Action and/or Adventure, Drama, Television

Tom Wopat in: Sons of Anarchy

as: Bobby Elvis

It’s been almost two years since Sons of Anarchy wrapped up its epic seven-season run on FX. The Shakespearian biker-gang drama went out guns a-blazin’ with a final season that shook the show’s Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original (SAMCRO) to its foundation. Lots of characters, both beloved and behated, wound up taking dirt naps by the end, and, arguably, none of those final season deaths had more of an effect on SOA’s ultimate resolution than that of Robert “Bobby Elvis” Munson. I know I teared up when Bobby bit the dust.

Perhaps the only way it could’ve had a bigger impact is—you guessed it—if Tom Wopat had played the part.

Wopat of Anarchy

SOA

Bobby Elvis was originally portrayed by Mark Boone Junior, and, other than their physical differences, he and Tom Wopat are essentially analogous. Both are accomplished (if unheralded) singer-songwriters, both are Midwesterners (from Ohio and Wisconsin, respectively), and both are in their early sixties. Both clearly know their way around high-powered vehicles, as Boone and Wopat both did much of their own driving in Sons and Dukes of Hazzard (though Bobby’s motorcycle is a decidedly different beast than the General Lee).

On Sons of Anarchy, Bobby Elvis is, generally, the level-headed voice of reason among the MC’s leaders. Wopat’s laidback, soft-spoken style would perfectly fit this aspect of the character. It’s easy to picture Bobby Wopat talking some sense into (or at least attempting to) Ron Perlman’s Clay Morrow or Charlie Hunnam’s Jax Teller as they sit around the big table at the club’s meetings.

At a good five inches taller than Boone, Wopat would be more on the level, physically, with Perlman’s imposing gang leader. Though Clay and Bobby never came to blows, a taller (though much thinner) Bobby could’ve given the character more weight (ironically) in their interactions.

Early on in the series, we see how Bobby got his nickname: he’s a semi-professional Elvis impersonator. The long-haired, bearded, portly Boone didn’t look much like Elvis, but he sold it with his enthusiasm and far-better-than-expected singing. I think we can all agree that Tom Wopat would make a much more convincing faux-King of Rock & Roll, and we know he’d be more than capable of singing some Elvis tunes. After Bobby’s first appearance in his Elvis getup, we never see him performing again. With Wopat in the role (and doing a much better job of Elvising), it’s possible it would’ve been more of a recurring thing, a bit of comic relief to lighten the often-heavy overall tone of the show.

Photo credit: anieto2k via Source / CC BY-SA

Classics, Drama, Television

Tom Wopat in: The Sopranos

as: Silvio Dante

When The Sopranos first started its run, James Gandolfini and Tom Wopat had roughly the same amount of quote-unquote star power, so it’s not unthinkable to imagine Wopat being cast in the lead role of the series. But, given how flat-out spectacular Gandolfini was as Tony Soprano, it’s clear that no other actor could’ve played the part as well.

Silvio Dante is another story, however. Don’t get me wrong, Steven Van Zandt was a revelation as Tony’s consigliere—who knew Bruce Springsteen’s lead guitarist could act?—but Tom Wopat could have, nay, would have been even better.

Key Changes

While nearly all the actors in major roles (and many minor ones) in The Sopranos really are of Italian heritage, Tom Wopat is not. This generally isn’t a big deal in Hollywood, where people professionally pretend to be people they’re not, but on a show that’s about the Mafia, and that does a very good job playing up the importance of the Mafia’s “rules,” it could’ve been a deal breaker. However, there is precedent for non-Italians holding important positions in the mob in fiction: Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) in The Godfather was the Corleone family consigliere for many years, despite being 100 percent Irish.

He's a pinball stugots, there has to be a twist...

He’s a pinball stugots, there has to be a twist…

Though it wouldn’t be much of a stretch for Wopat to portray an Italian—he’s certainly got the hair for it!—it’s possible that the character would’ve been rewritten in more of a Tom Hagen mold. An “outsider,” if you will, that nevertheless is a trusted member of Tony’s crew. Perhaps he grew up in the same neighborhood as Tony and, after an initially contentious relationship that resulted in many a fisticuff, the two gained a grudging respect for one another that evolved into true friendship.

If that were the angle the writers took, the character would, of course, need to have a different, non-Italian name. Our suggestion: Jimmy “The Duke” Lucas. (See what we did there?) A good number of characters on The Sopranos are address by nicknames—Paulie Walnuts, Uncle Junior, Big P***y, Johnny Sack, even Silvio was often referred to as just “Sil”—so Wopat’s character could’ve been called both Jimmy and Duke in equal measure.

