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Thanks to Carolyn Crapo. Comments and intermediate headers by Andreas Carl in [brackets].

Playboy Magazine, July, 1990

Hanging out with the Bundys

article by PAMELA MARIN

[Monday / Prologue]

Ed O'Neill is flat-out on a couch in a Sunset Boulevard rehearsal hall, one leg draped over the sofa's broken back, a rumpled jacket puddled around him. It's Monday morning, half an hour before the cast and staff of Married... with Children will sit at a long table and read this week's script for the first time. And here's O'Neill, looking for all the world like Al Bundy, his sitcomic persona. He looks weary. He looks beaten but unbowed. He's sunk into the only piece of comfortable furniture in the room, one long, loose sprawl of ex-jock bulk.

As viewers know, Al Bundy played football in high school. Ed O'Neill played in college an had a tryout with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both Al and Ed worry that they're going to seed. O'Neill talks with the director about football and boxing - pure Al. But before the double image fuses into focus, the actor reaches into his pocket and pulls out a prop of his own: dental floss.

The director scoots around the echoey hall with what will seem, by the end of the week, like no more than a daily dose of hysteria - this is a technically tough episode, he says. It's gonna rain inside the Bundy house. Each leak is diagramed and numbered on the set plan, and water is one of the toughest things to photograph, especially on video tape, but it's gonna be great! It's brilliant formula! It's "Al gets the shit kicked outa him!" It's "Al the boob!" Look what the poor schmuck's doing now - he's falling off the roof! Oh, man, great stuff! [You'll find the title below.]

O'Neill listens, O'Neill doesn't listen to what will seem, by the end of the week, no more than customary cheerleading. And he flosses, which we know Al would never do. Al once held a vicious crowd at bay with his two ripe shoes [in "Eatin' out" (311)]. The man's armpits - take it from Peg, his wife - are "the doorway to another dimension [in "I'm Going to Sweatland" (303)]." Bundy, as his fans know so well, isn not hygienically inclined.

In come the other actors, the writers, sundry assistants, a jeans-and-high-tops crowd, plus a suit from Columbia, the studio that makes and owns the series, and a suit from Fox, the network that broadcasts it. If you didn't know better, you might think these two suits were important to the show. You might even think they ran things around here. That would be a mistake. The power in this room belongs to the show's birth parents, executive producers Ron Leavitt and Michael G. Moye - The Guys. If you didn't know better, you might think The Guys pumped gas. Leavitt describes himself and his partner as "just two funny guys, a black guy and a Jewish guy who write jokes." They do a lot more than write jokes, and what they do has earned each of them a small fortune, none of which is apparent at first glance.

Here's Leavitt, Jewish guy, 42, in a battered gray T-shirt and jeans. His clothes look as if they've been through the dry cycle once too often, though they don't exactly look fresh-as-a-daisy clean. His hair is longish and neglected. His cheeks sprout two days growth. His partner, Moye, 35, wears a sleeveless Harley-Davidson T-shirt and black jeans, an outfit that showcases his weight-trained body. He is compact, shorter than Leavitt and a notch more stylish in a fisherman's cap and diamond-stud earring. He uses the word outlaws, somewhat ironically, to describe his and Leavitt's relationship with various forms of authority; at first glance, it's not hard to picture these two staring in another Fox hit, "America's Most Wanted" [a show about criminals at large].

When it's time for the actors to read aloud from the script for "Who'll Stop the Rain?" [411] - better known around the set as The Leaky Roof Show - Leavitt stands. He waits for a moment, but the chatter doesn't subside. He raises his arms in a halfhearted gesture for attention, looking rather like an umpure signaling a bas runner safe. "Hello," he says, almost as an aside. "Hello?"

