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.

Photo credit: Mayu ;P via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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.

Photo credit: heldermira via Foter.com / CC BY