Apart from that, the character could’ve remained essentially the same. Tom Wopat could easily have brought the same balance of gravitas and humor to the Silvio (or Jimmy) role that Van Zandt did. He looks great in a suit (as Silvio was almost always dressed to the nines). We’ve seen him beat up goons on The Dukes of Hazzard, so him knocking the stuffing out of a guy with a Dust Buster would’ve been completely believable. And, while we don’t have anything to support this, Wopat probably smokes a mean cigar, too.

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Action and/or Adventure, Drama, Television

Tom Wopat in: Game of Thrones

as: Ned Stark

In the blockbuster HBO series Game of Thrones (and the Song of Ice and Fire novels by George R.R. Martin on which the show is based), Eddard “Ned” Stark, is the honorable, loyal, and just lord of Winterfell and warden of the North—a vast portion of the story’s fictional kingdom of Westeros. Originally portrayed by Sean Bean, Ned was the show’s moral center and nominally its main character throughout the first season. However (SPOILER ALERT for a 6-year-old TV episode and a nigh 20-plus-year-old book), in the series’ ninth episode, Ned is executed by the newly-appointed king of Westeros, Joffrey Baratheon.

Always the same weather report with this guy.

Always the same weather report with this guy.

Because Sean Bean’s characters always seem to die in every plum role he plays (see: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), we thought we’d give the poor guy a break and put someone else in the role, someone whose characters have never died onscreen. We are, of course, referring to the one and only Tom Wopat.

Representative Scene: Outside the Great Sept of Baelor

Ned Wopat, wrongly accused of treason, is forced to plead his case before Queen Cersei Baratheon (nee Lannister), her son Joffrey—who became king after the death of his father Robert—and the King’s Small Council. A huge throng of citizens from King’s Landing (the capitol of Westeros) has gathered to witness the spectacle.

Ned’s daughter, Sansa, has been captured by the Kingsguard—kind of the Westerosi Secret Service, but with a lot more swords and blatant, brutal murders of the King’s enemies. And, since King Joffrey is an insufferable little turd who orders killings left and right, those murders add up quickly. Learning that Sansa’s life is danger, and having struck something of a plea bargain with Cersei and Joffrey, Ned agrees to confess to his “crimes.”

Despite his confession, King Joffrey the Turd orders his goons to execute Ned Wopat anyway. Just as the executioner prepares to swing his sword and behead Ned, a trumpeter, previously hidden in the crowd, blasts out a rousing twelve-note call to arms. A Northern war wagon, painted bright orange, drawn by four of the mightiest chargers in all of Westeros, and driven by a hooded figure, comes barreling toward the sept. King’s Landingers diving out of its way as it speeds onward.

Ned kicks his would-be executioner’s legs out from under him, jumps to his feet, and dives into the cart as it passes. The hood of the driver’s cloak is blown back by the wind, and we see that it is his brother, Brandon Stark (played by John Schneider, naturally), who was long thought to be dead.

Brandon Schneider-Stark pilots the war wagon up the bed of a conveniently-placed-and-tilted-downward flatbed cart. With an exuberant “Yee-haw!” the Stark Boys, horses, and wagon ramp off the cart and fly through the air, up and over the walls of King’s Landing. They land perfectly on the other side, the horses hit the ground running, and they head due north to freedom.

Also, Sansa escapes somehow and meets up with them later.

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Classics, Comedy, Television

Tom Wopat in: Cheers

as: Sam Malone

Cheers is one of the most beloved television programs of all time, and Ted Danson’s portrayal of Sam Malone was undeniably a huge part of the show’s success. Danson won two Emmys and two Golden Globes for his performance.

Though it’s now quite hard to imagine anyone else in the role, several other actors auditioned for the part first, including Ed O’Neill (who later played Al Bundy in Married…with Children and Jay Pritchett on Modern Family), William Devane (now famous for his role on Knots Landing, among other things), and former NFL player Fred Dryer. John Lithgow missed his scheduled audition due to illness (what a different show that would have been).

What if Tom Wopat had jumped ship from The Dukes of Hazzard after its second season and won the role of “Mayday” Malone?

Wopat the World is blogged in front of a live studio audience.

Key Changes

To be honest, the Sam Malone part wouldn’t have needed many changes with Wopat instead of Danson. Wopat is a few years younger than Danson, but that likely wouldn’t’ve made any difference for the character. Wopat certainly had the right build to portray a former major league baseball player.