Gradually, the group quiets and Leavitt, in his soft-pedaled stand-up-comedian's delivery, rolls out a few lines about ratings and the competition - it's sweeps month, so last night's show was up against "Farrah getting naked or something scary," plus it was bumped back 15 minutes in Los Angeles because of a football game. "But fuck it, we're rolling," he says, and everyone laughs, and the two suits lough loudest, and then it's time to start the reading, so Leavitt sits down. "Anyhow," he says, opening his script, "let's see what we got."

[Interlude I: The Guys]

What they've got is slash-and-burn TV. They have a show that sloshes mud and spews bile and stomps through a china shop of clichés - a sitcom that inverts sitcom conventions and succeeds where so many clones have failed. Married... with Children pokes its fingers in the eyes of a quarter century of benevolent dads and dutiful moms and cloying kids. It's aggressively low-forehead, maliciously funny. It's the antidote to Cosbyization. In a medium that incresingly wants to teach us little life lessons - look! There's Doogie Howser, M.D., learning abut death and getting his first boner! - Married revels in frivolity. Nothing is taught, revealed, espoused. No issues are spilled and solved. Al will never get seriously ill. Peg will never debate whether or not to have an abourtion. If Al comes home stinking drunk, Peg will not say to him, "Al, you have a drinking problem. Maybe you should do something about it." None of that kind of stuff will ever happen. The Guys promise.

When Fox was just an itch in media maven Rupert Murdoch's wallet, sitcom vets Leavitt and Moye were seriesless. They were "in development." They were "languishing in hell," says Leavitt. The Guys had been partners for a while, having met on The Jeffersons, a show they executive-produced together in the early Eighties. Their combined résumés included writing or producing credits for Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Silver Spoons and Sanford and Son. They'd had a bellyful of situation-comedy formula, a pabulum Moye describes as "wrapping everything up in a neat little packeag each week so the cast can group-grope up the stairs at the end of the show." They were sick of "the niceness, the sugar, the saccharine." You know, Moye says, "the bullshit."

Leavitt and Moye are in Leavitt's office on Monday afternoon. Piles of paper litter the floor. A six-foot inflatable Frankenstein's monster looms in the shadows. A faded piñata dangles from the ceiling. Plastic weapons crowd a cabinet marked SANDINISTA PRO SHOP. The place looks more like a dorm room than like an executive's offices, its collegiate atmospherics enhanced by the hussy-on-a-hog biker poster and especially by Leavitt's desk, a small, shabby lump buried in paper and topped with a dirty ashtray, a bottle of mouthwash and a king-size jar of antacid.

It's in this murky squalor that the show's six staff writers and two executive producers cobble their anti-sitcom together. Next door, Moye has its own office, a tidy spread that hardly looks used, and along the hall are the writers' nests, but this is the creative cell's home base. This is where they nail down the idea for each show and work each scrept scene by scene, line by line even. From here, one writer departs to bang out a first draft, which is then revised, before and during rehearsals, by the gang of eight. The Guys also sit in the control booth during the Friday-night tapings before a raucous studio audience, and they fine-tune the edit that becomes 22 minutes of completed show. Theirs is an uncommon schedule for executive producers, but then, unproducerly Leavitt and Moye do not "do lunch." The do not "take meetings." The do not cruise around town blabbing on their car phones - they don't have car phones.

"We hate that Hollywood shit," Moye says. "It's boring." "We like to work," says Leavitt. Their work has surely made them M.V.P.s at Fox. It is a source of delight for them now, a measure of success, that when Married debuted in April 1987, Fox's network of affiliated stations was so marginal, "we were on, like, C.B. radio in half the country," says Moye. "Yeah, you brought in your radio, then you got a coat hanger for reception," says Leavitt. "Horrifying," Moye says.

But there they were, in development hell. ("That's when the studio pays you for thinking, so you're supposed to think," says Leavitt. "You come into the office and turn on the TV and wath The People's Court. Then you go out and buy gum.") And into their offices came Garth Ancier, head of Fox programming at the time. He got down on his knees. He begged fro Leavitt and Moye. From his knees, Ancier made the one and only secuctive promise he could, and it sealed the deal: "You can do what you want," he said. "We'll leave you alone." "It sounded lofty, an alternative network, all this freedom," says Leavitt. "It was a good carrot," says Moye. It was time to bust a move.

