When we asked which castmate on VH1’s newest celebreality show, Confessions of a Teen Idol (premieres Jan. 4), you most wanted us to catch up with, the overwhelming (and proper) response was Adrian Zmed, best known for T.J. Hooker, Grease 2, Bachelor Party, and Dance Fever. Having returned home from his latest Princess cruise — he headlines the production Adrian Zmed, In Concert on two ships through April — he phoned PopWatch in between finishing his holiday shopping and cooking an early traditional Romanian Christmas meal for his sons. We covered a lot of ground: From why his Teen Idol housemates (The Blue Lagoon‘s Christopher Atkins, The Grind‘s Eric Nies, Beverly Hills, 90210‘s Jamie Walters, Fame‘s Billy Hufsey, and Baywatch‘s David Chokachi and Jeremy Jackson) nicknamed him Mom, to why Grease 2 is a better film than Grease, to what deleted scene was too racy even for Bachelor Party, to what practical joke he and William Shatner played in their T.J. Hooker squad car (Aaron Spelling was not amused).
Check back tomorrow for our Q&A with Nies, with interviews with Walters and Atkins coming on Thursday and Friday this week.
PopWatch: Since this is a show about what it really means to be a teen idol — the rise, the fall, the desire for a comeback — I found your No. 1 fan, my friend Diana Shafter Gliedman, and had her write a few questions for you. Question No. 1: “In or about 1983, you started a fan club called ‘Special Friends of Adrian Zmed.’ The first newsletter was awesome and included a good recipe for chocolate cake, pictures, and a pitch to give to charity. When does the second newsletter come out? One ‘founding member’ is waiting eagerly!”
Adrian Zmed: [Laughs, heartily] I’ve been contacted by so many fans. They’re not even contacting me — they’re now contacting my son Zack because they’ve somehow found his band [The Janks] somewhere online. They’re trying to get a new fan club going for me, and I just haven’t gotten around to it, to be perfectly honest. I guess I’m gonna break down eventually and join this millennium.
What will the second recipe be?
That first recipe came when I was wasn’t cookin’. I had to learn how to cook after my divorce. What will my next recipe be?… Probably “Grease Lightning Pasta.” Sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, a little chicken, and a balsamic vinegar and olive oil base.
addCredit(“Everett Collection; VH1”)
Question No. 2: “On T.J. Hooker, you were constantly going undercover as a male gogo dancer [Zmed laughs] who had to dance around in tiny silver lamé briefs. Did you ever feel, like, exploited? Did you ever say to the producers, ‘Hey, let Shatner get up there and dance in a pair of silver lamé tighty-whiteys?’“
Absolutely, all the time. I never understood why I had to always — I didn’t want to do that because I didn’t want to be considered a piece of meat all the time and get that syndrome that goes along with it. It was why I was hired, too, so I went a long with it. But believe me, I tried it: “Hey, Bill, you get up here and take off your shirt.”
Watch the T.J. Hooker pilot, which gets Zmed in his briefs in under four minutes
That leads nicely into Question No. 3: “Shatner: Crazy as a really, really crazy guy. True or false?”
He’s crazy in terms of practical jokes and things like that. He’s probably the most fun guy you could possibly imagine off-camera. [Cackles] There was one time…You know what a tow-shot is? It’s when they’re filming us and we’re talking in the squad car and there’s actually a truck pulling you and the whole camera crew is on the back of the truck. Well, it got to a point where they didn’t even need to tow usanymore. They just mounted the cameras on the sides of the car, and they just sent us out with a cop in front of us and a cop in back of us. And we would just do all the car shots for maybe two or three episodes, just him and me. We called it “Shatner-Zmed Productions.” And I had all the sound and the camera switch and everything in my lap and basically, we’d slate it, “This is Show Number 1242. Scene 14. Take 1,”and we’d do a high-five for the mark. Well, one day, we decided we were gonna play around. We were driving down Sunset Boulevard, and we picked up some ladies of the night. [Laughs] And we put them in the back of the car. We did this whole scene with them, and apparently, Aaron Spelling was not too happy when he saw that in dailies. We weren’t allowed to do that anymore. But we did have a lot of fun together.
Question No. 4: “What kind of fan approaches you on the street most frequently: T.J. Hooker fan, Grease 2 fan, Bachelor Party fan, I saw you on Broadway when you played the narrator in Blood Brothers fan, or founding member of the ‘Special Friends of Adrian Zmed’ fan club still waiting for newsletter No. 2 fan?”
That’s so sweet. You know, I got two cult classics: Grease 2 and Bachelor Party. So I get young girls and women in your generation coming up to me going, “I love Grease 2, I love Grease 2, I love Grease 2!” and starting to recite songs, and I get drunken college guys coming up to me going, “Say it! Say it! ‘Look at the cans on that bimbo'” or one of my infamous lines from Bachelor Party.
I can’t remember how young I was when I first saw Bachelor Party, which means I shouldn’t have been watching it.
Well, it was an R-rated movie, you shouldn’t have been watching it. The funny thing about that movie was many of the things we did never made it into the movie because of the ratings at that time. We probably would’ve gotten an X-rating, yet now, they’re doing all that stuff. We had so many funny scenes that were hysterical — none of it was even saved and shown on the DVD.
Give me the dirtiest one you’re sad didn’t make it in.
