Friday, June 21, 2013

“The Bloodhound Gang” (“3-2-1 Contact”) cast interviews, 1 of 4

If you were a preteen in the early 1980s, you remember shows including The Electric Company, Zoom, The Great Space Coaster, and 3-2-1 Contact.

And if you remember 3-2-1 Contact, you surely remember “The Bloodhound Gang,” a series of short mysteries that may have been the most popular segment of the PBS science show. Children
’s author Sid Fleischman wrote the scripts. It was live-action Scooby-Doo, without a dog.

Refresh your memory with any number of the episodes on YouTube. Then come back to learn the backstory of this beloved series with the following oral history—the first-ever interviews about the show with three four of the gang:

  • Nan Lynn Nelson (“Vikki”)
  • Glenn Scarpelli (“Cuff”)
  • Seth Greenspan (“Skip”)

Kelly Pease, AKA Zach, if you’re reading this, please contact me—I’d love to add your answers!

12/13/13 update: I heard from Kelly and have integrated his answers!

What is “The Bloodhound Gang”?

Seth: We are, or were, a group of youth sleuths who solve crime using science. Mr. Bloodhound was our mentor, an unseen adult character whose only presence was a shadow or fleeting hat and overcoat. I played Skip in the third and fourth season, which was sadly the last.

What years did it run?

Nan: I believe the pilot and a few episodes were in 1979 and then we shot the series in ‘80 and ‘81.

How old were you when you were cast?

Nan: Too old to be playing a 16-year-old. Good genes.
Seth: Let me do the math…I’m thinking 11 and 12?
Glenn: I must have been around 12. I always played younger. I think Cuff (my character) was supposed to be 10.

Kelly: I was 14 years old when shooting began. I always looked 3-4 years younger than I was.

Where were you living at the time?

Nan: I was married and living in the Bronx—told you, too old.
Seth: I was living in a town in central Connecticut called Cheshire. It’s about a two-hour drive to New York City, where the entire series was filmed. My mother, who was very dedicated to helping me in this unusual pursuit, would pack me into the car at 3 a.m. Monday morning and drive me to the usual 5:30 a.m. call time, and we would stay in the city, either with friends and family or in a hotel, for the week.
Glenn: Staten Island. My hometown.

Kelly: I lived in Western Massachusetts. During the shoot, my mother and I would take a 3½-hour bus ride to New York City on Sunday nights and stay with my manager for the week, then go back home on Friday after shooting.

What acting experience, if any, did you have before you were cast?

Nan: I was appearing on Broadway as an original cast member in Runaways by Elizabeth Swados.
Seth: School plays, but had been auditioning for a year.
Glenn: At age 9, I debuted on Broadway in Golda with Anne Bancroft and later appeared on Broadway in Richard III with Al Pacino. Around the same time that I was doing
“The Bloodhound Gang,” I landed a role playing Audrey Hepburn’s son in Peter Bogdanovich’s film They All Laughed.
Kelly: I sang and danced live at Lincoln Center for the Daytime Emmy Awards and for a number on The Crystal Gayle Special on CBS in 1979. Mostly I did TV commercials and had done about 80 [of them] before being cast on 3-2-1 Contact.

How did you find out about the audition?

Nan: My agent at the Fifi Oscard Agency.
Seth: My agent. At the time I had been getting regular callbacks (second time a casting agent sees you) and final callbacks (when they were going to choose) for comedies and some films, so my agent had a good feeling I had a shot.
Glenn: I had an agent and manager at the time. They set up my audition.

Kelly: My manager set it up through an agent.

What did you have to do for the audition?

Nan: On-camera audition from sides from the show, but it wasn’t until the casting director and director came to see me in Runaways that I got the callback and the job.
Seth: The first audition was with a casting director or a member of the casting agency. They videotaped you reading sample scripts called “sides”—about four minutes. Often, this was the last you heard about the role until the show or movie came out. I also managed to make an interesting connection from something in the script to one of my own hobbies—magic—and showed the casting agent a few tricks I knew.

On the second [audition], I met the director, Christopher Dixon (who now is an executive on Wall Street). This time, my agent sent me a sample script to learn, so I had come in prepared. After reading the script, the casting director urged me to show a few tricks, so I spent five minutes doing a coin routine for Chris, who got a kick [out of it].

The final audition meant sitting with Nan and doing a few scenes on tape. I should explain that I was huge fan of the first two seasons of
3-2-1 Contact; I would watch the show every afternoon on the 13” black-and-white set while I did my homework. My favorite part by far was “The Bloodhound Gang.” It was like a promised dessert for finishing all your science vegetables. I even wanted secretly to be named Zach. The first time I heard the name was the second season, when the youngest detective was so named, and I just thought it the most terrific name a guy could have. So when I walked into the room and had to sit next to Nan, I was truly star struck. I don’t know if I showed her the magic tricks, too—all I remember was finding it difficult to concentrate. I mean—I was sitting with Vikki! She must have noticed that I was a little anxious, and she was not only patient, but so friendly that after a minute or two of talking with her, I was totally at ease. 
Glenn: I honestly don’t remember it. LOL.
Kelly: During the first casting, I was the runner-up to Glenn. When he wasn’t available to shoot additional episodes due to getting cast on One Day at a Time, they selected me for the part as the younger Bloodhound. Since my character used a CB radio, they had us do some things using that.

