Paramount; NBC Studios

From The Desk Of Warren Littlefield: The Must See TV Crossovers That Could Have Been

Airlifting a character from one TV show into another was a common practice for Must See TV shows. But the network could have done more -- and would have, had anyone followed through on this beautiful fever dream.

To bolster viewership during sweeps periods, NBC would deploy strategic crossovers between similar shows: in 1995, the doctors on ER flirted with Rachel and Monica on Friends; in 1996, Lennie Briscoe and John Munch competed to out-eyeroll one another up and down the I-95 corridor between Law & Order and Homicide: Life On The Street...you get the idea. We have, for the first time, a memo from then-network chief Warren Littlefield, written during a bout of severe influenza and/or heavy Sudafed use, in which he proposed something he termed "the mother of all crossovers," which, among other things, reveals how far Littlefield was prepared to go to sell The Jeff Foxworthy Show to the nation.

Date: November 12, 1996
To: Leslie, just get this to the right people
CC: David Angell, Fred Barron, Kevin Bright, Bernie Brillstein, Peter Casey, Robert Cohen, Larry David, Dottie Dartland, Gary Dontzig, Jim Finnerty, Tom Fontana, Brad Grey, Nancy Haas, Brad Hall, Marta Kaufmann, Danny Jacobson, David Kohan, David Lee, Barry Levinson, Steven Levitan, Bill Martin, Max Mutchnick, Marco Pennette, Steven Peterman, Paul Reiser, Jerry Seinfeld, Phil Simms, Joseph Stern, Bob Tischler, John Wells, Dick Wolf, Lydia Woodward
From: Warren Littlefield
Re: OUR BIGGEST CROSSOVER EVENT YET

Several of you are already aware of the critical and ratings successes that previous crossover events have generated for our lineups. In preparation for February 1997 sweeps, I want you all to be aware that we are expanding the scope of our crossovers.

Suggested plot points include:

  • HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET's Detective Munch is abducted by aliens. He has to fly up to Boston to consult with a leading UFOlogist. One of the walking meat sticks from WINGS is his pilot. Munch spends time in a BOSTON COMMON campus hangout, then gets a pointer from one of those supporting characters (find the cheapest) to maybe talk to professor Dick Solomon of Pendleton College. Also, Jeff Foxworthy is on the WINGS flight wearing a Red Sox cap or something.

  • So then Munch heads to wherever we've stashed the aliens on 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN, and they refuse to help him, so he calls up a talk radio station and ends up accidentally co-hosting a newscast with Phil Hartman on NEWSRADIO. Jeff Foxworthy calls in.

  • Fed up with being a producer of news instead of the audience, Munch calls in to The Frasier Crane Show on FRASIER. The phone conversation is interrupted by Jeff Foxworthy.
  • Meanwhile, blocked documentary filmmaker Paul is pushed toward Munch by his hag wife Jamie on MAD ABOUT YOU. (I know you read these memos, Helen Hunt. It wouldn't kill you to smile more and consider going down to two meals a day like the girls on FRIENDS.) Munch flies from 3RD ROCK country to New York City -- work in the pilots from WINGS again, the one that just made the People "most beautiful" list this time. He lands, he accidentally insults a cartoon character and ends up hurting CAROLINE IN THE CITY's feelings, it's comically awkward. Jeff Foxworthy consoles Caroline.
  • Now, it gets tricky here because we overscheduled all those shows about plucky women in the media, so...look, Wendie Malick can dance, right? Maybe have her in on the alien abduction plot, I don't know. The real gamble on Wednesday night is going to be when Munch meets up with Briscoe again on LAW & ORDER. I'm iffy on Richard Belzer's chemistry with this franchise, but let's try it. They will be investigating Jeff Foxworthy's murder.
  • Although market research claims we need to build this event around the middle-aged white men -- that's why the emphasis on Belzer and Foxworthy -- Thursday's a challenge because there's just so damn many women. Let's solve that problem by jumping over to the FRIENDS all reacting to Jeff Foxworthy's death -- maybe have Chandler ask, "Could I BE any less of a redneck if I'm not sad over Jeff Foxworthy?" and have Phoebe grief-date the lead blando from THE SINGLE GUY. Jerry can worry that he's next on some stand-up comic hitlist and that'll burn 22 minutes of primetime. Then let's just go to ER and have Dr. Green abducted by aliens. Full circle, that's what we're going for here.

  • Friday? Look, I'm tired of this damned murder show getting a lot of critical love and no ratings. So sex it up with Rachel from FRIENDS coming to the Inner Harbor for some crabs. Have the handsome man from WINGS fly her down. Maybe pull in some second-string photographer characters from all eight thousand single-women-in-the-media shows we run -- Enrico Colantoni will be grateful we don't make him fly Coach -- and toss in Benjamin Bratt for some more eye candy because woof, Yaphet Kotto's not landing on the Beautiful People list any time soon -- and just have the whole episode end with Maria Bello's cute little ER doctor filing a missing person report with Richard Belzer. Like I said, FULL CIRCLE.

Your shows are staffed with some of the most creative minds in the business and made with some of the industry best-compensated actors. I expect you all to figure out how to make this work. Get me story outlines and budgets by November 26. We begin cutting promos on December 12. Happy holidays!

P.S. We are exempting DATELINE from this event. Apparently, Elizabeth Vargas, Stone Phillips, and Tom Brokaw have been conducting something they claim is "investigative journalism" into our internal accounting practices and someone from Legal is mumbling things about leverage and contractual clauses.

P.P.S. We are also exempting CHICAGO SONS from the crossover event, because some gypsy woman I met at Lollapalooza in 1993 predicted that any show Paula Marshall appeared on would end prematurely and we absolutely cannot afford to lose our positioning on Tuesday or Thursday nights. February's going to be competitive.

P.P.P.S. Finally, don't mention this to the people who work on THE PRETENDER or PROFILER. We...look, nobody who watches television on a weeknight would recognize Michael T. Weiss if he was taking their lunch order. There's no point in creating extra work here.

But we can always threaten the Matthews LeBlanc and Perry with a nice PROFILER crossover if they pull any more of this salary-negotiating bushwah again. So maybe don't tell your actors the Saturday shows are off the table. Use it to re-establish dominance on the set (COUGH COUGH PAUL REISER).

This memo is a work of satire. We made it up.

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