[Laughs] There was this one scene where the party is not going well, and I’m the one who put it all together, and I grab Tom [Hanks] in the hotel room and I go, “Come on, let’s go downstairs and get something to eat.” Cut to the scene, and I throw him into a booth at the café in the hotel lobby, and then all of the sudden, you hear a zipper sound. There’s a hooker underneath under the table who’s, you know, servicing him. And I go, “My gift to you.” And he starts to moan and groan, and the minister who’s gonna marry him walks into the cafe, and I go, “Oh, Father, over here! Over here!” The minister comes up, and Tom starts to bang on the table with his hand: “Oh, mother of God. Mary, mother of Joseph.” And he’s getting louder and louder and louder and the table starts moving up and down. And I say, “He likes to say grace just before he eats, Father.” And eventually, Tom can’t take it anymore. He gets out and runs away, and I say, “Father, sit here. It’s the best seat in the house,” and then I take off. Then you hear the zipper sound, and it’s a close-up on his face. It’s a shame that one didn’t make it in.
Watch the trailer for Bachelor Party
The fifth and final question from Diana: “Have your kids ever seen the poster where you are wrapped in a towel gazing dreamily at something on the horizon, with a blue sky and airbrushed clouds floating in the background? What do they think of it? Did you know some people still have one hanging in their parents’ semi-finished basements?”
No, that I did not know, that people still had them hanging around somewhere. [Laughs] Whenever they want a good laugh, they plop in episodes of Dance Fever or T.J. Hooker or look at some of the pictures of me online from back in the day, poster shots and all that stuff. They get a big kick out of it. They really do. They laugh a lot.
For the record, I often get in fights with people because I prefer Grease 2 to Grease.
As well you should. Look, Grease is an absolute classic. It’s a perfect musical in its simplicity. But the movie Grease did not capture the true essence of what Grease was meant to be on Broadway, and that is about the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies. It became a vehicle for John [Travolta] and Olivia [Newton-John]. They cut out a lot of songs. Every character has a song in the Broadway show. For example, “Greased Lightnin'” is not sung by Danny, it’s sung by Kenickie — it’s his car. It’s his anthem. The movie wasn’t about the gangs, it was about Danny and Sandy. Whereas Grease 2 is really about everybody. Everybody has a song and a story. It was also directed by Pat Birch, who was the original choreographer of the Broadway show and the movie, and Pat knew what the essence of Grease was supposed to be. She was my champion. They did not want an unknown in that role [Johnny]. I had just done the pilot of T.J. Hooker, so it wasn’t even on the air when I got the movie. They wanted a rock star in that role because Michelle Pfeiffer] and Maxwell [Caulfield] weren’t names at the time. Basically, every time I auditioned, it was right after the rock star that they wanted to see. Every time, they’d say, “Alright, alright, he’s still the frontrunner.” So I had to win the role. I had like 12 callbacks for that. It was a great joy to be able to put my Danny on film. Even though it was Johnny, it was really my Danny that I had just done on Broadway.
Tell me about the show you’re doing now for Princess.
I’ve been working in casinos these days, so I figured it’s no different than doing a show in a casino. In fact, the stage that I’m on on these two ships is probably better than any casino stage I’ve ever worked on. It spins and it turns. When they asked me to do a show, they said, “Let’s just start talking about your life,” and the show wrote itself. I start talking to the audience and saying, “My grandparents came from Transylvania, Romania to Chicago, and my grandfather actually started working for Al Capone driving a bootleg truck,” and boom, we go into a ’20s-’30s kind of a segment with the rest of the cast members. I’ve got 17 singers and dancers. And then I move into, “And when I left Chicago, I went toBroadway,” and there’s a Broadway section. Then I say, “I left Broadway and went to do TV,” and I go into a TV theme song section. Then I do a Rat Pack section. Then I end up with a whole ’50s medley because my career seems to be always going back to Grease…. Each song in Greaseis a parody of an actual hit from the ’50s. That’s why it was an instant hit, because you walked out of theaterimmediately knowing the whole score. So I do all the songs that inspired those Grease songs.
Watch a clip from Grease 2
How did you come to be on Confessions of a Teen Idol?
I’m really good friends with Scott [Baio, who exec produces the series, along with The Wonder Years‘ Jason Hervey]. He and I met on Battle of the Network Stars. I was captain of the ABC team, and he was always a great swimmer and a great runner. [Laughs] Then, he started dating Heather [Locklear, Zmed’s Hooker costar], so I was there for all that courtship. Scott, from Day One, wanted me to do this. I was kinda reluctant, saying, Reality? [Laughs]I’ve been fighting it all this time. I saw Scott’s show, and it looked like he was having a good time. It didn’t look like it would be too painful, so I said, What the heck?
What moment are you most looking forward to seeing play out on TV?
I’m looking forward to this one episode where we put together a show for a bunch of inner-city kids. We had a blast putting that together. I think it’s probably more fun to watch us putting it together than to watch it. [Laughs]
What moment are you most nervous about seeing?
Probably ever single close-up that they take of me because it’s HDTV and no makeup, for cryin’ out loud. Three o’clock in the morning, standing at the urinal, three inches in front of my face is a camera? Come on!
In the premiere, when someone threatens to leave the show, you step up and tryto diffuse the situation. Did the guys consider you head of the household?
I guess I kinda ended up being the mom. I actually had to leave for a few days, and they nicknamed me. “Where’s Mom?” [Laughs] They could’ve called me dad, which would’ve been a little better. But I guess I kinda became the peacemaker, the voice of reason. Maybe it’s being the son of a minister. I always want to make sure things are all good and everybody’s happy.
Watch the trailer for Confessions of a Teen Idol