Do you remember what your reaction was when you were cast?

Nan: Ecstatic! I was extremely happy.
Seth: My agent at the time, a wonderful woman named Nancy Carson, could not have broken the news in a better way. I think she had already spoken to my mother, who never broke in expression when I came home from school. But five minutes later, as I watched TV in the basement, the phone rang and my mom announced it was Nancy for me. “Now Seth,” she said, “you know how we always have these really close calls when it looks real promising, but then I wind up having to tell you that the part went to someone else? And that there will be other fun roles that are perfect for you coming along?” My heart sank until her voice changed from somber to joyous, as she said, “I won’t be telling you this time. You got the part!” Few feelings matched that.
Glenn: I was thrilled! I really liked the scripts. I thought they were fun. I couldn’t wait to start shooting.

Kelly: I was so happy since I mostly did commercials and had been so close to landing movies and series before.

Where was the series filmed?

Nan: The show was shot on location all over New York, including City Island in the Bronx. We typically stayed in Manhattan.
Seth: The series was filmed on location in New York and the area around the city, into Westchester and parts of New Jersey. It was done on 16mm film instead of videotape. This was 1981 or 1982, when location video systems were big, bulky, unreliable, and not fun to light, so they went with film instead since we were completely on location.
Glenn: New York. I believe we shot quite often in Brooklyn.

Kelly: All around the New York/New Jersey area. I do remember that we did all the shots of the Bloodhound Detective Agency office (which was in the Wall Street area) in the first week of filming. The reason I remember is that Pope John Paul II visited New York (October 1979) and we stopped shooting to watch from the window above as his motorcade went by.

How long was a typical shoot?

Nan: For an episode, it took about a week of shooting. It was like making a mini movie every week.
Seth: We shot about a month for each season, making 20-25 episodes, each 4-5 minutes long. I would return to Cheshire on the weekends. The production was continuous for each season, for either 4 or 5 weeks total.
Glenn: We shot all the episodes I was in in a few weeks.

Kelly: We did eight shows that made up 16 episodes. It took us about a month to shoot, but I do remember that we would work a lot of overtime. 

What was the hardest part of the job?

Nan: Nothing really. It was fun. There was one guest actress, however, who accused me of stealing her fur coat when she couldn’t find it at the end of the shoot. One of the crew had put it safely away and because she let Marcelino [Sánchez, see part 2] and I try it on earlier, having fun, she assumed I must have taken it when I left the set early for another audition. Marcelino informed me the next day. That was not fun. That was hurtful. Marcelino had my back.
Seth: Being an actor on location is all about “hurry up and wait.” The waiting was tough. You need to be there bright and early so you are in wardrobe and makeup by the time the first set is roughly lit so they can set the frame. Then you stand in your positions while they decide the action and the camera moves, and they do all the fine lighting. Then you do a few takes and finally get to act. Once the director is satisfied, it’s back to waiting while they reposition the camera and lights to take other angles of the same scene, so you step away for 15-20 minutes.

I would find ways to get myself in trouble two ways. The first way, I would wind up at the craft services table, which is basically just snacks. So I was eating way too much and gained 10 pounds each season. I wound up becoming a smoker the second season when there would be cartons of cigarettes for the crew lying around. I was bored, had no scenes, so I would steal cigarette packs and taught myself to smoke. Also taught myself some cigarette magic routines.
Glenn: Leaving it. After the first season I was cast as a regular on One Day at a Time with Bonnie Franklin, Valerie Bertinelli, and Mackenzie Phillips. I loved the people I was working with on
“Bloodhound” but I had the opportunity to move onto a primetime, top 10 show. I had to do it. I was sad to say goodbye to a great group of people.
Kelly: Being away from my home and missing a month of school. I ended up going to a private school in NYC that year due to filming.

Part 2.


Unknown said...

OMG, Im a hopeless nostalgic and I need to THANK YOU for finding these "kids" and bringing me back to my days in padded foot pjs and a bowl of cereal anxiously waiting the BHG segment of 3-2-1- CONTACT! Im having a retro sleepover (Im almost 40-I know, a big kid LOL) and Im streaming all my shows, including this one, of all the shpws my and my peers used to watch. Now we have something to talk about :) :) :) !!!

Unknown said...

Please forget the typos, I get so excited about my findings of my favorite programs growing up lol

Mackrel said...

just saw nan im a dunkin donuts commercial. I said hey i know her started signing the theme song for the show...i watched every single day it was on i was 10 years old. I had an over the moon crush on Vickki. 1st black woman I saw on TV that was cool

jimf said...

I read all 4 parts. Great interview. Can you do something like this for the cast of the original Ghostwriter?

Unknown said...

Don't forget that Marcelino Sánchez (RIP) played Ricardo Lopez a member of the Bloodhound Gang in some episodes as well. He was better known for his role of Rembrandt in the 1979 film The Warriors.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

The cast remembers Marcelino in Part 2: