough. Wayne’s World 2 came out the very next year but didn’t perform as well as its predecessor. Still, though, these characters have a lot of fans, and there’s somewhat of a demand to revisit them. Mike Myers and Dana Carvey resuscitated the characters for a performance at the MTV Movie Awards in 2008, but Myers was quick to say he’s not interested in another sequel, explaining, “It's a wonderful idea and I loved doing these characters, but no.” TMZ stopped Dana Carvey on the street this year to bug him about the prospect of a third Wayne’s World. He was quoted as saying, “You're gonna have to ask Mike [Myers] … he's pretty busy, but yeah … I'd do it if they want.” Carvey jokingly announced a Wayne’s World 3 when he was appearing on Conan immediately after Will Ferrell’s announcement of Anchorman 2.

Spoof (2010, rejected pilot)
Dana Carvey was prepping to make a TV comeback in 2010, and he teamed up with Spike Feresten, a recently-ousted late night talk show host who wrote on Seinfeld, Letterman, and with Carvey on ABC’s The Dana Carvey Show, to create a new sketch show for Fox called Spoof. Spoof would have been a sketch show done entirely on video without any live audience component. Fox passed on the pilot, but these two sketches ended up online:

A Lost parody called “Weird Island”:

A takeoff on the Sherlock Holmes action movies, this one about Charles Darwin:

Bradford Evans is Splitsider's Associate Editor.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.orillion Andrew Orillion

    Interesting article but you failed to mention Carvey's botched heart surgery that sidelined his career for over two years. He's career never really recovered from that.