Whether you knew him as Shane Donovan on “Days of Our Lives” or Max Sheffield on “The Nanny”, if you were watching TV in the ’90s, you knew Charles Shaughnessy. The British actor is one of ET’s Iconic Leading Men of ’90s TV alongside Mark Curry, Patrick Duffy, Jimmy Smits and Grant Show — but as he sees it, a lot of his success came from his talented female co-stars.
“You know, chemistry is a mystery,” he tells ET’s Nischelle Turner. “It’s like jazz.”
The son of a television writer and an actress, it was seemingly just a matter of time before Shaughnessy would enter the family business himself. It didn’t take long for his career to take off, as in his late 20s, he landed a role opposite Patsy Pease on “Days of Our Lives” in 1984.
“They were trying to find a pair for her,” he says of Pease. “They were like, ‘Well, let’s try this guy.’… They wrote a scene for us, and it just happened. It was that chemistry thing, and it just worked.”
Shaughnessy’s character, Shane, entered a romance with Pease’s character, Kimberly Brady, and turned them into a super couple. The fans went wild over the pair’s chemistry — but lightning would soon strike twice.
With eight years on the soap under his belt and a handful of other guest roles in shows and TV movies, Shaughnessy came across a script for “The Nanny” in the early ’90s.
“I was a little hesitant about doing a dad in a sitcom, like all the sitcom dads, you’re stuck for the rest of your life,” he explains. But after his first time reading a scene with Fran Drescher, he knew “there was something going on.”
“Like, those two accents,” he remembers. “You could tell just then that the sort of differences between us worked.”
The writers tweaked the pilot to better fit Shaughnessy and Drescher, and the result was “the best pilot I had ever seen,” the actor recalls. Network politics had the cast and crew crossing their fingers, but after a solid three episodes, they received an order for three more. They were the little engine that could during their first season, “and then we went back the second year and it just sort of took off,” Shaughnessy says.
“The Nanny” starred Drescher as Fran Fine, a Jewish fashionista from Flushing, Queens, who shows up at the doorstep of British Broadway producer Max Sheffield (Shaughnessy) trying to sell cosmetics. Max hires her to be the nanny of his three kids — and the rest is history.
“I think we just knew how to play off each other,” Shaughnessy says of what made the show work. “We trusted each other, we enjoyed each other… and it took off like a rocket.”
The show ran for six seasons from 1993 to 1999, featuring A-list guest stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Elton John, Coolio and Billy Ray Cyrus.
“I mean, everyone you could imagine came through,” Shaughnessy notes.
In 1998, viewers saw Fran and Max tie the knot — an episode that was a “blur” to him, Shaughnessy says — and as he claims, served as the “death knell” for the show’s longevity.
“The fans wanted us to get together. The network definitely wanted us to get married, [but] we knew that that was kind of a death knell. When you’ve got a relationship built on this sexual tension, getting married is like the last thing you want to do,” he shares. “So, I think we kind of we did it but were like, ‘Oh well.'”
“The Nanny” was cancelled the following year, but Drescher — who co-created the show with then-husband Peter Marc Jacobson — has hopes to bring it back. She’s working on adapting the show into a Broadway musical, while there’s also been talk about a TV reboot.
“We’ve talked about it, and she actually had a really, really, I thought, genius idea. I just thought, ‘This was very smart.’ That’s all I’ll say,” he teases with a laugh.
“I was very hesitant about anything,” he confesses. “[But] I heard that and went, ‘Oh, that’ll work.'”
In the meantime, the cast of “The Nanny” reunited for a table read last year. See what Drescher told ET about their virtual get-together in the video below.
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