The ageless Abe Vigoda has been a fixture of television and movies as long as most people can remember. He played Sal Tessio in the Godfather, Phil Fish on Barney Miller and he voiced Sal the Wheezer in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. Lately, he's become more of a novelty act than an actor. Got a slumping sitcom? Need a quirky guest appearance? Just call Abe, and he's there. He's appeared on everything from MacGyver to Mad About You. Even Conan O'Brien and Norm McDonald have pulled Abe's wrinkled old ass out in an attempt to get a cheap laugh.

But what if Abe Vigoda had never been born? Who would have taken his place in his hundreds of film and TV spots? This month, the ApeSheet begins a three-part series, sort of our own It's A Wonderful Life, to see how things would have turned out if Abe Vigoda had never lived. In the '70s, before Barney Miller, Vigoda appeared in about every show worth mentioning. Credits include the Rockford Files, Hawaii Five-O, Kojak, the Bionic Woman, B.J. and the Bear (my personal favorite), Eight is Enough and Fantasy Island. Sure these were mostly supporting parts, but someone has got to play them. And, if not Vigoda, who?

Picture this. Burgess Meredith, Ray Walston and Fyvush Finkel fight over each part resulting in a bitter rivalry that separates the three for life. Meredith gets most of the work based on his past success as the Penguin. Walston and Finkel vow never to speak to each other let alone work together. As a result, Picket Fences is never made. David E. Kelly never becomes a big name. Ally McBeal never happens. Calista Flockhart disappears after a forgettable performance in the Birdcage. Robert Downey Jr. gets out of jail, but no one will hire him. He dies shortly after of a massive drug overdose while partying with MC Hammer and, oddly enough, Ally McBeal's Lisa Nicole Carson.

Following his many TV spots, Meredith goes on to take the part of Phil Fish on Barney Miller. Audiences don't respond. The spin-off Fish is never made. So Todd Bridges, one of the adorable foster children on Fish, never begins acting. Instead, he pursues his political ambitions, eventually becoming the first black president of the United States. Because Bridges never began acting, Diff'rent Strokes never got off the ground. Dana Plato and Bridges did meet, but instead of becoming drug buddies, they became lovers. The two married, and Plato became the first lady. Gary Coleman, having not been pumped full of chemicals to halt his growth so that Diff'rent Strokes could stay on the air, continued to grow. By the age of 16, he reached a remarkable 7 foot 4 inches. He now is an all-star center for the Los Angeles Clippers. With the absence of Diff'rent Strokes, the spin-off Facts of Life was never conceived. As a result, George Clooney never got his big break into acting. Without Clooney, ER never brought in the ratings. Anthony Edwards was just too bald. The show quietly vanished after one season, leaving a huge hole in NBC's Thursday night lineup.

Because of Meredith's busy schedule on Barney Miller, he isn't available to lend his star power to Rocky. Without Meredith, Sylvester Stallone is unable to sell anyone on the whole Rocky idea. Stallone instead continues his career as a porn star making an entire series of Kitty and Stud's movies. They become a pop fixture. Green paisley, which is featured prominently in the Kitty and Stud's series, is all the rage. Instead of Hawaiian shirts, everyone is wearing green paisley. Rocky sequels are never made. Carl Weathers, Mr. T, Dolph Lundgren and Tommy Morrison instead appear in the progressively homoerotic adventures of Kitty and Stud. All five eventually die of AIDS-related illnesses. Back to the Hawaiian shirts. Without their popularity, Magnum P.I. fails miserably. Women still find Tom Selleck attractive, but he always wears those "dorky Hawaiian shirts." His career bombs. Selleck goes on to replace Stallone as the new Stud.

This is only the beginning people. We haven't even begun to talk about his film career. So come back next month to find out who replaces Vigoda in classic films including the Godfather and Good Burger. And, I bet you're wondering if Walston still ended up playing Mr. Hand in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Until next month, keep guessing.

Follow this link to Part 2 of No Fish.


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