Question: I don't know if you get into this kind of detail, but here goes. What breed was Dreyfuss, the dog from Empty Nest? Thank you. Brian B., Oakes, N.D.
Televisionary: As far as I can divine, Dreyfuss, the dog who served as a best pal to widower pediatrician Dr. Harry Weston (Soap's Richard Mulligan) during the show's 1988-95 run on NBC, was a mix of Saint Bernard and golden retriever, Brian. But as far as co-star Dinah Manoff, who played one of Weston's daughters, was concerned, breed didn't matter. All that counted was that the big, lovable pooch upstaged her.
"Enough with the dog already. Okay?" the actress complained when asked about Dreyfuss (his real name was Bear) by a TV Guide interviewer in 1989. "I mean, I have to say nice things about everyone in the show, but I'm getting a little tired of hearing about that damn dog. My friends say, 'Oh, Dinah, we love your show, but what's it like working with that dog?' Everyone wants to know about the damn dog. What is the dog, John Travolta? Should I say I get nervous when I'm around him, he's so attractive? I haven't heard talk like this since I was 3."
Actually, she'd heard it more recently than that. Try 19, when she was in Raid on Entebbe. "I had a scene where a terrorist is threatening me," Manoff recalled. "I'm carrying a little dog, and I give the dog to another child, and my line is 'Take care of him and don't let him get cold or anything.' I said it just as badly then as I did now. Next day I asked to go to the dailies and watch the scene. When it was over the producer [Edgar Scherick] turned to me and said, 'Dinah... Diiinaaah... the dog is wonderful.' That's what's happening to me now. 'The dog is wonderful....' Here's to getting all dogs off sets and into homes, where they belong."
Mind you, Manoff wasn't to be taken too seriously when ranting like that her bark was worse than her bite, as castmate Park Overall explained at the time. "She tortures me to death. I'm a country girl, and I don't understand her vicious big-city sense of humor," she said. "I went to her one night and said, 'Dinah, I have a bad feeling that I'm not doing good this week.' And she said, 'Park, it's true. I've heard they're writing you out of the show....' She keeps me in line."
Of course, Overall wasn't being written out of the show. Paul Provenza, however, who came on board as a boyfriend for Manoff's Carol in 1992, wasn't so lucky. He lasted only a season, but was around long enough to get Carol pregnant (her son was born the following season).
But the show's biggest and saddest departure was that of Kristy McNichol (Family), who played Harry's other daughter, police officer Barbara. She left the show abruptly in 1992 because of a battle with depression. "I've had a bipolar disorder since I was 18," she said in 1995. "It's like manic-depressive illness. I'd been able to control it, but when I turned to 30, something happened with me psychologically, and I had some problems with my hormones and chemical imbalances. I had to choose between doing the show and taking care of my health. It was the hardest thing I've ever done." (Lisa Rieffel joined the cast as another Weston daughter, Emily, in 1993, but stayed for only half a season. Happily, McNichol was able to make it back for the show's final episode.)
Mulligan, for his part, understood how grueling series work could be, even without the challenge presented by an ailment. Before tackling Nest, he starred in Soap, another hit series from talented writer/producer Susan Harris. "It wasn't easy for anyone on Soap; near the end of the season, you'd see people slumping between scenes," he said in 1988. "I remember finishing the final episode of this one season on a Friday.... Afterward, I drove over to see this doctor in Beverly Hills, and I get out of my car in this parking structure, and there's Billy [Crystal, another Soap player]. And each of us says to the other, trying to be super casual, 'Oh, I'm just dropping in to see the doctor for a check-up....' After a while, I just said to Billy, 'Actually, I'm tired, not feeling great, and I don't get quite why.' And Billy said, 'You feel that way? Me too.'"
So as you can see, the sitcom grind is a dog's life all around. (Thank you, folks. I'm here all week.)