[Interlude II: The Bundys]

From the pens of these two outlaws came Al Bundy, shoe salesman, sports fan, beer drinker, slob, hitched for 16 years to Peg, who doesn't work or cook or clean, who shops, watches Oprah, eats bonbons, smokes [she stops smoking after season four, though]. Al and Peg have two kids: a wily young son named Bud - after the beer - and a slutty daughter, Kelly. Next door live a Benz-driving banker couple, Steve and Marcy - Bundy foils.

Married stormed into a cathode-lit world of cuddly babies, cocooning Yuppies and beatific Michael J. Fox. It hawked once to clear its throat and spat out a blob of dialog. There was no niceness, no sugar, no saccharine. There were just jokes, razor-edged, pitch black.

Morning in the Bundys' Chicago home, act one, scene one, episode one. Al clomps downstairs and peers into his empty fridge. No juice, he tells couchspud Peg. She says, Buy some on the way home from work. Al: "I'm sorry. Why didn't I think of that? Sure, I don't mind doing the shopping, too. Anything else I can do to make your life a little easier?" Peg: "You could shave your back." Al: "Hey, that hair's there for a reason. Keeps you off of me at night." The sex and sloth themes will endure for Al and Peg, as the have for other shows before and since. The Bundys are descended from the Kramdens and the Bunkers; they've spawned a mainstream ratings queen named Roseanne. But where your standard sitcom dribbles innuendo, the Bundy bunch slam-dunks.

A father-daughter moment. Al: "Comehere a minute, sweetheart. I want you to tell Uncle Steve what your guidance counselor said were the careers you'd be best suited for." Kelly: "Lumber-camp toy or the other woman." In-laws. Al: "Peg, I wonder why you never went after a guy like your father Or weren't there any chronically unemployed social parasites around the month you were in your prime?" Scheduling. Peg: "Saturday, eleven P.M.: Make love. Eleven-oh-five: Al goes to sleep. Eleven-oh-six: Finish making love." Memories. Peg: "By the way, Al, am I still attractive?" Al: "Peg, you're still the same knee-in-the-groin you were when you were sixteen."

With four seasons under its belt, Married has brought in numbers nobody thought possible, a wild wet dream of A.C. Nielsen tabulations spewing weekly. The last Christmas show copped the Fox network's brief history. Some episodes have even won their Sunday-night time slot, beating the doddering old alphabets - ABC, NBC, CBS - at their own game. In November, sweeps month, Married - competing with scary naked Farrah et al. - averaged 18,600,000 viewers nationally, meaning that about a sixth of all TVs were tuned to Al and Peg. This on four-year-old Fox, which is still sometimes referred to in news stories as a "network," the quotation marks meaning "not really."

Remember The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers? How about the show with George C. Scott - George C. Scott! - as the President? What was that thing called? George and Joan enlisted in Fox's first battalion of network challengers. They clambered from the Foxhole and were cut down. Their shows were commercial flops, critical disasters. They were good bets that quickly became bad business. Also on the front lines that premiere season was this starless little sitcom by Leavitt and Moye. Setting the mood, right there with the opening credits, was sinatra singing Love and Marriage. While Ole Blue Eyes crooned, glassy-eyed Al slumped on his couch and passed cash to each member of his family, including his dog. MARRIED, the credits read - then, slammed on screen with a prison-cell clank - WITH CHILDREN. The show soon became one of the very few reasons for Fox's air raids to continue despite a crimson bottom line.

