Interesting Stories About Actors In '90s TV Dramas

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Vote up the stories that make you miss the dramatic '90s.

The '90s reintroduced adults to cartoons, reinvented sitcoms, and reinvigorated TV dramas with mesmerizing prime-time soaps and sophisticated procedurals less burdened by FCC content regulations. Characters on '90s TV dramas could swear more, wear less, and engage in more realistic adult activities than ever before. Viewers devoured the dramas, networks churned out more - of even higher quality and greater diversity - and syndication helped turn many of the decade's most popular TV actors into international superstars.

These stories about actors in '90s TV dramas might make you feel nostalgic for the hormonal halls of West Beverly Hills High, the blood-soaked streets of Amphipolis, or the dusty confines of "Spooky" Mulder's basement office.

  • James Gandolfini Gave His 'Sopranos' Castmates
$33,000 Each After Settling An HBO Contract Dispute
    Photo: HBO

    James Gandolfini of The Sopranos leveraged the show's popularity to aggressively pursue more money from HBO going into Season 3, even though his salary for Season 2 had already been doubled to $10 million. Described as a "brilliant actor but a complicated guy" by HBO, Gandolfini was threatened with a "breach of contract" lawsuit if he did not give up his demands. With the prospect of The Sopranos being shut down and all of his castmates and the crew being out of work, Gandolfini finally settled with HBO for a Season 3 bump of $13 million, or $1 million per episode.

    Unlike Tony Soprano, however, the late Gandolfini had a generous heart, especially when it came to his fellow actors. After his victory over HBO, and presumably as a way to apologize for threatening their livelihoods, Gandolfini surprised each of his castmates with a check for $33,000. Co-star Steve Schirripa, who played popular character Bobby Baccalieri for 53 episodes of the series, sang the praises of his former co-star's generosity: 

    As good of an actor as he was, he was a better guy. A generous guy. The guy gave us $33,000 each - 16 people. There's a lot of people who made a lot more money than him. In Season 4, he called every one of the cast members and gave us a check. He said, "Thanks for sticking by me." It's like buying 16 people a car.

  • Mariska Hargitay Was Inspired By 'Law & Order: SVU' To Become A Counselor And Found An Organization To Support Survivors Of Abuse
    Photo: NBC

    Law & Order: SVU is a long-running TV drama that features extremely dark topics episode after episode. But rather than let the show's subject matter destroy her spirit, lead actress and sometimes director Mariska Hargitay has found playing detective (and later captain) Olivia Benson for 20-plus years emboldening. The role inspired her to not just play the part on screen, but also become a real-life advocate for those who have been abused. 

    Hargitay underwent training to become a rape counselor and launched the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004 to "transform society's response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse." Through the foundation, Hargitay launched the "End the Backlog" campaign to raise awareness of a need for a more streamlined process for reporting and tracking rape kit data. Hargitay even testified twice before Congress on the issue, which subsequently allocated $131 million for the Sexual Assault Kit initiative. Hargitay said:

    That's all these women need is to be believed. They need to be respected and seen and heard, and somebody go, "I'm so sorry." And that person needs to be held accountable.

  • George Clooney Wrote His Lines On Props He Used While Filming 'ER' To Help Remember His Complex Medical Dialogue
    Photo: NBC

    Though it would go on to become a massive hit for NBC spanning 331 episodes over 15 seasons, ER was not immediately embraced by studio executives. Creator Michael Crichton's medical "action drama" was a hard sell. The first screening of ER did not go well, according to former NBC exec Kevin Reilly. A major criticism from the "higher-ups" was the rapid-fire dialogue, which was heavy on medical jargon, and the sometimes frenetic first-person camera work.

    Apparently, the execs weren't the only ones who struggled with the pace and content of the dialogue. George Clooney, who had few acting credits of note to his name when he landed the role of Dr. Doug Ross, was compelled to use crib notes to remember his lines, scratching out his dialogue on props used while filming his scenes. Because doctors frequently use medical clipboards, Clooney used them extensively for his notes - you can even see his eyes lingering on them in certain episodes - but ER co-star Noah Wyle revealed that Clooney also used more imaginative props as literal crib "sheets":

    He developed a technique where he would write the lines on the patient's bedsheet, so he could look down and read.

