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My Sister Sam aired from October 1986 until April 1988 on CBS.
For more on My Sister Sam go to the mini-page right here at Sitcoms Online.
A Review From The New York Times
TV REVIEW; 'MY SISTER SAM,' SERIES STARRING PAM DAWBER
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
Published: October 20, 1986
TOP-HEAVY with parent-child generation differences, television sitcoms are now exploring the demographic potential of sibling gaps. CBS's ''My Sister Sam,'' Mondays at 8:30 P.M., offers preppy-ish Samantha Russell, whose comfortable life as a photographer in San Francisco is disrupted -charmingly, of course - when her kid sister, Patti, suddenly arrives from Oregon wanting to become a rock star. Irrepressible, pretty Patti is 16. Finicky, pretty Sam (the juices in her refrigerator are arranged alphabetically) is 29. The difference of 13 years is enough, the producers hope, for a world of laugh-provoking age collisions.
The scene is set, for the most part, in Sam's nicely appointed loft apartment and business studio. In one corner are Sam (Pam Dawber) and her friends: Dixie (Jenny O'Hara), her wisecracking assistant; J. D. (Joel Brooks), her wisecracking agent, and Jack (David Naughton), her wisecracking neighbor. In the other are Patti (Rebecca Schaeffer) and a passing contingent of teen-age school friends. In the premiere episode a couple of weeks ago - written by Gary Murphy and Larry Strawther, directed by Ellen Falcon - her friend of the moment was Brandon (Dean Cameron), a punk rocker done up in spiked hair and a metal glove.
The predictably horrified Sam was further perplexed when Brandon announced that he was far more interested in her than in Patti. Wondering what to do about Brandon (''Have you spoken to his guidance counselor?'' suggested J. D.), Sam also had to deal with a resentful Patti, who was reduced to ''feeling like floor dust.'' In the end, of course, within the confines of less than 25 minutes, the sisters came to their senses and realized that, well, that's life. A dejected Brandon was sent on his nonconforming way, sweetly but firmly. ''Don't cry,'' Sam warned, ''you'll rust your glove.''
In tonight's episode - Ms. Falcon directs once again, Lisa Albert is the writer - a very nervous Sam agrees to let Patti have the loft for a party to entertain her new school friends. While Sam and her friends try to amuse one another next door, Patti finds her good intentions going out of control. In the end, needless to say, common sense and thoughtfulness triumph even as all sides are seemingly proved right in their suspicions about one another. Dreadful consequences are virtually unheard of in the land of sitcom.
As a harmless and reasonably diverting exercise, ''My Sister Sam,'' created by Stephen Fischer, has two things going for it. There is an attractive cast, topped by Miss Dawber, who won her sitcom combat stripes serving as a charming foil to Robin Williams on ''Mork and Mindy.'' And it is scheduled between two of the best shows on the CBS lineup, ''Kate and Allie'' at 8 and ''Newhart'' at 9. Never underestimate the power of a good time slot.
An Article From TV Guide ( May 9-15, 1987 Ed.)
The Feminine influence seems everywhere on the set of My Sisster Sam-from the on-screen humor to the off-screen socializing
By Susan Littwin
" Ong...namo...guru dev...namo. Ong...namo...guru dev...namo," we chant, strtching out the syllables of the Sanskrit mantra in a nasal, rising sing song. We are in a little grassy glade on the Burbank Studios Ranch. Sitting crossed-legged on mats and blankets are eight members of the cast and crew of CBS's My Sister Sam-and a game TV Guide writer. In the middle of our semi-circle is Guru Prem Singh, a bearded Westerner clad in the white tunic and turban of the Sikh faith. Prem is star Pam Dawber's own " structual" therapist, and he comes to the lot twice a week to lead a Kundallini yoga class during lunch break.
