In the days before streaming, new TV shows were rarely picked up for a full first season before they filmed a pilot first as a trial balloon to see if a show could proceed as a series. And, even if it did proceed, kinks were worked out, parts were recast and other creative changes were often made. Usually, these changes were for the best, but when I recently rewatched the pilot of NewsRadio, I couldn’t help but wonder if our society as a whole might be a little better off if one change wasn’t made.

NewsRadio ran on NBC from 1995 to 1999. The show starred The Kids in the Hall alumni Dave Foley as the news director for a New York City radio station and featured an ensemble cast including Stephen Root, Maura Tierney, Andy Dick and the late, great Phil Hartman. The show also starred a popular stand up comic named Joe Rogan, who played the conspiracy-theory-loving electrician named Joe Garrelli.

In the pilot, however, the electrician role was filled by another character named “Rick” by actor Greg Lee, who is best known as the voice of Mayor White on the Nickelodeon cartoon Doug and as the host of the game show Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Rick didn’t have many lines in the pilot, but the few he had suggested he was a native New Yorker tough guy, in line with what Rogan’s “Joe” would be beginning in episode two. 

During his tenure on NewsRadio and shortly after the show concluded, Rogan would gain fame as a UFC commentator and the host of Fear Factor. In time, he became what he is now, the conspiracy-theory-loving, Covid-vaccine-hating, horse-medication-taking podcast host who just happens to be one of the most powerful voices in the media. 

Given that, it got me wondering, what if “Rick” continued on in NewsRadio and Joe Rogan never had the show to introduce him to America? Would our whole fucked timeline be just a little less paranoid? Well, I decided to ask Greg Lee and get his take on the subject, as well as ask him about any memories from filming the NewsRadio pilot.

Actor, writer and TV host Greg Lee.

When did you begin acting?

Acting was something I fell into. I moved to New York when I was about 25 and waited tables and was a security guard then a guy I knew was working on a CBS Saturday morning show called Dr. Fad, and he asked me if I wanted to do some work as a production assistant. Then a couple of weeks went by and he told me I was about to get fired, but he thought I could do audience warm-up instead.

I started doing that for a bunch of shows and began to do some announcing. Then, I was doing warm-up for a show called Total Panic and they lost one of their hosts, so they asked me to step in. From there I started to do more acting and hosting and got the Carmen Sandiego gig. 

How did you get the part in the NewsRadio pilot?

I’d moved out to Los Angeles by that time and I think Carmen was in its final year. I was pretty active at that time. I was never actually hired for NewsRadio, all I was ever hired for was the pilot. People think I got fired from that show, but I wasn’t. I’ve been fired from plenty of jobs, but not that one. I was actually just hired for the pilot as the fill-in guy for Ray Romano, who was cast in that part first. I’ve read that he was fired, but I never got the full story on that one way or another. Regardless, I think Ray did just fine after that.

I believe Joe Rogan was already cast for the pilot but wasn’t available for filming, so I was only there to film the pilot, that’s it. I auditioned and got hired and it was a really quick turnaround — it was going to be shooting the next week or something like that. 

Do you have any memories from filming?

There were two tapings of the show, one was for industry insiders and network guys and the second was in front of a live audience. During the first filming, I was given all of Ray Romano’s lines, but by the second taping, a few nights later, they cut down my lines a lot and gave them to characters who were going to be there past the pilot. 

I hadn’t done a sitcom before, I don’t think, so I had nothing to compare it to, but the taping went by pretty quickly. It was as slick as rain. Jim Burrows directed the pilot, and he’s still the best in the business.  Everybody was really nice to me and there were all these really great people there, but I was obviously the newbie of the crowd. Andy Dick was still relatively new, so I hung out with him a lot. Phil Hartman and I also hung out. This was the first time I’d seen Stephen Root and I thought he was just amazing. 

The whole thing was just ten days, give or take, but I had the impression that the show was really good. The writing for it was great. It wasn’t too long, but it was all good and it was good experience.

So you were never going to be in more than the pilot?

No. There was a lot of talk about how this was only for the pilot. When they were taking pictures of the cast, I declined to be in most of them because I knew I wouldn’t be there for the next one. 

Did you ever watch the show?

Oh yeah, I loved it! That stuff never bothered me. For King of Queens, for example, it came down to me or Kevin James and, of course, they went with him. I watched that show too. I think because I never really had a big, lifelong dream to be an actor, that stuff never got to me. 

Have you ever met Joe Rogan?

No! I never have. I don’t listen to his show either. I’ve heard snippets here and there, but that’s it. It’s obviously a gargantuan show though. You can’t not hear about it.

What are your thoughts on the Covid vaccine?

I just got my third booster yesterday because, well, there's a pandemic, and it's the vaccine for it so that I hopefully won't kill my quite age-ed parents. And, here are some other answers should you ever need them: we did walk on the moon in 1969 and ghosts are absolutely not real. 

Did you ever have any interest in podcasting?

Not really, no. I do write for an Audible Highlights podcast called Goofus and Gallant. I guess that’s more of a series though. I’m not really interested in podcasting. I’m a writer and voice over guy these days and I’m more than cool with that. Also, if you call Discover Card, it’s my voice that asks you for your Social Security number!

Do you think we’d be better off if you continued on as “Rick” on NewsRadio instead of Joe Rogan’s “Joe”?

That’s hilarious, but no. Joe Rogan probably would have done his thing anyway. The only difference may have been that NewsRadio would have been canceled after the first season with me instead of Rogan. Then people could rightly say I was fired from NewsRadio

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