15 Repeatable Facts About Groundhog Day

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

As if you weren’t aware by now from repeated viewings, Groundhog Day’s story of a bitter TV weatherman waking up to the same cold February morning, in the same small Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney, hearing the same Sonny & Cher song, managed to be both funny and profound. On the 25th anniversary of its release, here are some things you might not have known about Harold Ramis's comedy classic.

1. TOM HANKS AND MICHAEL KEATON TURNED DOWN PLAYING PHIL.

Though it's hard to imagine Groundhog Day without Bill Murray, he wasn't the only actor approached to play weatherman Phil Connors. Tom Hanks was busy, and figured if he starred in the film audiences would just expect him to become nice because he’s always nice anyway. Michael Keaton didn’t understand the script. (He later admitted to regretting the decision.)

2. MULTIPLE CHANGES WERE MADE BETWEEN THE FIRST AND FINAL DRAFTS.

Danny Rubin wrote the original screenplay, envisioning someone like Kevin Kline for the lead role. In Rubin’s version, the movie begins as Phil is living through February 2nd again and using that knowledge to his advantage, without an explanation as to what is going on for the audience to understand right away. In the end, Phil killed himself, only to wake up to the same morning again. Also in the original ending, Rita revealed that she’s also stuck in an endless time loop.

3. IT WAS FILMED IN WOODSTOCK, ILLINOIS.

Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell in Groundhog Day (1993)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania didn’t have a town center that looked good on camera, according to co-writer and director Harold Ramis, so they shot in Illinois instead. Punxsutawney got their revenge by banning Punxsutawney Phil himself from appearing in the movie.

4. FAKE SNOW HAD TO BE BROUGHT IN.

Filming took place from March 16 to June 10, 1992, so some days in Woodstock reached 80 degrees. That couldn’t (and didn’t) stop the cast and extras from having to wear coats.

5. MICHAEL SHANNON EMBARRASSED HIMSELF IN FRONT OF BILL MURRAY.

Michael Shannon (he played Fred in his first feature role) approached Murray because he spotted him listening to his favorite band, Talking Heads, on a little boombox between takes. After asking the star if he liked the band, he realized how dumb the question was, and Murray acknowledged that he liked the band in such a way that Shannon thought that Murray believed him to be stupid. After Shannon recounted the story to Ramis, Ramis made Murray apologize, which only further embarrassed Shannon.

6. BILL MURRAY GRADUALLY DISCOVERED PHIL’S DUALITY.

Sometimes when Ramis would talk to Murray about Phil’s motivation, Murray would stop him and ask, “Just tell me—good Phil or bad Phil?”

7. THREE DAYS OF SHOOTING WERE WASTED.

In a scene that would ultimately be cut, Phil gave himself a mohawk, repainted his room, and had fun with a chainsaw. Instead, Ramis just had Phil break a pencil, only to see it appear whole again the next morning, to show what was going on.

8. MURRAY FED THE HUNGRY WOODSTOCK ONLOOKERS.

Moments into their first meeting, Stephen Tobolowsky (Ned Ryerson) pointed out to Murray that the Woodstock residents attempting to take a look at their scene looked famished. Murray then ran into a bakery, purchased their entire supply of Danishes, and tossed them to the crowd.

9. THE GROUNDHOG BIT MURRAY. THREE TIMES.

His name was Scooter. Murray claimed Scooter hated him since day one.

10. ANDIE MACDOWELL COULDN’T SAY "RUIN" TO RAMIS’S LIKING.

Rita was supposed to say, “Oh, let’s not ruin it!” to Ned when he proposed a three-person celebration. Unfortunately, MacDowell’s South Carolina accent caused her to say "ruin" in a way that Ramis felt would be unclear to some viewers. They settled on having her say “Oh, let’s not spoil it!” instead.

11. THERE WAS A BIG DEBATE OVER WHETHER PHIL AND RITA HAD SEX.

Murray refused to shoot the last scene between the two, when it finally became February 3rd, until it was determined whether or not he was wearing his pajamas. Ramis put it to a cast and crew vote, and it ended in a tie. The assistant set director insisted the movie would be ruined if Phil appeared shirtless in the end. Ramis considered that the tie-breaking vote.

12. NOBODY REALLY KNOWS HOW LONG MURRAY WAS STUCK IN THE SAME DAY.

Ramis refuted an earlier estimate of 10 years, guessing in 2009 it was more like “30 to 40 years.” In Rubin’s original script, Murray was looping for 10,000 years, and he marked the time by reading one page in one of the B&B’s library books every day.

13. THERE IS A PLAQUE COMMEMORATING THE PUDDLE.

Bricks had to be removed to make the infamous puddle come to life. Woodstock later added a plaque that reads, “Bill Murray Stepped Here.”

14. MURRAY AND RAMIS DISAGREED. A LOT.

When promoting the movie back in 1993, Murray remembered wanting it to be more comedic, with Ramis insisting on focusing more on the romance. In 2004, Rubin recalled the opposite being the case: that Murray wanted Groundhog Day to be more philosophical than it was, while Ramis tried to keep it comedic.

