Back Row, L to R: David Lascher (Ted), Geoffrey Coy (Kyle), Josh Tygiel (Buddy), David Brisbin (Mr. Ernst), Jonathan Galkin (Jake); Front Row, L to R: Debrah Kalman (Lucy), Christine Taylor (Melody)
It's a little wild and a little strange, when you make a home out on the range! If you grew up in the '90s, you certainly remember Hey Dude, which aired on Nickelodeon from 1989 to 1991. The teen-centric comedy Western followed the staff of the fictional Bar None Dude Ranch as they dealt with guests, chores, and each other amidst a dusty desert backdrop full of man-eating jackrabbits and killer cacti. (Okay, that last bit is only true with regard to the show's legendary theme song, but before you click, I must warn you: It's still just as catchy now as it was then, and you're likely to be singing it for the next four hours.)
Hey Dude's cast recently reunited at the ATX Festival in Austin, Texas to discuss the show's influence, their favorite episodes, and whether or not anyone hooked up during filming (they pled the fifth). On the panel were stars David Brisbin (Mr. Ernst), Debrah Kalman (Lucy), David Lascher (Ted), Christine Taylor (Melody), Geoffrey Coy (Kyle), Jonathan Galkin (Jake), Josh Tygiel (Buddy), and writers Alan Goodman, Lisa Melamed, Graham Yost (who post-Hey Dude credits, as you likely already know, include TV.com favorites Justified and The Americans). Kelly Brown (rich-girl Bar None staffer Brad) was unable to attend, and Joe Torres (Danny) was MIA (more on that in a second), but the rest of the group more than made up for their absence as they set off on a horseback ride down memory lane. Here are the 10 most important things we learned at the panel.
1. Joe Torres wasn't present at the reunion because "no one really knows where he is"
The cast lost touch with Torres, who played Native American staffer Danny Lightfoot, after the series wrapped. "I have no idea if it's true because I read it on the internet," said Goodman, "[but] there was a rumor for years that he had died, there was a rumor that he was selling cars in New Jersey, [and] there was a rumor that he still hangs out around Tucson and is kind of a pool shark in a bar [there]." No one has been able to confirm any of these things, however. "I think some of us have casually looked and tried to find him," Goodman continued, "Because there are different groups of us who [were] a little bit in touch through all this time, and he hasn't been one of them. I think sometimes people turn the page and they move on. And I have a feeling he's turned the page and moved on. I don't think anyone really knows for sure."
2. The entire series took place during a single summer
Hey Dude's 65 episodes were filmed over the course of two years, but they aired as five different seasons that spanned three years. And story-wise, the whole series covered only one summer season at the ranch. TV magic!
3. Christine Taylor initially auditioned to play Brad, but she was apparently too nice for the role
Melody might be the nicest character to ever have appeared on television, and when asked whether that was scripted or something that Taylor brought to her character, she copped to the fact that her room at the Ramada hotel where the actors stayed during filming was covered with motivational posters of cats and Glinda the Good Witch. She also admitted that she originally auditioned for the role of Brad, but ultimately didn’t get the part. "It was funny, because I remember thinking that Brad had a very specific point of view in the pilot, and she came from a specific place, and Melody was sort of just everybody's friend and loved being on the ranch," Taylor said. "I went in and auditioned and just tried to be myself, and I think as the series went along, the writers were so wonderful in getting to know us as people and sort of [began] catering to our interests and hobbies." So basically the implication is that she was way too nice to play Brad.
4. The reason Ted left for summer school was that David Lascher wanted to do another show
"I knew this would come back some day and I'd have to explain this," Lascher joked. "I had an opportunity to do a show for NBC at the time." The series was called A Family for Joe, and it was canceled after just nine episodes, so Lascher and Ted returned to the ranch and everyone was happy.
But Ted's departure provided the opportunity for Hey Dude to introduce some new characters, including Jake, who was Mr. Ernst's nephew, and Kyle, the son of Lucy's boyfriend. Yost joked that he was trying to get the "bad, awful taste of Lascher" out of his mouth when creating Jake: "We weren't going to go for the heartthrob again... the idea was basically, as I recall, let's get somebody funny, make him a relative so it's not hard to get an in. And he's got some Ernstian qualities to him." Enter Jake.
5. Kyle's last name was Chandler
Bar None forever?
6. The show covered heavy subjects before it was cool
Over the course of the series, Hey Dude tackled such topics as alcoholism, children with special needs, sexism, elitism, and Native American culture and politics. When asked whether the writers felt they had a responsibility to do this because of the age of their audience, Yost joked, "We set out to change the world!"
Melamed had a more serious answer: "I've actually had people come up to me in the last few years as our audience is aging into our workplace," she said. "I start a new show every year or so, and I walk in and some wide-eyed assistant will pull me to the side having IMDB'd me, and they've said thing like, 'You changed my childhood.' It's an amazing thing to hear. And I think we did. I think what was so great about this show ... we didn't really follow a lot of rules, so we were able to toggle back and forth and could do Brad teaching a kid with special needs how to ride and then we could do the handcuffing [episode]."
"It had some serious stuff," Goodman agreed after describing a particular plot that involved Danny challenging Ted to go a whole day without using something from Native American culture. "But there was also Ted without a shirt."
7. The fashion was worse than anyone remembers
"The level of denim was staggering. I didn't realize they could make that many different styles of denim," Taylor said. "I don't even think that was cool then! Like, I don't remember pleated khaki shorts belted with [that] shirt and a bolero being cool. Even for people who lived on a dude ranch!"
8. The cast members tend to favor the episodes where they had the best stories or the most screen time
Kalman was a fan of "Stick Around," because it was Lucy-centric, while Lascher was partial to the oh-so-cleverly titled "Ted and Brad Get Handcuffed." Yost actually wrote that episode and also loved it. "The fun of that is that ... Hey Dude was writers' boot camp. We got to rewrite the classics with no irony," he said.
Melamed and Taylor both fond of "Miss Tucson," which saw Brad and Melody competing against one another in a beauty pageant. Taylor also enjoyed Season 5's "Double Date," because "we went on location to the mini golf course ... it was a location shoot, and that was a big deal!"
9. Only Kelly Brown and Debrah Kalman really knew how to ride horses
Did you hear that? Television is built on lies! "I didn't realize that there would be anything dangerous about it, we just got on," Lascher said, before adding that there were horse wranglers around to help the actors. "It's so funny," Taylor added, "because I don't ever remember there being a horse wrangler or anybody who knew what was really going on. It was always like the sun was setting and we just had to quickly run on the horse and pretend like we knew what we were doing."
10. Graham Yost is still the proud owner of a T-shirt with Christine Taylor's face on it from the episode "Our Little Champion"
Melody was training to be an Olympic swimmer (natch), and Mr. Ernst had the shirts made in an attempt to make money for the ranch.