For One Week Only, It’s ‘Scrubs,’ the Sitcom
LOS ANGELES ( NBC’s “Scrubs” has never been accused of being a conventional sitcom, nor has it tried to be.
Not until this week, anyway.
On Friday (Jan. 21), “Scrubs” will film in front of an audience, using multiple cameras, for the first time. Fans of the show needn’t worry: It’s not a radical overhaul dictated by NBC to improve ratings.
Instead, an extended fantasy by J.D. (Zach Braff), who’s treating a patient who’s a TV writer, will play out on the show as a traditional sitcom, complete with a live audience and laugh track.
“Basically, it’s tweaking sitcoms and an homage at the same time,” says “Scrubs” creator Bill Lawrence, who’s previously worked on traditional sitcoms like “Spin City” (which he co-created) and “Friends.” “Zach and and Donald [Faison], on the show, love sitcoms; they’re always goofing on ‘Sanford and Son’ or ‘Friends’ and all the shows they watch.”
The idea came to the show’s writers because over the four years of the series, they’ve come across a number of interesting stories, some based on fact, that for whatever reason “have no second act,” Lawrence says. “There’s nothing to do.”
As a way around that, this episode, written by Deb Fordham, will introduce those stories in the first act — which will look like any other episode of “Scrubs” — then be resolved, in neat sitcom fashion, in J.D.’s fantasy.
Lawrence is looking forward to the experiment, but he says, not entirely jokingly, that “there’s a high recipe for disaster,” stemming mostly from the fact that aside from Faison (“Clueless”) and Sarah Chalke (“Roseanne”), the other cast members have only limited experience acting on traditional sitcoms — or none, in Braff’s case.
“When we first cast this, I told everyone that it was a show built on pace,” Lawrence says. “So even if you have a joke in the middle of a speech, John McGinley, I want you to — people are gonna process that joke, but I want you to get through that speech the way people talk, and haul ass.
“And now John has a monologue in the sitcom with like four laughs in it, and he’s going to have to, overnight, learn the skill of getting a laugh, holding, then continuing on with the speech as if that’s the way somebody talks.”
The audience for the show will be made up of “Scrubs” fans who bid on tickets (proceeds will go to tsunami relief efforts), so Lawrence isn’t worried about people being unreceptive to jokes. He does, however, plan to ask the audience for a little something extra in a couple of archetypal sitcom scenes, including a “Whoooo!” when Turk (Faison) and Carla (Judy Reyes) kiss.
“On ‘Spin City’ when I was there, we didn’t really tweak the laughs,” he says. “What we’re gonna do here is if somebody does something and doesn’t get a laugh, I wouldn’t be surprised if I asked the actors to … break the fourth wall and go, ‘Well, that didn’t work.'”
The sitcom episode of “Scrubs” is scheduled to air during February sweeps.