One thing that would have been different is the hair. Now, it cannot be denied that Sam Malone sported a glorious, manly mane throughout Cheers’ run. But, in reality, Ted Danson wore a hairpiece for much of that time; Sam ultimately revealed his baldness to Carla in the 1993 episode “It’s Lonely on the Top”. Tom Wopat has no such follicular impairment—in the ‘80s, the guy had hair for days. He still does, of course, it’s just considerably more tame at present.

Another, considerably larger change to the show: Diane never would have left. Tom Wopat’s Sam Malone just would’ve been too derned good looking and suave for it believable that any woman would want to leave him behind. Unfortunately, this would’ve made Cheers a far lesser show, as I feel that it was far better with Kirstie Alley in the cast. (Or, more accurately, without Shelley Long in the cast.)

Photo credit: Mario Sixtus via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Action and/or Adventure, Television

Tom Wopat in: MacGyver

as: Angus MacGyver (Who else?)

The timing of this one would’ve been perfect, as MacGyver began airing in the fall of 1985, after The Dukes of Hazzard had wrapped up its run in the spring of that year. Sure, Richard Dean Anderson would’ve been out of a job, but with Tom Wopat in the Angus MacGyver role, who would’ve missed him?

No one, that’s who. Wopat FTW!

Representative Scene: Opening Gambit

Obviously, for anyone to be a true MacGyver, they’ve got to do some MacGyvering. Anderson did a more than admirable job of this, as he basically invented it, but we think Tom Wopat could’ve been even better. The two actors share a similar physicality, and at the time had equally spectacular ‘80s hair. Luke Duke knew a thing or two about tinkering, having customized the General Lee to the hilt, so Wopat would likely have felt right at home rocking the Swiss Army Knife.

MacGyver’s “Opening Gambits” are the show’s cold opens where MacGyver MacGyvers his way out of a jam prior to the opening credits. Because they’re largely context-free, with MacGyver already elbow-deep in a mission, the Opening Gambits are a great place to start imagining Wopat in the role.

macgyver

Finding himself locked in a cluttered storage room by an unnamed villain, MacWopat must free himself using only what is readily available around him (as the character so often must).

Though he can’t just pick the dang lock, Tom MacGyver manages to unbolt a lengthy section of the room’s tubular ventilation shaft using just his bare hands. With a wide nylon packing strap he finds on one of the room’s many shelves, he secures the vent tube to a stack of wooden pallets.

MacWopat then stuffs a full beer keg, one of many stored in the corner of the room, into one end of the tube. The other end is pointed at the room’s sole door. He somehow unscrews the pressure gauge from the boiler (because of course that would be in the room, too) and jury rigs it onto the keg’s bunghole.

Using his sweet karate moves, our hero then smashes some of the wooden planks from the shelves into kindling, which he places into a handy metal bucket. He pours out a few bottles of whiskey onto the wood to help it light. However, Wopat then realizes he is sans fire starter. Fortunately, an overflowing ashcan yields a pack of matches.

Placing his bucket of kindling under the exposed end of the keg, MacWopat sets the wood and booze aflame. He watches as the pressure gauge slowly makes its way into the red. When he determines the time is right, Wopat gives the pressure gauge a swift kick. It snaps off, and the resulting jet of superheated beer sends the keg rocketing into the door, smashing it to splinters.

MacWopat escapes into the night. Roll opening credits.

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Comedy, Television

Tom Wopat in: The Office

as: Outside Sales Rep Gerhardt Brown

Though its later seasons saw a noticeable decline in quality, at its peak, The Office was among the best shows on television. (And could everyone stop with the “British version was better” BS-crap already?) The stellar core cast was the key to the show’s success, but some of the smaller, only-periodically-recurring characters did a lot for the show, as well. David Koechner’s boorish Todd Packer and Michael Schur’s Mose Schrute were among the most memorable of these minor characters, delivering memorable performances in the space of just a handful of appearances spread out over The Office’s nine seasons.

The show also hand a propensity for putting big guest stars in small, one-off parts. Will Ferrell, Idris Elba, Jim Carrey, and Warren Buffet all made cameo appearances on The Office. Who better to play a memorable minor character in three to seven episodes than the one and only Tom Wopat?

Plot Outline: Gary’s 3rd Appearance on the Show

Like Todd Packer, Wopat’s Gerhardt “Gary” Brown would be an outside sales rep with Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. Unlike Packer, he wouldn’t be a sexist, racist, alcoholic a-hole. Instead, he’d be a total charmer, with good looks and a winning smile that makes him extremely successful in his career. Men, women, children, animals, the elderly—everyone loves Gary Brown! He’s one of those guys that could, as they say, sell ice to a polar bear.