[Tuesday / I Got Sunshine]

Tuesday in the rehearsal hall. The cast is loose, teasing and touching like a bunch of Cleavers or Bradys or Keatons. O'Neill clowns with the actors who play the Bundy kids. David Faustino and blonde sirenette Christina Applegate. David Garrison and Amanda Bearse, who twitch to life the neighbour couple, Steve and Marcy, mix with their colleagues and circle back to tête-à-tête at the primeter of the makeshift set. Katey Sagal, a.k.a. Peg Bundy, romps around the big hall muching carrots, picking at a bagel, smoking, singing. Sagal spent the late Seventies and early Eighties as a Harlette in Bette Midler's stage show and as a backup singer for Bob Dylan, Etta James and Tanya Tucker. In The Leaky Roof Show, she does a few lines from My Girl in time with raindrops falling into buckets in Al and Peg's bedroom. "I got sunshine," she sings sweetly, "on a cloudy day." Her clear soprano is a startling contrast to her throaty speaking voice and booming laugh.

Sagal brought full-figured sultriness to a role conjured for a frump. "A woman lying around the house in a bathrobe" is how The Guys imagined Peg. Someone who never got dressed. Sagal - who never studied acting - read the pilot script and said, "For two people who talk to each other this way, there has to be some hidden element of hotness." the elements come out of hiding in make-up and wardrobe, where the earthy Sagal is transformed into a K mart tart in bouffant hairdo, push-up bra, spandex pants and spike-heeled slippers, the last producing Peg's tottering trot.

Sagal plops down on the rehearsal-hall couch, where O'Neill was last seen flossing, and pages through her script. Nearby is an overstuffed chair and a coffee table, the key props of the Bundy livin room. A couple of mattresses will be used for Al and Peg's bed, where, as viewers know, Peg sleeps with her hands clenched around Al's neck and her knees in his back.

This week, Al will battle not only the weather and his damaged roof but also, inevitably, his doubting family. Why not just call a professional roofer? "There, right there, Peg, is the problem with America," says Al. We've lost our spirit of self-reliance. Something's leaking, call someone. Something's broken, call someone. One of the kids suffers a ruptured appendix, call someone. Whatever happened to the old American spirit of 'I can fix it myself'? What happened to rugged American manhood?" "We don't know yet, Dad," says Bud, "Kelly's test aren't back from the lab." Al Bundy will patch the leaks, but it will be a Pyrrhic victory. Twenty-two minutes and two patio-bound nose dives later, the errant shoe clerk hangs upside down from his roof, mumbling a pitiable "Help me."

The script reads funny, even in rehearsal, with actors flubbing lines they haven't memorized and breaking character to laugh at the better jokes. Sagal has a thought time getting through a line in the second act. It has been raining on Al's side of the bed. He's damp but determined to take to the roof in the morning. While Peg fusses with her nails, Al reaches up to turn off his bedside lamp. When the show airs, Al is seen in this moment framed with bolts of white light, a corny production effect for the electrical current surging through his soggy body. And when the show airs, Sagal delivers her line without giggling. "God," Peg says, as Al's convulsions give way to a stunned slump. "It smells like ham in here."

[Interlude III: Terry Rakolta]

Nielsen numbers multiplied each season: 5,800,000 curious viewers tuned in to the first episode; more than 13,100,00 were watching a year and a half later, in December 1988. One among those millions was a wealthy housewife in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan: the show's most vocal antifan. Terry Rakolta was described in press accounts, including a front-page story in The New York Times, as the wife of a construction-company owner, a country-club member, a mother of three. She sat down with her tykes on Sunday night and watched Married... with Children, and what she saw was not at all to her liking. She was "appalled," she told the Times. The show was "soft-core pornography."

The episode that shivered Rakolta's timbers was titled "Her Cups Runneth Over" [306]. It's known around the set as The Bra Show. Peg's in a funk because the bra style she has always worn - he "fancy-figure 3-2-7" - has been discontinued. To calm his troubled wife, Al goes to a speciality lingerie shop in search of the elusive 3-2-7s, and there he sees the sights that outraged Rakolta. A mannequin in tasseled leather pasties. A geezer in a garter belt. A young stud modeling a tiara. Several scantily clad creamies - one of whom removes her bra. Viewers saw a naked back and a sidelong wedge of tit. Rakolta was not amused.