" We've had a very stressful morning," says Dawber who plays Samantha Russell. " Don't make this a difficult class." Prem gently takes the group through a series of exercises; we rock on our stomachs with our arms clasped behind us. We breathe deeply and rapedly with our stomach's popping in and out like bellows. We reach over and clasp our flexed feet and pull them up. Yoga can be a meditation but TV Guide has other responsibilities. I peer around and notice that trim, size-4 Dawber cannot touch her toes while big, lumbering Joel Brooks-who plays agent J.D.-reaches easily over his paunch to the soles of his feet. And 19-year- old Rebecca Schaeffer, who plays Sam's sister, Patti, does everything so effortlessly that Prem gives her special add-ons. After the exercises, we chant again: Healthy am I ...Holy am I.
" That was nice," I say to Dawber. She disappears into her trailer and reemerges with a card. " If your interested in yoga, you should also see this Sikh doctor. He's a real medical doctor, but he's kind of holistic. He asks about your relationships and your diet and your state of mind."
Meanwhile, Brooks and Jenny O'Hara-Sam's assistant, Dixie, on the show-down a quick lunch in the Komedy Kourt, a quqdrangle formed by their trailers and zanily decorated with odds and ends left on other sets. They have salads with diet dressing. " On this show, we're all on diets. We have a nutritionist of the week," says Brooks. O'Hara's nutritionist showed her how to de-fat peanut butter. " You stuff a paper towell down the middle, and it acts like a wick." She runs off and gets a jar from her trailer. " Try this," she says. I do. It is still on the roof of my mouth. You could mortar bricks with it..
Back on the set, director Ellen Falcon lunges back and forth aerobically while she gets a look at a scene. On most sets, there is a table laden with doughnuts and sweet rolls for the crew. Here, there is a big bowl of fresh fruit, a platter of cut raw vegetables, trays of hot, fresh, bagels, the best in town. " I always used to bitch about the food on Mork & Mindy," says Dawber, who is a co-owner of Sam. " Now I say 'Get better bagels,' and they get better bagels. I say we want to do yoga, and they say, 'OK.' Maybe these are concerns of women. I've never marched for Women's lib but all of us on this show want babies so we talk about getting day care on the set."
This is the world of women spa. Sam is not just a show starring two women and about the relationship between sisters. Three of the five regular cast members are women. So are executive producer Diane English, writer-producers Karyl Miller and Korby Siamis, and Ellen Falcon , who directed the first 21 episodes. Except for the teen-age Scaeffer, all are that new social phenomenon: career women in their 30's. They have made it in a tough business, but now, hearing the tick of the biological clock, they are suddenly obssesed with their personal lives-relationships, babies health. Most are recently married. Between takes they talk about problem pregnancies, sex, diets, exercise, managing stress and food ( When they are not talking about weight-loss programs, they are talking about food, fattening food.) Eating and dieting are rotated, like crops. Femininity hangs in the air here, a musky mixture of perfume, sweat, fresh bagels.
The funny thing is, Sam started out as an ordinary product of male-dominated television. It was conceived at a lunch between men and male producers and first-draft writer were hired for the pilot. It was too broad and cartoony and the series bears little resemblance to it. Now, Dawber says, " I wanted women to create the show. Women understand what women talk about in private. Women are emotional and experience things differently than men. I don't believe men can write for women."
How does all of this affect the show that we see on the screen? Psychologists say that men and women have different senses of humor. Jacqueline D. Goodchilds, a psychology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has studdied humor says, " Research shows that women are not as responsive to aggressive , sexy, or hostile humor. They respond more to wordplay, whimsey and soft, good-feeling humor." So back to the Sam set, when Joel Brooks tries a sight gag involving a slamming door, Dawber opposes it because it distracts from the story and the poignant scene to come. And director Falcon says frankly, " I don't do slapstick. I'm not good at it. I like people humor."
Brooks, who does needlepoint , accepts this approach good-naturedly. But David Naughton, who plays Sam's neighbor, Jack, often looks a little bemused. The former star of Dr. Pepper commercials sips a diet Coke during a break, and avoids the yoga and the girl talk. Unlike the women, he already has a baby. A real 18-month old. What he needs is steady work, and the network's commitment to Dawber made Sam attractive to him. But if you press him, he says, " I think we need more jokes."