In his previous appearances, Gary has proven to be much “cooler” than branch manager Michael Scott (Steve Carrell), as well as much more popular with Michael’s coworkers. Unsurprisingly, Michael is not a big fan of Gary. He even attempts to discredit his excellent salesmanship skills, saying that it’s easy to sell paper because everyone needs paper.

the office

Sensing an opportunity for a never-before-attempted office prank, Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) good-naturedly challenges Gary to try to sell Michael something he doesn’t need. Gary ups the stakes by suggesting it also be something completely impractical, something that Michael could never possibly use in normal circumstances.

It doesn’t take long before Gary has convinced Michael to purchase a modular office, despite the fact that the show is called The Office and the Dunder Mifflin crew works in a perfectly good office building, in which Michael has his own office. Determined to not look a fool, and to show that’s he’s in on the joke—which he 100 percent is not—Michael plants the modular office in the building’s parking lot and sets up shop there for a week.

At the end of the episode, after Michael’s week of self-imposed exile, Jim notes that it’s the most productive week the Scranton branch has ever had.

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Comedy, Television

Tom Wopat in: That ‘70s Show

as: Red Forman

Make no mistake, Kurtwood Smith could do more with the word “dumbass” than most actors could do with an entire page of dialogue and a samurai sword. As Red Forman in That ‘70s Show, he was nigh perfect as the old school, tough love-dispensing father to the show’s main protagonist, Eric (played by Topher Grace).

But, what if that same no-nonsense character was given a bit more charm and a whole mess more good looks? Had Tom Wopat portrayed Red, it’s possible that the elder Forman would have gradually become more of a focus on the show, squeezing Eric out to supporting-player status (much like Homer squoze out Bart over the course of the first several seasons of The Simpsons).

Key Changes

No offense to Kurtwood Smith, but Tom Wopat is a much better-looking dude. That in itself paves the way for running jokes throughout the course of the series. Specifically, we envision lots of references by Eric’s girlfriend, Donna, and friend who is also a girl, Jackie, to Red’s attractiveness. Mostly, it would be a way for the gals to needle Eric, who himself was sort of a goonie-looking guy. There would almost certainly have been a storyline somewhere in the show’s eight seasons where Jackie actually developed a harmless, minor, if misguided, crush on Red.

In this same vein, the other guys in Eric’s group of friends, Hyde, Kelso, and Fez, would have turned to Red Wopat more often for advice on the ladies. “Red, you’re a good-looking guy,” Hyde/Kelso/Fez would undoubtedly have begun at some point (or multiple times—that’s how running gags work, after all), before asking Red what he should do in whatever the situation was.

Next, it should be noted that Wopat is about nine years younger than Smith. This isn’t really a problem as far as “being old enough to be Eric’s parent” goes, as Wopat and Debra Jo Rupp, who played Eric’s mother, Kitty, are the same age. However, it maybe would age Red out of having served in both WWII and the Korean War—with the younger actor in the role, Red probably would’ve been written as only a Korean War vet. This wouldn’t change the character much, as few if any of Red’s storylines hinged on his military service, but it may have necessitated a slight re-write of Kitty’s and his “meet-cute” story, one of the best (and most perfectly cast) flashbacks the show ever did.

Pictured: Eric Forman today.

Pictured: Eric Forman today.

Finally, while the Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon that Red bequeaths to Eric in the series pilot is a perfectly fine automobile… well, come one. This is Luke Duke we’re talking about here. It would’ve been an absolutely fantastic gag had Red Wopat instead gifted his son with a competition orange Dodge Charger. It would’ve been anachronistic, as well, seeing as how The Dukes of Hazzard didn’t premiere until 1979, but hey, if don’t overthink it, it’s a pretty rad setup. Eric and friends would’ve gotten up to far more hijinks with a hot rod to drive around in.

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Animation, Comedy, Science Fiction and/or Fantasy, Television

Tom Wopat in: Futurama

as: Himself (Head in A Jar)

The brilliant, yet woefully underappreciated, animated sci-fi sitcom Futurama had more than its share of celebrity guest stars during its run. Despite being set 1,000 years in the future, the show brought in such modern-day figures as Al Gore, Beck, and (almost) the entire cast of the original Star Trek series—and all of them played themselves.

Well, technically they played their still-living, detached heads in jars, which was one of the series’ most used (and least explained) futuristic technological advancements. Even historical figures who, in reality, died many years before the show began—and, therefore, prior to the in-series invention of technology that keeps heads alive in jars—popped up from time to time.

So, why not Wopat?

