Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Seven Questions with Haywood Nelson of What's Happening!!; COZI TV Soft Launches with Classic Holiday Episodes
"Seven Questions with Haywood Nelson From What's Happening!!"
SitcomsOnline: Hi, Haywood! Thanks for taking the time to do "Seven Questions" with us. We appreciate it and are very grateful! I personally have been a huge fan of both What's Happening!! and What's Happening Now!! and loved watching it! You were great on both shows and you were definitely a fan favorite! Before we get into What's Happening!!, not many people know that one of your first regular roles was on the short-lived Sanford & Son spin-off series Grady, starring the late Whitman Mayo. How was it working on that series as a child and how did you get interested in acting?
Haywood Nelson: Working on the series Grady was very exciting. The opportunity to work along side Whitman Mayo was incredible. I was a complete fan and his comedic timing was impeccable. Coming fresh off of Sanford and Son Whitman's show was a spin-off. I found myself surrounded by comedic icons Redd Fox, Whitman Mayo, Lawanda Page, and a host of others including Joe Morton, Carol Cole, Nathaniel Taylor, Ray Allen, and Hal Williams. It was great.
My interest in acting began early, at age five in the advertising industry. I had a short stint on As The World Turns while most of my work came from the advertising industry. Many commercials were completed before moving into a feature film Mixed Company and on to Broadway in Thieves. I actually screen tested for quite some time with Bern'Nadette Stanis for the Norman Lear series Good Times. This was all prior to the Grady series.
SitcomsOnline: After Grady was over, the following TV season (1976-77) you were cast as Dwayne on ABC's new sitcom What's Happening!! How did you get the role and how did this change your life? I think females were going crazy over you, for sure! Despite the series only lasting three seasons, it was very popular and was huge in syndication after the network run was over in 1980. The show was as popular in syndication as some other series that lasted three seasons or less like Gilligan's Island, Batman and The Munsters. I certainly think What's Happening!! belongs on that list!
Haywood Nelson: When Grady was canceled Whitman Mayo came to my mother and I and said there was a show he wanted me to audition for. That it was very special and I was perfect for it. They required that we depart for New York ASAP. The audition was packed with hopefuls. The show was the TV series of the movie Cooley High which is an all-time favorite film of mine. That and The Big Chill were two at the top of my list. Auditioning was a breeze since I knew the film characters so well. It was only a matter of weeks and I was back on a stage in Los Angeles. The show was quickly being retitled. They asked for names that were hip. Everyone at the table was shouting out ideas. They wanted something popular and hip, I was from New York and a teenager. The answer was easy for me, "What's Happenin." They loved it and named the show What's Happening!!
My personal life for the most part remained the same. Unless in public. There, all anonymity was gone. That took some adjusting to. I also had a lot less time to play drums, draw, or ride motocross. All that are sacrifices temporarily acceptable to me with that type of career path. Also acting in What's Happening!! I saw as an opportunity to make a difference with break out influence. Hence the "Hay HAY Hay." While the girls went wild I was less interested in driving popularity with them as I was interested in seeing more black faces on television.
SitcomsOnline: It seemed the cast, particularly you, Ernest Thomas, Fred Berry, Shirley Hemphill and Danielle Spencer, had great chemistry on this show. It was definitely an appealing show for all ages, particularly younger audiences. Can you share some memorable moments you had with them during this era? Also, what did you love about the character of Dwayne Nelson (how cool that they named Dwayne's last name the same as yours!)?
Haywood Nelson: The chemistry on the show was magical. We instantly became family. The best memories are the blooper worthy show stopping laughing fits. What I loved about the character Dwayne was his honesty. He felt his own sense of style and was committed to getting it out. Yet nothing took a backseat to his innocent common sense, unless he got excited where he was prone to cluelessness. Fun to play!
SitcomsOnline: The series was canceled after its third season despite still decent ratings and ratings even going up overall from the previous season. I know there was some behind-the-scenes issues that were going on this season and probably had more of a say ultimately in the cancelation. I don't want to point any fingers at anyone or anything, but how was it like during this time and did you think the show would be actually canceled? I'm sure fans, and the cast as well, were disappointed that there was no fourth season.
Haywood Nelson: I did not think the series would be cancelled. Behind-the-scenes chicanery aside, the show was very popular. I thought at most there would be some measure of conduct regulation imposed. I never thought it would be cancelled with the strong ratings and statistics it maintained.
SitcomsOnline: So after What's Happening!! was finished in 1979, you focused on technology and were quite successful. I know you told me before when we first met that you always were interested in technology. Can you talk about how this interest came about and how you got into that area after What's Happening!! finished its three-season run?
Haywood Nelson: I've always had an interest in technology. Starting with motorcycle, aerospace, and architecture. The architecture drove me into Electronics Engineering which led to Telecommunications, Satellite Broadcasting, and the first Dotcom. By the time the internet bubble burst I had been prominent in several tech start-ups. Over the course of many years struggling to get rebounded I've partnered with others whose journey mirrors my own and we've built two very strong efforts. One in traditional media and the other in 3D gaming and service entertainment commerce.