But " soft," Cosby-like comedy is in style now. " Cosby can make a show around Rudy's goldfish dying," says Dawber admiringly. But Cosby rests on the talent of a great-and male-comedian, whose success has nurtured some fantasies. Producer Karyl Miller-who writes some of the Sam scripts-has written for major comic talents such as Cosby and Bea Arthur. Asked, " If your life depended on getting a laugh from a line, whom would you want to deliver it?" she reponds unhesitatingly , " Lily Tomlin. She never misses." A few days later, Miller on hiatus calls from New York. " I have some misgivings about the answer I gave to that question," she says nervously. " I don't want to sell Pam Dawber short."
But Dawber would never put herself in that league. " I'm not a zany or an overt comedian," she says frankly. " I'm a middle-of-the-road character, somebody that people can relate to. ' Poor Sam, I can't believe what they did to her.' That's the kind of comedy that works for me. I'm not going to go out there and be Carol Kane. I can do jokes, but you have to write more reality-based things for me."
Basically ,Dawber is a nice middle-class girl from a Detroit suburb who left college to model, slipped sideways into show business, and lucked into Mindy. But life has not always been easy for her. She had a kidney removed when she was 19. And in 1976, her younger sister died during surgery to correct a congenital heart defect. Understandably, she tends to worry about health, to think about mortality and what she calls " the grand scheme of things. I tend to believe in things that my parents think are very far out, bizarre. I don't see why there couldn't be extraterrestrials," says the woman who befriended Mork for so long. She began seeing a Sikh doctor for some stubburn medical problems that had defeated other doctors, and he sent her to Guru Prem. " There are a lot of Sikhs in my life right now."
There is also her husband, Mark Harmon. During the engagement, Dawber said," I can't stand these questions like, is he really the sexiest man alive?' And I hate those gossip columnists who announce that the engagement is off because they saw Mark at a fund-raiser without me." She was secretive about marriage plans because, " We don't want our wedding to turn into one of those media circuses, like Sean Penn and Madonna's." Meanwhile she is right there, talking babies and pregnancies with the other future mothers on the set. Harmon usually comes to the filmings on Friday nights, along with the other husbands and boy friends, but so far, he hasn't done yoga. " He really wants to," she says. " It would be good for his football injury. He just hasn't had time."
Dawber was attracted to the idea of Sam because she liked the sister relationship. During development, executives worried that her sister's death would be a problem, but she insisted that she had put it behind her. Perhaps it even imbues the on-camera relationship with a special warmth and poignancy. " Rebecca reminds me of my sister facially. And she's an only child, so we've become her family." She is often big-sisterly to Scaeffer on the set. " Maybe you weren't paying attention," Dawber will tease, and Schaeffer will sit up straight and look at her script. It has been that way since Schaeffer arrived in Los Angeles last spring and suddenly found herself in a television series.
Schaeffer, everyone admits, was a desperate bit of " Friday night casting." Dawber saw a parade of teen-age auditioners. " These sexy sophisticated little Hollywood actresses would come in with all this eye liner on and read a line as if they were going to snake Sam's boy friend." She wanted someone natural; searching through network viseotapes, they discovered Rebecca.
Schaeffer, at this time, was living in New York, down on her luck, and not exactly unsophisticated. The daughter of a psychologist and a writer, she started modeling at home in Portland, Ore., when she was 14 and left home at 16 to try New York. Her fresh, understated prettiness and mask of dark curls got her a lot of work-even a trip to Japan-and eventually her own apartment. She went to the parties and private clubs in New York, and generally had a good time. But when she went home to Oregon to visit, she realized how much her life had changed. " They were decorating the hall for the prom. I was thinking about paying the rent. It was a whole other world. It made me cry."
Soon she found modeling boring and began to seek acting jobs, but the occasional parts didn't cover her rent. " I lost my bank card and they took my phone out. I had no money and I was out looking for a waitress job and a cheaper apartment." And then the classic Hollywood plot turn happened. " I came home and found a note on my door. Warner Brothers wanted me to audition and I had to fly to L.A. that night. I had no phone and I didn't even have enough money for the bus. I ran 20 blocks to find my agent."