After she saw The Bra Show, Rakolta dutifully took notes on subsequent appalling episodes. The she wrote a letter and mailed it to 45 of the show's advertisers, whom she accused of "helping to feed our kids a steady diet of gratuitous and violence." She got headlines, a talk-show tour, 15 minutes of fame. And she cost the show one sponsor, Tambrands, the makers of Tampax tampons. Fox's reaction? "Everybody did the manly thing," says Moye, "which was immediately dive behind desks and point fingers at us. You couldn't get your legs under a desk for all the executives under there. You have never seen such wussing. And we're ging, 'One letter? One letter?' I mean, this is an example of what a bored housewife can do with her husband's computer.

That one letter was taken to heart at Fox and Columbia, says Garth Ancier, because it was "intelligently written." It was "type-written." It was "well thought out." And it could cost them big bucks. A 30-second commercial on Married now [in 1989] sells for about $200,000. That's nearly five times what it cost when the series debuted, and more than twice the price for commercial time on Fox's less popular shows. "Advertisers pay attention to people who write intelligently and thoughtfully."

This peek through the corporate keyhole comes from Ancier, who now works at Disney, because no one at Columbia or Fox would go on record - about Rakolta or Leavitt and Moye or anything else. Not one executive would talk, not even the Columbia somebody who gave Leavitt the inflatable monster e keeps in his office, a birthday gift from years ago. Not even the Fox censor: "You can't talk to him," I was told. A censored censor.

Leavitt and Moye knew they could weather Rakolta's onslaught. What pissed them off was the gag order served them by Columbia, the folks who sign their pay checks. "We played that game at first," says Moye. "We figured, OK, they don't want us to talk to the press. I mean, look at us. I guess we look like a couple of barbarians - the 'Outlaws of Comedy,' y' know? God knows what'll happen if you put a camera in front of us. The probably thought we'd moon the world. but we figured that if e weren't going to be allowed to fefend ourselves, somebody was gonna do it. We didn't do anything wrong, and for us to sit here mute gives the illusion that we did something wrong, that we're sorry for something, which is not true. So if you're not going to let me defend myself, somebody damn well better do it. And when nobody did, I just said, 'Fuck the muzzle.'" [You can read more about the housewife's fight on Bundyology's page about Terry Rakolta.]

[Interlude IV: The Lost Show]

Moye is pacing around Leavitt's office. It's Wednesday, two days before they tape The Leaky Roof Show, but Moye, isn't thinking of Al Bundy's home improvements. He's thinking about the Fox censoer and he's thinking about the tape of The Lost Show he's about to load into Leavitt's VCR. He's agitated. These things make him crazy. By the time se went back to mothering and country-clubbing, Rakolta had probably boosted the ratings of the show she tried to sink. Headlines are publicity, after all, and all that talk about gratuitous sex probably added a few fans to the fold. It also brought the censor down to The Guys. Fox had had a standards-and-practises man in place since the network started, but he'd let the producers roam on a pretty loose leash. That was the deal. They lost a joke here and there, hassled over an occasional line. Nothing major. Then after Rakolta's epistle came a script called "I'll See You in Court" [308]. The Lost Show.

Moye says they got 15 censor notes on the script, meaning 15 words or lines the censor considered "too graphic" or "over the edge" or "offensive to certain groups." These were the things they'd been hearing from the censor all along - at the rate of two or three a script - but 15 notes was a whole new game. "We were gonna play ball," says Moye. They made some changes and sent the script back. The censor was on the phone. They made some more changes, caught some more flak. "It got to the point where we had given them all but four notes, which to us was bending double. We were really doing a contortionist job." Still, the censor wasn't happy. By the end of the week, they'd made 13 changes and "the integrity of the show was shot to hell," says Moye. "They were asking us to change things that two months earlier would have been just fine, except all of a sudden, we're supposed to clean it up because one woman wrote a letter. The show had just started to catch on and the attitude was, Oh, God! What if somebody sees us? Suddenly, we're popular and everybody wants to play it close to the traditional sitcoms. My feeling was, if you wanted a clean show, you should have bought My Two Dads in the first place. I mean, is this not my show anymore? Do I all of a sudden not understand my show?"