Futuramafitti

Episode: Good Ole Bots

Futurama’s protagonist, Philip J. Fry (usually called just “Fry”), was an ‘80s kid who was accidentally cryogenically frozen on New Year’s Eve 1999 and unfrozen on New Year’s Day 3000. Fry’s penchant for the pop culture of his youth came into play in a number of episodes, encompassing everything from his days in a breakdancing crew to his love of Katrina and the Wave’s “Walking On Sunshine.”

In “Good Ole Bots”, Fry and the Planet Express gang would attend a fundraising gala at the Smithsonian. An auction is held to clear out some of the museum’s older exhibit pieces (a thousand years in the future, they have more stuff than they know what to do with) to make way for new items of historical significance.

Fry is delighted to learn that the original General Lee is one of the items to be auctioned off. Few, if any, people in the year 3000 share Fry’s enthusiasm for The Dukes of Hazzard, so he wins it with a bid of $8 (every penny he currently has to his name).

After the event, Fry’s co-worker/love interest Leela suggests that they load the General Lee into the cargo bay of the Planet Express ship and simply fly it back to New New York. Fry has other plans, however—as it was and is one of the greatest automobiles in television history, he wants to drive it back home from Washington D.C. Bender, the lovable, beer-swilling, cigar-smoking robot, decides to join him on his road trip.

Shortly after they set out, Fry and Bender hear unusual noises coming from the trunk of the car. They pull over, open the trunk, and discover living-head-in-a-jar versions of Tom Wopat and John Schneider inside. They explain that they (in their jars) have been in the Smithsonian just as long as the General Lee, as part of the same exhibit. Eventually, they were placed in the trunk to save space and forgotten about.

Now riding in the front seat between Fry (driving) and Bender (shotgun), the erstwhile Duke boys regale their new friends with tales of their TV adventures. This inspires a typically-mischievous Bender plot: he convinces Fry that the two of them should run a load of moonshine north as they go. Unsurprisingly, Bender “knows a guy” in the moonshining business.

Numerous hijinks ensue, with the quartet dodging local law enforcement (a robot sheriff that closely resembles Rosco P. Coltrane, along with his deputies), rival bootleggers, and an amorous ladybot with eyes for Bender en route to Planet Express headquarters.

Ultimately, Fry, Bender, Wopat, and Schneider find themselves in a high speed chase with the sheriffbot in hot pursuit. By a happy coincidence, a road construction project on the streets of New New York has created an ersatz ramp. Fry guns the engine, the General Lee goes airborne, and, just as the four of them are about to crash into the Planet Express building, the scene freeze-frames.

“Looks like them Duke boys have got themselves out of the frying pan,” The Balladeer states, “and into the fire.”

End credits.

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Action and/or Adventure, Comedy, Television

Tom Wopat in: Magnum, P.I.

As: Thomas Magnum (duh)

The original run of Magnum, P.I. of course overlapped with that of The Dukes of Hazzard. But in an alternate universe, Tom Wopat was available for both series. As the titular character in Magnum, P.I., he would’ve given the character the same laid-back, easygoing sensibility that Tom Selleck did, but with more made-for-Hawaii good looks.

Wopat as Magnum would also have eliminated the scheduling conflict that caused Selleck to turn down the role of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. What a different world American cinema would’ve been had Tom Selleck become as massive a movie star as Harrison Ford did following that film’s success.

Man, Selleck has really let himself go.

Man, Selleck has really let himself go.

Key Changes

For one, it’s doubtful that Wopat would’ve worn a ‘stache like Selleck’s. That seems to have been brought to the character solely by Selleck—Magnum wasn’t necessarily written as having a mustache.

Second, Magnum’s Detroit Tigers baseball cap would likely have been replaced with a Milwaukee Brewers one. Selleck, having been raised in Detroit, also added that touch himself. (If memory serves, the pilot script had the character in a New York Yankees hat.) Wopat, born in Lodi, Wisconsin, and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is more than likely a Brewers fan.

Also, while Tom Selleck’s Thomas Magnum wore Aloha shirts almost exclusively, Tom Wopat’s Thomas Magnum would probably have appeared shirtless much more often. The weather in Hawaii is certainly conducive to this, as are Wopat’s dashing good looks. The show got good to great ratings as it was; with every episode featuring scenes with a shirtless Tom Wopat, ratings would’ve been through the roof!

Additionally, while Selleck certainly had his share of rough-and-tumble exploits as Magnum, Wopat’s stunt work in Dukes suggests the even more action-oriented Magnum, P.I. that could’ve been. I know I saw a few karate moves in Luke Duke’s fightin’ repertoire—imagine Thomas Magnum spin kicking a guy right into the ocean!

Other than those few tweaks, the show could’ve been largely the same. Except ten times better, because Wopat.

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