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Old 12-13-2005, 11:55 PM   #1
70s Sitcoms Rule!!!
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Default FLO article in TV Guide Nov. 8-14 1980

The following is an article I got from a November 1980 TV Guide. Thought you might find it interesting.

"Polly Holliday got where she is by being . . .
By Bill Davidson

Where else but in the crazy world of television could you spin off a show called FLO from a three-year hit called ALICE----and in the very first week see FLO, the offspring turn up as No. 1 in the ratings, with the parent, ALICE, in eighth place?
One reason for this phenomenon is that CBS positioned FLO just after M*A*S*H on Monday night. As FLO's executive producer, Jim Mulligan, candidly put it, "You could put Bugs Bunny reruns in the time slot following M*A*S*H and still get a 34-per-cent share." But FLO was tied with M*A*S*H itself that first week, and made it a very close contest in the succeeding weeks. How do you account for THAT? "Simple," says Mulligan, who, as it happens, came to FLO directly from M*A*S*H. "It's mostly because of Polly Holliday. She's the Alan Alda of this outfit."
That may be an overstatement, considering that Alda generally is considered the top triple-threat player in the TV game today---with skills as a writer, producer and director as well as a take-charge actor. It also should be noted that Alda was a well-known and accomplished stage and screen personality long before he took on the persona of Hawkeye Pierce in the celebrated Korean War field hospital.

The tall and 40ish Miss Holliday, on the other hand, languished as a piano teacher in Haleyville, Ala., before doing seven years of repertory on the stage of the Asolo State Theatre in Sarasota, Fla. Then came supporting parts in such films as "W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings" and "The One and Only". It was only with the emergence of her red-haired, rambunctious Flo-the-waitress character in ALICE (and Flo's "Kiss mah grits!" war cry) that Polly finally was able to say, "I passed a milestone today. The saleswoman actually recognized me in Saks Fifth Avenue."
And yet there ARE striking similarities between Alan on his show and Polly on hers. Producer Mulligan says, "She sits in on all our story conferences and I treat her like all the other writers. When we rehearse and tape, it's as if I had a second director on the floor. She was responsible for all our casting---coming up with people like Lucy Lee Flippin and Leo Burmester, whom she knew from her regional-theater days. When I was offered this job, I insisted on a full working relationship with Polly because she knows the character Flo better than anyone in the world."

Joyce Bulifant (who plays Miriam in the series) is even more vociferous about Polly's role in the order of things on FLO. "It's Polly's show," she says. "If something upsets her, she speaks up. Nine times out of 10 she's right, and she gets her way. She's got the brazenness and the talent to pull it off, which is why she literally bulled this series through Warner Brothers, CBS and everyone else."
Despite the extravagance of some of these statements, it doubtless is true that Polly is more responsible than anyone else for getting FLO on the air. It began with a sequence of seemingly unrelated events, starting in 1972.
In that year, Polly came to New York from Asolo Theater in Florida---as she frequently did between Asolo seasons--- to study drama and look for work. She went to an open casting call for the part of a repressed opera singer in an upcoming Broadway play by Murray Schisgal called "All over Town." She got the part. The play's director was Dustin Hoffman. As the show's run ended in 1975, Hoffman told Polly, "I'll see you in Hollywood. You'll end up there because you're as mean as I am."
Nine months later she received a call from Hoffman in Los Angeles. He got her a short but pithy role as an obstreperous receptionist in "All the President's Men." The casting consultant for the film happened to be Alan Shayne, and soon thereafter, Shayne became president of Warner Bros. Television programming. One of his first projects was the ALICE series, based on the 1974 hit movie "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore." Shayne remembered Polly from "All the President's Men." Polly auditioned and got the part of Flo in support of Linda Lavin's Alice.

That's when the wheeling and dealing began, along with the final emergence of Polly Holliday. Says Polly: "From the very beginning, the studio seemed to have grave doubts as to whether ALICE could make it. For most of the first season, the show was just sort of hanging in there. The ratings began to pick up only when the audience discovered us during the first summer's reruns. In the meantime, Warner Brothers kept talking to me about 'when we spin off FLO.' It was not IF, but WHEN."
It is evident, therefore, that in the convoluted way of TV-executive thinking, ALICE began with the forethought that an early salvage operation might be needed---and that Flo, as a character, might be better suited to today's situation-comedy tastes.
"The only problem," says Polly, "was that Flo really wasn't a character---yet. I deliberately had avoided going to see the movie 'Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore' because I didn't want to be influenced by what Diane Ladd had done in the picture. Instead, I resorted to what I call 'puzzle-solving.' It's a technique I've used since my drama-student days at Alabama College at Montevallo and Florida State University. I take the dialogue the writer has written on the page, and then I use my imagination to construct an entire background for the character---from birth to the present. I write it all down, as if I'm doing a novel."