  • Two Of Jerry Orbach's Three Emmy Nominations Were Not For 'Law & Order' - And His First Was For 'The Golden Girls'
    Photo: NBC

    Before his untimely passing in 2004, actor Jerry Orbach had achieved critical acclaim for his acting. His portrayal of tough-talking detective Lennie Brisco on Law & Order for 12 years made him an integral part of the cast and earned him a 2000 Emmy nod for outstanding leading actor in a drama series. Orbach provided the voice of Brisco in three video game adaptations and was about to take the tough detective to another series, Law & Order: Trial by Jury, before he passed (both episodes were released posthumously).

    Although Brisco was a very good character for Orbach, the street-smart detective was only his latest to receive acclaim. Orbach spent a great deal of his 49-year acting career in musicals. He reminisced in 1997:

    They always picked me for the class play and this and that from the time I was about 9. And I always sang, sang with my mother, sang in the choir. I won the state singing contest in the baritone division without really any training; didn't know what I was doing.

    Orbach received his first Tony nomination for Guys and Dolls in 1965 and won the award for Promises, Promises in 1969. Another Tony nomination followed, as did movie and TV roles, including that of an old flame on The Golden Girls. In the Season 5 episode "Cheaters," Orbach played Dorothy's (Bea Arthur) recently divorced ex-boyfriend Glen O'Brien. Orbach's charming yet lonely Glen earned him a 1990 Emmy nomination for outstanding guest actor in a comedy series. Two years later, Orbach joined the cast of Law & Order, but not before he again received acclaim for a non-Brisco character. His portrayal of angry, philandering husband Jack Jerome in the made-for-TV comedy movie adaptation of Paul Simon's Broadway Bound earned him his second Emmy nomination.

  • 'NYPD Blue' Creator Steven Bochco Refused The Demands Of 'Malcontent' David Caruso
    Photo: ABC

    After redefining police crime dramas with the creation of Hill Street Blues in the early 1980s, prolific writer, producer, and showrunner Steven Bochco looked to do it again in the mid-'90s with NYPD Blue. Bochco wanted the show to push boundaries with its "realistic grittiness," including depicting "adult sexual relationships more realistically than broadcast TV ever had," and to do so he needed a strong cast. Bochco wanted to fill the cast with the best possible actors, which is why he was willing to take a bet on David Caruso, despite his reputation for being "difficult." According to People, Bochco said Caruso "was a big-time malcontent, but he was also terrific in the role."

    As Bochco recounted in his memoir, Truth Is a Total Defense, Caruso's on-set behavior was worse than anticipated: 

    Caruso's behavior was, simply put, cancerous. He was emotionally unavailable to everyone, and he was volatile, moody, or sullen, depending on the day.

    Things got out of hand so quickly that, rather than bow to Caruso's demands, Bochco chose to let him go just four episodes into the second season:

    Caruso wanted... One, $100,000 per episode. Two, Fridays off. Three, a 38-foot trailer. Four, an office suite on the lot, replete with his own development executive, for whom we had to foot the bill to the tune of $1,000 a week. Five, two hotel suites in New York when the company went there on location, plus a dozen first-class plane tickets. And, lastly, Caruso had to have additional security to shield him from his adoring public.

  • Gillian Anderson Ate A Live Cricket For An
Episode of 'The X-Files'
    Photo: Fox

    In an episode of The X-Files that featured bugs, Season 2's "Humbug," Gillian Anderson was supposed to pick up a live cricket, then have it swapped out with a candy bug. Rather than wait for her cue to "cut" and proceed with the swap, Anderson simply tossed the squirming insect into her mouth, chewed it up, and swallowed it whole. Her co-star, David Duchovny, was grossed out, and the director was impressed.

    The incident continues to be a topic of conversation whenever Anderson and Duchovny are interviewed about the show (though the insect is often confused to have been a cockroach, even by the cast).