Once she landed the part, she became Dawber's charge. She lived in Dawber's apartment for two weeks and drove her jaguar. Dawber bought her a dress for a promotional trip. And when Schaeffer found an apartment of her own, Dawber and Harmon helped her move in and gave her furniture.
Now Dawber describes her as " 28 going on 14." She is tantalizingly on the cusp between child and woman, and in very unusual circumstances for a teen-ager. She has decorated her own apartment and bought herself a Valentino suit and a Chloe dress and a plum-colored Volkswagen convertable. But she will blurt out something that Harmon did for her and then cover her mouth. " I'm not supposed to mention him, am I? She misses being with people her own age and talks wistfully of the week there was another teen-ager on the show. She likes the other women on Sam. " They're really good role models. And I'd like to be like Pam. But-correct me if I'm wrong, all of you people out there-I think they're sorry they didn't get married and have families sooner. It makes me think I'd like to do it when I'm young."
Maybe she will, but show business is more fun than growing up. On filming night, flowers arrive for her from a young man. She seems uninterested. " He's just some guy." The show starts, and so does her adrenalin. She soakes her blouse with perspiration and has to be dried off with a blow dryer after every scene. But veterans O'Hara and Brooks improvise sketches backstage and Dawber laughs and producer Diane English-like a kindergarten teacher-asks them to be quiet and make their costume changes faster. It is crowded back here, and it's hard to see where the day care would go.
Here's An Article From Time Magazine published right after the death of Rebecca Schaeffer.
A Fatal Obsession with the Stars
Monday, Jul. 31, 1989 By ANASTASIA TOUFEXIS
Neighbors said the slight, bookish-looking man with curly brown hair had been wandering the streets of Los Angeles' prosperous Fairfax district for hours. He stopped residents, pulled a picture of a young woman out of a large manila envelope, and asked if they had seen her around. Eventually he learned her address. On Tuesday morning last week, say police, he waited outside her apartment for nearly four hours. Finally he apparently rang her bell. When she answered the door, he allegedly shot her dead.
The victim was Rebecca Schaeffer, 21, a rising actress who co-starred in the CBS series My Sister Sam and is featured in the current movie Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills. Arrested for her murder in Tucson the next day was Robert John Bardo, 19, a former fast-food restaurant worker. Authorities describe him as "an obsessive fan of Miss Schaeffer's."
The words "obsessive fan" cause a premonitory chill among celebrities these days. Increasingly they have seen that the most fervent admirers can turn into crazed attackers. The problem has become more evident since the beginning of the decade, when Mark David Chapman killed John Lennon and John Hinckley shot President Ronald Reagan in a bizarre bid for the affection of actress Jodie Foster. There has been a rash of ugly episodes, some murderous, some merely distressing:
-- A 26-year-old woman was arrested earlier this year after allegedly sending more than 5,000 threatening letters to actor Michael J. Fox. The letters said that Fox and his new wife, actress Tracy Pollan, would die if he did not divorce her. They were signed "Your No. 1 Fan."
-- A former mental patient showed up at Universal Studios last December and allegedly shot and killed two unarmed guards after they refused his demand to see actor Michael Landon.
-- A crazed fan, convicted of knifing actress Theresa Saldana in 1982, has repeatedly threatened to kill her when he gets out of jail. Saldana has waged a public campaign to prevent the man's release. Authorities recently stayed his parole, but it is now scheduled for March.
-- A 41-year-old former legal secretary who calls herself Billie Jean Jackson was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in jail for violating a court order to stay away from singer Michael Jackson's Encino home and stop representing herself as his wife.
-- Talk-show host David Letterman has had his Connecticut home broken into four times and his sports car taken for a spin by a 36-year-old woman who refers to herself as "Mrs. Letterman."
-- Since 1980, a 52-year-old farmer has been convicted eleven times of harassing singer Anne Murray. He called her office 263 times in six months last year.
