Austin, Texas may be known as a live music capital of the United States, but from June 5 to June 8, it was the TV capital. The ATX Festival highlighted current series television (“Justified,” “Orange is the New Black”), upcoming ones (TNT’s “Legends”), and even the recently canceled (RIP Fox’s “Enlisted”). But in its third “season” of the festival, ATX did something pretty monumental: It reunited the cast of Nickelodeon’s “Hey Dude.”
For those not familiar, “Hey Dude” was the second live-action scripted series on Nickelodeon (the first being “Out of Control” with Dave Coulier) that followed a group of teenagers working at the Bar None Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, over the course of one very long summer (five seasons’ worth of episodes). Airing from 1989 to 1991, this reunion marked the 25th anniversary of the series.
Before the cast even came out on stage at the Paramount Theater, two ATX representatives made a couple of announcements: one, that it was amazing seeing the cast interact with each other in the green room (making everyone in the audience jealous), and two, Kelly Brown (Bradley Taylor) sadly had to cancel at the last minute due to a family obligation.
“As disappointed as you are,” said one emcee, “believe me, Kelly is more disappointed.”
Then, a sizzle reel of the Greatest Hits of “Hey Dude” played on the big screen, spanning all seasons, from the beginning (the fab four: Brad, Ted, Melody, and Danny) to the middle (“Bye, Bye, Ted”—hello, Jake Decker) to the end (“Kyle Chandler” creating a romantic triangle for Brad and Ted). The audience of 20- and 30-somethings still laughed at the same expected comedic beats that sucked them in as pre-teens in the early ‘90s.
After the reel played, the cast and writers walked down the aisle: David Brisbin (“Mr. Ernst”), who brought along his “Benjamin J. Ernst” nameplate and put it next to his ATX name card; Geoffrey Coy (“Kyle Chandler”), Debrah Kalman (“Lucy”), David Lascher (“Ted McGriff”), Graham Yost (writer/director), Josh Tygiel (“Buddy”), Jonathan Galkin (“Jake Decker”), Lisa Melamed (writer), Alan Goodman (writer), and Christine Taylor (“Melody”).
First question from emcee Jarett Weiselman: How did a show like “Hey Dude” even happen?
It was a script that had been tossed around a few times before Alan Goodman, who had a hand in developing networks like MTV and Nickelodeon, finally took a stab at it, and what you saw was the final product. Open casting calls discovered the likes of Christine Taylor (who was only doing commercials at this point), David Lascher, and Josh Tygiel, who showed up at a local Tuscon audition on a whim and got the part, while Jonathan Galkin was discovered in community theater in Illinois.
Once the cast was in place in 1988, the actors were flown out to Arizona (or in Buddy’s case, picked up down the street by a shuttle) and lived at the Ramada while filming at a ranch that was created specifically for the show. (The cast hadn’t been together in 20-something years, so Christine Taylor had prepared a scrapbook from her days staying at the Tucson Ramada where, like Melody, she, too, had a cat poster on her wall that said, “Hang in there.”) In the audience Q&A session toward the end of the panel, none of the actors openly admitted to any hooking up in the hotel, but their mum faces made it look like something had taken place.
The show worked in cycles, episodes on and episodes off, and what viewers saw over the course of five seasons was actually filmed in more like two. Writer Lisa Melamed admitted that had the show gone on for season 6, they probably would have had to move some characters forward in some way, since the five-season show took place over approximately two to three months (Remember: Buddy had a major growth spurt, and Ted left for and returned from summer school in this time).
The actors attributed the writers as the reason why the characters were so memorable. David Lascher recalled reading the script and noting how funny it was, and that when he got to set, the show was a master class in comedic acting from the likes of David Brisbin. After doing one of his many Ernst pratfalls, Brisbin would jokingly say to the teen actors, “You know I once worked in New York theater?” In fact, the entire panel noted the talent of Mr. Ernst, and it wasn’t just because they’d have to do bathroom duty if they didn’t.
When it came to wardrobe, Christine Taylor recalled that for the beauty pageant episode, the pink dress she wore came from home after she called her mother for some help. But not all of the wardrobe came from family, and some of it was created on the “$1.98” budget writer/director Graham Yost spoke of, before undoing his shirt and revealing the t-shirt from the episode when Melody was training for the Olympics. Other “Hey Dude” wardrobe mementos on stage included Melody’s green work shirt, a “Hey Dude” jean jacket worn by Jonathan Galkin, and Cinetel/“Hey Dude” sneakers (from the Knoxville production company).
So Ted, Melody, Buddy—but where was Danny, actor Joe Torres? The answer: No one really knows. Goodman revealed that he’d heard a lot of rumors through the years from Joe being deceased to being a used car salesman in New Jersey, but no one has been able to confirm anything, and no one has heard from him in 20-some years.
“Some people just want to move on,” Goodman said.
In terms of what they are all doing now, David Brisbin is still acting; Geoffrey Coy (Kyle) works in marketing; Debrah Kalman (Lucy) is a retired teacher hoping to get back into acting in Florida; David Lascher (Ted) directed a movie Sister that’s coming out this fall; Graham Yost is writing/directing a little show called “Justified”; Josh Tygiel (Buddy) works in private investigation; Jonathan Galkin (Jake) started a recording company; Lisa Melamed is still writing and working on television, as is Alan Goodman; Kelly Brown (Brad) owns a boutique called Kelly B’s; and Christine Taylor (Melody) is still doing “movies with my husband,” as she puts it (her husband is Ben Stiller).
Burning question: Could there ever be a season 6 reunion, with new episodes? Well, no, but Debrah Kalman planted the rumor seed that a Nickelodeon reunion with the cast could be in the near future.
Decades after the fact, many of the panelists haven’t been able to live down their work on the show. While writer Melamed has an impressive resume of work on television shows like “Party of Five,” she revealed that she always ALWAYS gets asked about her time spent at the Bar None. It’s a tribute to a show that came about at a special moment in time for such a niche audience of what are today older Millennials.
“It hit such a sweet spot of 8- to 13-year-olds,” she said.
Something these pre-teens haven’t forgotten 25 years later.