15. MURRAY AND RAMIS’S FRIENDSHIP FELL APART ONCE FILMING ENDED.

Ramis admitted that his old friend and fellow Stripes and Ghostbusters star was "really irrationally mean and unavailable" at times, and often late to set, though he attributed the behavior to a divorce Murray was going through at the time. Outside of a few words at one wake and one bar mitzvah, Murray stopped speaking entirely to Ramis for 20 years, only to finally bury the hatchet on Ramis’s death bed before he passed away from complications due to autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis in 2014.

Netflix Is Testing Commercials, and Subscribers Aren't Happy

iStock
iStock

Save the occasional "Are you still watching?" message popping up between episodes, it's possible to watch an entire Netflix series in one sitting with little to no distractions. Now, the streaming service is testing something that could upend that: As CNN reports, Netflix has quietly started sprinkling advertisements into its programming, something the subscription-based service has been able to avoid up to this point.

The promotional content Netflix is experimenting with differs from conventional cable commercials in some fundamental ways. The promos won't be advertising third-party brands, Netflix promises: Rather, they'll exclusively show off Netflix original content, like seriesGlow and Stranger Things (though one Reddit user did report seeing an ad for Better Call Saul, which Netflix licenses from AMC). And instead of inserting ads throughout the program, as some non-subscription streaming services do, Netflix will only include them at the end of some episodes with a "skip" button similar to the one that allows viewers to bypass a show's opening credits. And each promo subscribers see will be personalized based on their viewing habits, hopefully turning them on to new shows and not just annoying them in the middle of their binge-watching sessions.

Despite these assurances from Netflix, viewers aren't happy. Many customers have taken to social media threatening to cancel their service if the promos become the norm, which likely may not happen: They've only been shown to a select number of test viewers so far, and based on user response, Netflix may decide to pull the plug on the experiment.

The good news is that as long as the ads are still in the test phase, you can choose to opt out of them. Just go to Netflix.com/DoNotTest and toggle off the switch next to the words "Include me in tests and previews." Now you're ready to resume your binge-watching marathon without interruption.

[h/t CNN]

10 Things You Might Not Know About Columbo

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

For more than 40 years, Peter Falk entered living rooms around the world as Lieutenant Columbo, an unconventional L.A. homicide detective known for his ruffled raincoat and trademark cigar. The actor would go on to win four Emmys for the role, while the series itself remains a benchmark for television crime dramas. But if series creators William Link and Richard Levinson went with their initial choice, the iconic role of Columbo would have gone to a syrupy-smooth crooner rather than the inelegant Falk. Get familiar with one of TV's most unique heroes with facts about Columbo.

1. BING CROSBY WAS ORIGINALLY EYED FOR THE ROLE.

Columbo creators Richard Levinson and William Link's first choice to play their low-key detective was crooner Bing Crosby. Der Bingle loved the script and the character, but he feared that a TV series commitment would interfere with his true passion—golf. It was probably providential that Crosby turned the role down, since his death in 1977 occurred while the series was still a solid hit on NBC. 

2. PETER FALK WAS AN UNEXPECTED SEX SYMBOL.

Peter Falk in 'Columbo'
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Character actor Lee J. Cobb was also considered for the role, until Peter Falk phoned co-creator William Link. Falk had gotten a copy of the script from his agents at William Morris and told Link that he’d “kill to play that cop.” Link and Levinson knew the actor back from their days of working in New York, and even though he was the opposite of everything they’d originally pictured for Lt. Columbo, they had to admit that Falk had a certain likeability that translated to both men and women. Falk was described by a certain female demographic as “sexy,” and males liked him because he was an unthreatening, humble, blue-collar underdog who was smarter than the wealthy perps he encountered.

3. FALK WAS A GOVERNMENT WORKER BEFORE BECOMING AN ACTOR.

Peter Falk wasn’t too far removed from the character he played. In real life he tended to be rumpled and disheveled and was forever misplacing things (he was famous for losing his car keys and having to be driven home from the studio by someone else). He was also intelligent, having earned a master’s degree in Public Administration from Syracuse University, which led to him working for the State of Connecticut’s Budget Bureau as an efficiency expert until the acting bug bit him. He was also used to being underestimated due to his appearance; he’d lost his right eye to cancer at age three, and many of his drama teachers in college warned him of his limited chances in film due to his cockeyed stare. Indeed, after a screen test at Columbia Pictures Harry Cohn dismissed him by saying, “For the same price I can get an actor with two eyes.”

4. COLUMBO'S DOG WASN'T A WELCOME SIGHT AT FIRST.

Columbo's dog
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

When Columbo was renewed for a second season, NBC brass had a request: they wanted the lieutenant to have a sidekick. Perhaps a young rookie detective just learning the ropes. Link and Levinson were resistant to the idea, but the network was pressuring them. They conferred with Steven Bochco, who was writing the script for the season opener, “Etude in Black,” and together they hatched the idea of giving Lt. Columbo a dog as a “partner.” Falk was against the idea at first; he felt that between the raincoat, cigar, and Peugeot his character had enough gimmicks. But when he met the lethargic, drooling Basset Hound that had been plucked from a pound, Falk knew it was perfect for Columbo's dog.

The original dog passed away in between the end of the original NBC run of the series and its renewal on ABC, so a replacement was necessary. The new pup was visibly younger than the original dog, and as a result spent more time in the makeup chair to make him look older.

5. FALK'S REAL-LIFE WIFE PLAYED A ROLE IN THE SERIES.

Falk first met Shera Danese, the woman who would become his second wife, on the set of his 1976 film Mikey & Nicky. The movie was being filmed in Danese’s hometown of Philadelphia, and the aspiring actress had landed work as an extra. They were married in 1977, and she was able to pad out her resume by appearing on several episodes of Columbo. Her first few appearances were limited to small walk-on parts—secretaries, sexy assistants, etc. By the time the series was resurrected on ABC in the early 1990s, she was awarded larger roles.

She originally auditioned for the role of the titular rock star in 1991’s “Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star,” but her husband adamantly refused, since the role included a scene of her in bed making love to a much younger man. She instead played the role of a co-conspiring attorney, and was also allowed to sing the song that was the major hit for the murdered star.

6. THE CHARACTER'S TRADEMARK RAINCOAT CAME FROM FALK'S CLOSET.

The initial wardrobe proposed for Columbo struck Peter Falk as completely wrong for the character. To get closer to what he wanted for Columbo, the actor went into his closet and found a beat-up coat he had bought years earlier when caught in a rainstorm on 57th Street. And he ordered one of the blue suits chosen for him to be dyed brown. The drab outfit would become one of the trademarks of the character for decades.

7. STEVEN SPIELBERG GOT AN EARLY BREAK ON COLUMBO.

“Murder by the Book” was the second Columbo episode filmed, but it was the first one to air after the show was picked up as a series. Filming was delayed for a month, though, when Falk refused to sign off on this “kid”—a 25-year-old named Steven Spielberg—to direct the episode. Finally he watched a few of Spielberg’s previous credits (all of them TV episodes) and was impressed by his work on the short-lived NBC series called The Psychiatrist. Once filming was underway, Falk was impressed by many of the techniques employed by the young director, such as filming a street scene with a long lens from a building across the road. “That wasn’t common 20 years ago,” Falk said. He went on to tell producers Link and Levinson that “this guy is too good for Columbo."

8. COLUMBO'S FIRST NAME WOUND UP THE SUBJECT OF A LAWSUIT.

Fred L. Worth, author of several books of trivia facts, had a sneaking feeling that other folks were using his meticulously researched facts without crediting him. He set a “copyright trap” and mentioned in one of his books that Lt. Columbo’s first name was “Philip,” although he had completely fabricated that so-called fact. Sure enough, a 1984 edition of the Trivial Pursuit board game listed the “Philip” Columbo name as an answer on one of their cards, which led to a $300 million lawsuit filed by Mr. Worth.

The board game creators admitted in court that they’d garnered their Columbo fact from Worth’s book, but the judge ultimately determined that it was not an actionable offense. By the way, years later when Columbo was available in syndicated reruns and HD TV was an option, alert viewers were able to freeze-frame a scene where the rumpled lieutenant extended his badge for identification purposes in the season one episode “Dead Weight” and determine that his first name was, in fact, “Frank.”

9. THE SERIES DIDN'T FOLLOW A STANDARD MYSTERY FORMAT.

The premise of Columbo was the “inverted mystery,” or a “HowCatchEm” instead of a “WhoDunIt.” Every episode began with the actual crime being played out in full view of the audience, meaning viewers already knew “WhodunIt.” What they wanted to know is how Lt. Columbo would slowly zero in on the perpetrator. This sort of story was particularly challenging for the series’s writers, and they sometimes found inspiration in the most unlikely places. Like the Yellow Pages, for example. One of Peter Falk’s personal favorite episodes, “Now You See Him,” had its genesis when the writers were flipping through the telephone book looking for a possible profession for a Columbo murderer (keep in mind that all of Columbo’s victims and perps were of the Beverly Hills elite variety, not your typical Starsky and Hutch-type thug).

A page listing professional magicians caught their eye, and that led to a classic episode featuring the ever-suave Jack Cassidy playing the role of the former SS Nazi officer who worked as a nightclub magician. When the Jewish nightclub owner recognized him and threatened to expose him, well, you can guess what happened. But the challenge is to guess how Lt. Columbo ultimately caught him. 

10. THERE WAS A SPINOFF THAT KIND OF WAS BUT THEN WASN'T.

The 1979 TV series entitled Mrs. Columbo was not technically related to the original Peter Falk series. In fact, Levinson and Link opposed the entire concept of the series; it was NBC honcho Fred Silverman who gave the OK to use the Columbo name and imply that Kate Mulgrew was the widowed/divorced wife (the series changed names and backstories several times during its short run) of the famed homicide detective. The “real” Mrs. Columbo was never mentioned by her first name during the original series, but actor Peter Falk possibly slipped and revealed that her name was “Rose” when he appeared at this Dean Martin Roast saluting Frank Sinatra and asked for an autograph.

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