Such star stalkers are only just beginning to be understood. Most people are attracted by celebrities' aura of glamour, power and wealth, but normal fans know their fantasies are bounded by reality. Obsessed fans do not. Typically they are young, between 20 and 34, and emotionally unbalanced. Unable to forge relationships with the real people in their lives, they imagine intimacy with a public figure. Actors, singers, athletes, politicians -- any will serve their needs.
The attachment is usually expressed as love. In a study sponsored by the National Institute of Justice and released this year, researchers analyzed 1,500 "inappropriate" letters sent to dozens of Hollywood celebrities. Only 5% of the writers cast themselves as enemies or would-be assassins. Others saw themselves as business associates, friends or religious saviors. But the rest acted like spouses or suitors. Says Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist in Newport Beach, Calif., who directed the project: "If you didn't know who the two people were, you would think it was a normal love letter." About 15% of the writers tried to approach the stars personally, usually at their homes.
When obsessed fans turn violent, say experts, it is usually not out of hatred but because their romantic fantasies cannot be fulfilled. Celebrities with the sweetest images may be the most vulnerable, perhaps because their seeming availability makes the frustrated fan's disappointment more intense. Thus an actress like Joan Collins who portrays bitchy characters may inspire hate mail, but those who are seen as the girl next door, like Schaeffer and Saldana, will attract fans who are potentially more dangerous. Those who kill "may feel that they are going to be united in heaven, or that the person is being taken over by devils and that they're going to save them from a worse punishment," explains Janet Warren, a professor of behavioral medicine at the University of Virginia, who worked on the Justice study.
Celebrities, sometimes deliberately, sometimes unwittingly, encourage overinvolvement by their fans. A sort of perverse symbiosis exists between star and votary. Many celebrities lack sturdy egos and are looking for unqualified adoration. Others think that their most emotional and devoted fans are integral to their success and must be cultivated. Dietz deplores the Hollywood routine of answering fan mail. And he is especially critical of the practice of sending out autographed publicity photos: "Sometimes mentally ill recipients interpret the signed photograph as a personal communication confirming, for example, that they are about to be married."
Disturbed admirers may also get the wrong impression when celebrities share their private lives. Some stars appear eager to confide their most personal secrets in popular magazines, and they allow cameras to roam freely in their homes -- even their bedrooms -- on shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. "There's a tremendous need for caution and restraint," says Theresa Saldana. But she and others argue that it is their profession more than their publicity that exposes stars to the public.
Some celebrities invest a great deal of money to protect themselves from their fans. Gavin de Becker, who operates a 100-client security service in Los Angeles, charges those who request full-time protection an average of $225,000 a year. De Becker provides the staffs and publicists of celebrities with 20 pointers to help them screen letters or calls. A direct threat is not necessarily a good indicator of true danger, he says. " 'I'm going to kill you' is as common as a fan letter to many of these people." But, he adds, "it becomes different if someone says, 'I've sold my house, and I'm coming to get you.' " De Becker and his staff of 31 are currently keeping tabs on 5,400 people who may pose a safety hazard to his clients; about half are considered serious threats.
Warning signs of obsession are usually evident long before fans attack. Overardent admirers talk incessantly about their idols. They watch their films again and again or play their recordings over and over. They neglect responsibilities at home, school or work. Sometimes they devote an entire room to a celebrity, filling it with photographs and clippings, making it a sort of shrine. "Families should take this seriously," warns Dietz, "but they usually don't." The next step in the compulsion often involves travel, according to De Becker, first in a random pattern, then with a purpose: to follow the object of their desires.
The alleged killer of Rebecca Schaeffer appears to fit the profile to a % remarkable degree. He kept a video collection of episodes of her television show. He proudly displayed an autographed publicity photo of the actress, and he sent her "an affectionate letter" a year ago. He called her agency several times. Sadly, no one discerned in time the pattern of a fatal obsession.
With reporting by Elaine Lafferty/Los Angeles and Andrea Sachs/New York
For more on Rebecca Schaeffer's death go to http://www.franksreelreviews.com/shorttakes/shaeffer/shaeffer.htm
For some My Sister Sam-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to https://interviews.televisionacademy.com/shows/my-sister-sam
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Keywords: My Sister Sam Cast (Links Updated 7/20/18)