SitcomsOnline: Then six years after What's Happening!! finished its run, a new follow-up series in 1985 was born titled What's Happening Now!! Everyone came back basically, except Mabel King, and I thought the show was very funny! It was so great to see Raj, Dwayne and Rerun as young adults. How did this show come about and were you reluctant in doing it since you had moved on to the tech side? I think the ratings were so good in syndication, the series deserved coming back. And I really liked that they made Dwayne interested in computers...was that something you suggested since you yourself are interested?
Haywood Nelson: What's Happening Now!! was developed from an effort that Ernest Thomas put out. I was in engineering school when I was contacted. I was very hesitant to leave my junior year of school, yet was not comfortable with anyone else reprising my role. So I decided to make a go of it against my better judgment. It was the producer's idea to make Dwayne a computer technician. Mostly I believe because they didn't know what else to write for the character. So they emulated my life. Not the most creative thing to do but it made for easy moving through the season.
SitcomsOnline: Basically after What's Happening Now!! was over in 1988 you went back into the technology side and are continuing doing great stuff in this area on shows like Dr. Oz Show. Do you keep in touch with the cast these days like Ernest Thomas and Danielle Spencer? It's truly a shame that we lost Fred Berry (next year will be ten years already), Shirley Hemphill and Mabel King all within a few years (1999-2003) of each other. Did you keep in touch with them and can you describe some recent moments you had with them? And finally, would you ever consider doing a sitcom again and do you have some favorite sitcoms that are airing today?
Haywood Nelson: When What's Happening Now!! completed its syndication run I jumped fast into film production camera assisting. That led to screenwriting, and Film Distribution International. Today it's the same, I am a lighting tech, stagehand in general For Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and The Dr. Oz Show. Additionally I am a founding partner in two companies. One as an Executive Producer/Writer for television show creation, and the other as a Creative Executive for a start-up gaming company with a mobile consumer services application.
I'd describe my relationship with the cast of What's Happening!! as a family. I miss Mabel, Shirley, and Fred regularly, and speak with Ernest and Danielle frequently. The three of us were at an autograph signing not so long ago and the fun never stops with us. It was antics and jokes as always. It's nice too to be enterprising together at these signings.
My experience on What's Happening!! was such a good experience that I would most certainly consider doing another show in the future. Perhaps appear on one of the shows we are executive producing at our company. Unfortunately my schedule doesn't allow for much television viewing beyond my research for a project.
We definitely appreciate Mr. Nelson for taking the time to give us an interview! He is a very nice man and we hope nothing but success for his future projects! Follow him on Twitter! That'll do it for this installment of "Seven Questions," stay tuned next time for another brand new interview!
It's time to get "cozi" just in time for the holidays as COZI TV is set to have a soft launch on Thursday, December 20 through Monday, December 31, before it officially launches on January 1 with a regular schedule! COZI TV, as we reported, is replacing digital subchannel Nonstop on the NBC Owned Television Stations. So if you're in NBC's ten owned markets and have Nonstop, you'll have COZI TV! The network will be airing some Universal-owned series, Charlie's Angels from Sony Pictures and a lot of public domain series. The soft launch will include six days of Christmas episodes from Dec. 20-25 and will start at 6am on Thursday, Dec. 20 with five Christmas episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet from 6am-8:30am. The holiday fun continues on Dec. 20 with The Lone Ranger at 8:30am, back-to-back Lassie & The Beverly Hillbillies, then The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, The Ruggles, another The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet Christmas episode, and Liberace Christmas at 12:30pm. At 1pm & 2pm, we have two holiday episodes of Highway to Heaven, then catch Betty White in Date with the Angels, followed by another The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet Christmas episode. The 4pm hour will have the animated special A Snow White Christmas, followed by Casper's Haunted Christmas from 5-6:30pm. At 6:30pm, catch the COZI TV Preview Show where we will see wacky slow-mo stunts to memorable catchphrases, their all-star panel of hilarious commentators count down the top ten funniest moments from iconic shows. The 7pm hour will feature holiday episodes of Sherlock Holmes and Petticoat Junction.
In primetime on Dec. 20, encores of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet air in the 8pm hour followed by another Christmas episode at 9pm. At 9:30pm, Racket Squad will air its Christmas episode. Another holiday episode of The Lone Ranger followed at 10pm, followed by Roy Rogers Show and Four Star Playhouse. At 11:30pm, the COZI TV Preview Show will get an encore airing. In late night on this night we will have Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Lone Ranger movie, Sherlock Holmes, Petticoat Junction, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and another airing of COZI TV Preview Show at 4:30am. We won't detail the rest of the holiday episodes until Dec. 25, but you'll see shows like The Red Skelton Show, Meet Corliss Archer, He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special, and many movies. From Dec. 26-31, you'll get a preview of what is to come on COZI TV with various episodes of series such as The Lucy Show, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Lassie, Roy Rogers Show, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Red Skelton Show and more. New Year's Eve will see the premieres of The Virginian, Alias Smith & Jones and Marcus Welby in the morning and as part of their New Year's Eve marathon of classics, with Banacek, McMillan & Wife and McCloud in primetime.
View the COZI TV "soft launch" schedule (Dec. 20-31). We will detail the COZI TV actual launch schedule very soon. A hint: Charlie's Angels will air in primetime on Tuesdays, rotating with series like Bionic Woman and Six Million Dollar Man. Stay with us for that! Get cozi!
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