Moye cues up the video tape in Leavitt's office and sits on the edge of a chair, drinking decaf, chain smoking. He watches the one episode of his show that got away from him: 13 censor changes, integrity show and still it never aired. Ancier says it's the only sitcom episode he's heard of in his 11 years in television that did not air because of censorship. The Lost Show is about sex. Although Rakolta would no doubt disagree, it's a show that reaffirms, in a convoluted, Bundyesque way, Al and Peg's family ties. It begins with Peg and neighbor Marcy discussing ways to spice the Bundy's sex life. How about a change of venue? Cut to the Hop On Inn motel. See Al and Peg watch porn. Watch Al lean back in bed. Know they've done the wild - and, as always with the Bundys, brief - thing. Later, we learn that Al and Peg were video-taped at the motel, as were Steve and Marcy before them. Cut to the courtroom, where Steve plays prosecutor in the couples' lawsuit against the Hop On Inn. Unfortunately for the Bundys, Steve screens the video tapes in court. Steve and Marcy win $10,000 for their multihour performance; Al and Peg's one-minute boogie is judged inconclusive. Or, as the jury foreman says, "No sex, no money."

"It's a cartoon, y'know?" says Moye, fast-forwarding through a commercial break. "A cartoon." Moye ist mostly silent as he watches, but there are script changes that still grate. One is when Marcy is on the witness stand and the motel's lawyer holds up a pair of handcuffs. "Look familiar?" the attorney asks. In the original script, those handcuffs were radishes. "A bunch of radishes - they went wild," Moye chimes in during the scene. "This was an example of where you open the window and do a planet check. I mean, radishes? It's not even sexual. It's just a joke!"

In the convoluted paranoia of the day, the censor ruled for bondage toys over nonsense visual joke. Handcuffs he understood. Radishes were the great unknown. Moye flashes another episode - planet-check time again - when the censor balked at the word crewcuts. In that show ["Poke High" (304)], a dykish P.E. coach was to say to a group of cheerlearders, including Kelly Bundy, "After the game, we'll go over to my house and give each other crewcuts. You seniors know what I mean." "We got a phone call," Moye remembers. "Wild. 'You gotta take out crewcuts.' 'Why?' 'Well, Guys, everybody knows what that means.' 'What does it mean?' 'It means they're going to shave each other's pubic hair.' e said, 'What? You got that out of crewcuts?' 'Well, everybody knows what that means...' I looked in every book," Moye says, holding his temper in. "I looked in dictionaries from other countries. I wanted to see if anywhere in the world crewcuts was slang for pussy shaving. Nowhere. Nowhere! But they really, truly believed this, so we took the line out." [The word "crewcuts" was actually used earlier on the show in "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Part 1" (206), which makes Fox's censorship even weirder.]

Moye restarts The Lost Show tape and leaves the room. He knows how the episode ends. He doesn't want to see it again. He wants to calm down. On the monitor, the motel's lawyer doubts Peg's claim that in their one filmed minute, she and Al had sex. Peg: "All right, it may not be sex to you, but it is to me. Just because you have husbands who can last long enough to time an egg doesn't mean that what Al does doesn't count... Is a crumb not a banquet for a starving person?... Is a fig leaf not clothing for the naked?" Now Peg's off the witness stand. She's being dragged back to her seat, and she's begging with every step: "You can't do this to Al! He'll lose what little confidence he has! You were great, baby! Please, oh, please, don't listen! Don't give up!" The courtroom clears. Al and Peg are alone. He leads her behind the judge's bench and does what we all hope we'll still be doing after 16 years of marriage. The hands of the clock spin. Then we hear voices from behind the bench. Al: "Now, was that sex, or was that sex?" Peg: "That was sex, Al". Peg lights a cigarette and exhales a cloud of smoke. [You can read the entire script of "I'll See You in Court" on Bundyology's pages about the Lost Show.]

[Wednesday / The Bundy Marriage Secret]

It's no news flash to viewers that the Bundys play rough. But Al and Peg, for all their griping, will never cheat on each other. The Guys promise. Al may dream about it. He may drool over each passing piece of nubile scenery. But when he gets turned on by a blonde, he buys his red-headed wife a bleached wig and hauls her upstairs. Peg may go to Chippendales and stash dollar bills in jockstraps, but when she gets the hots for the stripping cowboy, she goes home and shoves a Stetson on Al's head. The simple, unsentimental fact is that Al and Peg Bundy love each other. They nag and rag and spit insults and fume; that's their game. It's fun. And friction by any other name still throws sparks. Many an episode has ended with Al and Peg gliding arm in arm up those well-worn Bundy stairs.

Later on Wednesday, Moye and Leavitt and the writers watch a run-through of the Leaky Roof Show. Between scenes, the rehearsal-hall phone rings. A prduction assistant disappears into the phone both, comes out, tells O'Neill his wife has called. O'Neill excuses himself and steps into the booth. The Guys and their gang wait. The actors glance through their scripts. Sagal - who was about to begin a scene with O'Neill - stands with her hands thrust into her jeans pockets, eyebrows up, eyes wide, staring at the phone booth. "This is not a good time for that," she says quitetly to the director. He shrugs. An awkward minute ticks by, then somebody jokes that this is a commercial break. "Buy a douche!" chirps Leavitt, the perky voice of a TV pitchman. "Get your cunts melling clean and fresh!"

[Thursday / Stardom]

Strangers shout at O'Neill. He might be standing in line for a movie, or buying a hamburger, or grocery shopping. "Yo, Al!" they yell. "Al Bun-dee!" Strangers go up to O'Neill and tell him he's shorter or taller than they expected, younger or older, or just what the imagined. They talk to him as if he were Al and they talk to him in the voice he uses when he's planing Al; they do Al for Ed.

"Weird," says O'Neill. But this is part of it. This is what happens when your mug is plastered on T-shirts (A MAN'S HOME IS HIS COFFIN) and fans paste bumper stickers on their cars (FLUSH IF YOU LOVE THE BUNDYS) and your show is a hit. It goes along with the new home on the beach and the new black Porsche and the guest shot hosting Saturday Night Live. This is life as a bona fide small-screen star.

Like the other Married actors, O'Neill approaches his newly minted celebrity with modesty, with surprise. They all have shiny new toys now. Brentwood-raised Sagal, daughter of the late movie director Boris Sagal, jokingly traces her TV career as a Hollywood climb up the automotive ladder: First season, she drove a 1976 Eldorado convertible; second and third season, a Mercedes; fourth season, a Jag. "Cars are cool," she says with a crooked smile. And buying the cliff-hung hacienda she used to rent was nice, too. "But it's just stuff," she says. "Y' know? It doesn't fix your life."

O'Neill borrows a word from Moye. They all still feel like "outlaws," he says, like they felt the first season, when they were unknowns. Nobody dreamed of the T-shirt-and-bumper-sticker days to come. O'Neill never imagined he'd go to his 25th high school reunion in Youngstown, Ohio, and spend the night signing autographs. That happened last year. So did his and Sagal's appearance on the Emmy Award show - passing out statuettes, not receiving them. O'Neill liked that, in an outlaw sort of way. "Katey and I walked on stage and there was this reaction of, 'Oh, geez, here's these two. They're not going to get anything - they're not even nominated for anything - but they're here, and they're funny....'"

