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‘Scrubs,’ Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience
LOS ANGELES ( It’s 6 p.m. on a Friday in January. On a smallish, stuffy soundstage in suburban L.A., the cast and crew of “Scrubs” film part of Tuesday’s (Feb. 15) episode.
The show’s creator, Bill Lawrence, is making jokes about how he’s jealous of star Zach Braff’s talent and hopes he “does horrible” during the evening’s shoot. Somewhere backstage, guest star Clay Aiken is being made to look like a sad-sack hospital employee.
None of this would be all that out of the ordinary for the show, were it not for the 300 or so people sitting to one side of the stage, taking it all in. “Scrubs,” which in every one of its previous 84 episodes has strived to look and feel nothing like a traditional sitcom, will this night become the sitcommiest sitcom around.
“All the patients in the beds will be models and very handsome, very attractive,” Lawrence says a few days prior to the shoot, which harkens back to his time working on shows like “Spin City” and “Friends.” “All the female doctors will, for some reason, be wearing low-cut scrubs. Everything that a sitcom might do.”
The sitcom premise is an extended fantasy sequence by J.D. (Braff), who’s treating a man who once wrote for “Cheers” (Ken Lerner, himself a sitcom vet). Lawrence also wants the episode to be a thank-you to the show’s audience by inviting some of them to watch the show being made — something that doesn’t happen during a normal week, when “Scrubs” is shooting at an abandoned hospital in North Hollywood.
“What we’re trying to do in the middle of it, even though we’re doing sitcommy stories and sitcommy things, is ultimately have a great experience for the fans,” he says. “Which means we’re still writing funny jokes. So I hope people will like it on two levels — hopefully they’ll watch it and laugh because we took time to write really funny stuff, and on some level be enjoying the fact that we’re tweaking the format a little bit.”
Lawrence will enlist those of us in the studio audience in that format-tweaking. He asks us for raucous applause when Aiken first appears, and for Kramer-like huzzahs when the Janitor (Neil Flynn) makes his entrance.
“We’re doing all the sitcom conventions,” he says. “One of the stories is they have to raise some money, so of course there’s a hospital talent show with a big cash prize. If people pay attention early on, they’ll realize one of the cafeteria workers is Clay Aiken, which is such a sitcom moment.
“You can already put it together.”
Lawrence has a practical reason for doing the episode as well. He’s executive producing several multi-camera comedy pilots this development season, and he wants to use the “Scrubs” crew for those shows as well. “Part of this is sitcom practice for the crew, so they’re ready to do those pilots and shows with me,” he says.
That doesn’t really matter during the shoot, though, as Ted the hospital lawyer (Sam Lloyd) and his a cappella group, the Worthless Peons, entertains the crowd with renditions of TV theme songs during one break, and former Men at Work frontman Colin Hay, who’s appeared on the show in the past, sings during another.
Lawrence admitted to being a little worried about how the experiment would come off, but following the taping, tie loosened and shirt untucked, he looks pleased with the outcome. He’s autographs a couple dozen scripts for audience members, thanking each one for supporting the show. “Sitcom practice” has gone off without a hitch.

The multi-camera episode of “Scrubs” airs at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday on NBC.