"The puzzle-solving of Flo came fairly easily, unlike the problems I had with, say, Medea, in college," explains Polly. "First of all, the dialogue made it clear that Flo came from the South, as I had, so I was able to draw on actual people I had known back in Alabama. From the way she talked, I deduced that Flo wasn't well educated, that she'd been around and that she'd been married perhaps three times. I imagined that her first husband was a race-car driver, the second Flo wouldn't talk about and the third was a Bible salesman a lot younger than she.
"Then, presuming she is my age and has been married three times, she probably dropped out of school at 16 after having led a very active social life. I knew girls just like that back home. Without much of an education, Flo couldn't get a skilled job and felt extremely insecure about it. Such people tend to overreact and put on a front. Also, because she seemed to mother-hen the younger waitresses in ALICE, I figured that she was an older sister in a large family."

ALICE's delighted writers used nearly all of these fruits of Polly's "puzzle-solving," devoting an entire script, for example, to the return of that imaginary race-driver first husband.
Warner Bros. was equally delighted at the end of the first year, when ALICE was still shaky, the studio put Polly under option for a new series. At the end of the second season, April 1978, the FLO spin-off was almost a certainty and Polly was set to work writing down her ideas about what the new series should be. This time she was over her head. She theorized that Flo would go home to Cowtown, Texas, and settle in with her domineering mother and misanthropic sister (so far so good) but that she would fall madly in love with a politician who gets elected governor, thus making her the First Lady of Texas and a comical misfit among a lot of high-class people in the state capital.
"No, no, no," said Alan Shayne. The studio and CBS then hired three writers, Harvey Bullock, Jim Parker and Pam Chais, to sit down with her and "conceptualize." The conceptualizing went on for several months, after which two other writers, Jenna McMahon and Dick Clair, were hired to confer with Polly and commit the conceptualizing to paper. By now, the current format had emerged---with Flo going home, buying the Yellow Rose beer joint, and wrestling weekly with the problems of its employees and habitu'es, as well as the complications of her own personal life. The hiring of writer-producer Jim Mulligan from M*A*S*H resulted in some final refining, in concert with Polly, and the series was ready to make its debut on March 24, 1980.
Above and beyond that first week as No. 1, the ratings results were quite astounding. Only six episodes were taped and five of the six ended up in the Top 10. The only loser was against the Academy Awards on ABC, and even FLO drew a respectable 27-per-cent share, while most of ABC's opposition was totally squashed that night. With the actor's strike delaying the start of the new season, it's too early to know how FLO will fare in its new time slot, leading off Monday night at 8 P.M. (ET)---against ABC's THAT'S INCREDIBLE! and without the helpful M*A*S*H lead-in.

Polly doesn't seem to care a whit about such technicalities. She doesn't seem to care a whit, either, about her newfound stardom. Tall and bone-thin, she dresses simply. With her gray-streaked dark hair, she looks like a small-college dean as soon as she takes off Flo's tight satin pants and flamboyant red wig. She has only a small apartment in Los Angeles and a smaller one in New York, saying, "I am unmarried and bicoastal." She drives a 1972 Chevrolet and refuses to move up to the usual television star's Mercedes or Porsche. "Why should I?" she asks. "My Chevy runs perfectly fine." One of her greater pleasures is shopping at Pic 'N' Save, a Los-Angeles chain of discount knick knackery stores.
What she enjoys more than anything is working with Mulligan and his staff of five writers. "We meet weekends," she says, "and it's really fun. It's an extension of my own puzzle-solving, except now we do it together. How are we going to bring in the second husband Flo won't talk about? How can we build a story about Miriam's much-talked-about husband? What if Farley, the banker, gets caught in a political scandal? What if someone abandons an infant with Earl, the bartender? How can we come up with more movie parodies like the ones we did with Texas versions of 'High Noon' and 'Casablanca' in Flo's Yellow Rose?"

With Polly, however, it's a different matter down on the set. She puts up stern signs reading, "No Visitors Backstage 30 Minutes Before Shooting." Says Joyce Bulifant, "We're all from the theater, so the discipline is enforced. Polly is tough. I can have a dispute with her about a line and do it my way for a few days, but I always end up doing it HER way. On the other hand, she can come up to me and help me develop my character, saying, 'Just think of how you considered yourself hot stuff when you used to go out to the cemetary on double dates and do a lot of necking'."
Producer Mulligan is convinced that Polly has an enormous future in television, no matter how FLO eventually turns out. "How can you stop a woman," he asks, "who is as brainy as Polly and who can wiggle her tail like Flo does?" END
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