He pauses for a minute, remembering. It's Thursday, dress-rehearsal day in the studio, and O'Neill's standing near the empty bleachers, killing time between scenes. "The show is very popular," he says finally, "but we get no kind of nominations, no kind of awards, no recognition in the television community. I like that. I think in a strange way, it's a compliment. Maybe i't just the Devil in me, but I think it's kind of cool."

Some weeks, dress rehearsal lasts only a few hours, but on this Thursday, for this technically tough Leaky Roof Show, it takes all day. The action stops every couple of minutes so techies can adjust the leaks or the lights or the cameras. O'Neill spends the down time shooting the breeze with the crew. Sagal, an avid reader, sticks her nose in a book. Christina Applegate talks with her mom; David Faustino huddles with his tutor. The director, The Guys and the writers zip back and forth between the control booth and the set.

Word from real life leaks into the Bundy world in the middle of the afternoon. The studio's plainclothes cop reports a shooting out on Sunset Boulevard, just up the street from the lot. Moye is on the set at this point, hanging out with the crew. "Man, everybody needs to relax a little bit," he says. It's hard to tell if he's kidding. Was that a deadpan delivery? Is a joke en route? "What the world needs now," sings a crew member sarcastically, playing along, "is love, sweet love." "I'm serious, man," scowls Moye. "I try to spread it around." The techies and Moye's secretary burst into laughter. "You laugh," says the outlaw exec, "but I'm serious."

[Friday / Epilogue]

Sagal's in the make-up room on Friday, getting her face smeared with ocher-colored gunk. Her hair's in hot rollers and her sneakered feet are prpped up on a counter laden with jars and tubes of industrial-strength cosmetics. The make-up lady applies the foundation to Sagal's cheeks with a small sponge, then brushes deep purple on her eyelids and glues on fake lashes. She hands the actress a tube of lipstikc. "Raspberry Ice," Sagal says, reading the label. "Is that perfect?"

Outside, in the parking lot, Leavitt opens the trunk of his white BMW and strips off his T-shirt. He reaches into a tangle of tennis rackets and wadded clothes and pulls out a buttondown shirt. He puts it on - it's a little tight across his incipient barrel gut - buttons it, leaves it untucked. A passing suit fawns. "Dressed up for the taping, eh, Ron? Whoa! Lookin' good!" Leavitt runs one hand through his greasy hair and smiles.

At 5:30 P.M., and again two and a half hours later, Al Bundy takes to his roof while his family, warm and dry inside, ridicules him. Al gets the shit kicked out of him, like the director said. His effigy crashes to the ground twice; a stunt man dressed like Al dangles outside the living room window in the last moments of the show. There's a new line in the script, a late addition by the writers. Al slinks into the living room on hands and knees after his second tumble. "Al. You're tracking mud on the carpet," says Peg. "Well, it's not all mud," Al whimpers. "Some of it's colon." The colon line grosses out the studio audience. It grosses out the actors and even the roughneck crew - "So we know we've done our job," says Leavitt. It's a line you wouldn't hear on any other network show [years before Unhappily Ever After and South Park], certainly not on another family sitcom. And while it may not be everyone's idea of humor, some of us love it for its bravado. It assures us that Married... with Children will never preach or teach or slime us with loving goo. It tells us this is just a cartoon.

The Friday-night tapings are rowdy as always, every seat taken. The audience is a few decibels louder than usual, due to a group of Marines in attendance. "Yo, Al Bundee!" they yell. "Yo, Peg! Divorce him and marry me!" Moye will say later that he thought of the Fox censor when he saw those Marines in the bleachers. He imagined pointing to the censor and saying to the grunts, "See that guy right there? That guy thinks you shave each other's pubic hair when you get crewcuts! He thinks you're a bunch of sissies. Moye will also say later, while he and Leavitt edit The Leaky Roof Show - Moye laughing at the scripted jokes, Leavitt scribbling notes - "We love a good punch line, y'know? We're just a couple of slap-happy guys."

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© Andreas Carl 2000