Pittsburgh, PA
June 1, 2023
    News           Sports           Lifestyle           Classifieds           About Us
A & E
Tv Listings
The Dining Guide
Headlines by E-mail
Home >  A & E >  TV/Radio Printer-friendly versionE-mail this story
TV Preview: 'Scrubs' operates on different level than the usual sitcom

Tuesday, April 30, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

NORTH HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Even in the back parking lot, it's an easy mistake to make. After all, people are wearing scrubs. Some have stethoscopes around their necks; others carry charts.

If not for the sign near the entrance ("ATTENTION!! This hospital is closed to the public"), it would appear to be the real deal. Instead, it's the set of NBC's first-year comedy "Scrubs" (9:30 tonight).

Unlike most television series that film on sound stages behind the gates of studios that dot Southern California, "Scrubs" took over an abandoned hospital. Early in production, a few would-be patients stumbled onto the property and were quickly sent to a real medical center.


WHEN: 9:30 tonight on NBC.

STARRING: Zach Braff, John C. McGinley, Donald Faison.


"One of the things we wanted to do when we did a medical comedy was to try and make it realistic," said series creator Bill Lawrence at a January press conference in the former hospital's cafeteria. "I'm a huge TV watcher, and every time they tried to do a medical sitcom, I think where they fail is that they don't look real."

No fear of that with "Scrubs." Actress Judy Reyes, who plays no-nonsense Nurse Carla, gave a tour of the well-worn, dingy set. Actors have their dressing rooms on one floor, but the rest of the four-story building -- and the back parking lot -- is often part of the set. (The exterior of the fictional Sacred Heart Hospital seen on "Scrubs" is an operating medical center elsewhere in Los Angeles). The building also houses offices for writers, producers and editors, which gives these actors a rare opportunity to get glimpses of scenes they've shot.

"Sometimes we have to charm the editors into seeing some stuff," Reyes said. "We're actors; we're anal."

Lawrence said the abandoned hospital has become integral to the show.

"We're able to do broad comedy and get away with it because when you're in the [intensive care unit], it's a real ICU," he said. "It buys us the ability to do jokes that might make us look like a silly sitcom if we tried to do them on a soundstage."

Reyes took a few wrong turns on the tour ("Today I was looking for the shower and I got lost for 10 minutes," she explained), as she talked about the building's climate control problems. It started out too hot, but by January was too cold. Only one elevator in the building works, and, even then, it needs an operator.

"It's just the glamour of television," Reyes joked. "We just make it look easy."

Printouts from the Web site eBay hung on a bulletin board out of camera range in the ICU. A photo of actor John C. McGinley (Dr. Cox) was selling for $18.50. An autographed picture of Zach Braff (first-year resident J.D.) had been bid up to $44.75.

"Would you pay that?" Reyes asked, incredulous.

The set for the apartment belonging to J.D. and Turk (Donald Faison) is on the building's first floor. Reyes cringed when a nosy reporter discovered a pornographic video ("The Bigger the Better") used as set dressing.

"Look, there's also Chaucer!" she said, pointing to a book on the desk in J.D.'s bedroom.

Elsewhere in the building, dancers rehearsed the steps from the fantasy sequence "West Scrubs Story," which turned up in a recent episode.

Tonight's episode features four cast members from NBC's "St. Elsewhere" -- Ed Begley Jr., William Daniels, Stephen Furst and Eric Laneuville -- as doctors who got sick at a medical convention. In an upcoming two-parter, Brendan Fraser guests as the brother of Dr. Cox's ex-wife (Christa Miller, Lawrence's wife).

Those roles are stunts inspired in large part by requests from NBC, but they're implemented by Pittsburgh native Brett Benner, 34. He's in charge of the show's casting with partner Debby Romano.

Benner, a 1986 graduate of Peters Township High School and a 1990 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, started out as an actor.

"As I was climbing toward 30, I wasn't where I wanted to be," he said in a recent phone interview. "You get to a point where you don't want to live hand to mouth anymore."

In addition to casting guest stars, Benner helped assemble the show's core cast last spring. Before Braff was cast as J.D., the show's narrator and conscience, Benner said, other actors were in the running for the part, including Ethan Embry ("That Thing You Do!") and David Moscow ("Zoe, Duncan, Jack and Jane").

"They said they wanted a Tom Cavanagh-type coming off the first season of 'Ed,' " he said. "Someone cute, but not intimidating to guys, who women would find appealing."

Benner, who also worked on the soon-to-be-canceled "Three Sisters," said there's a difference between casting actors in a traditional sitcom filmed with multiple cameras in front of a studio audience and "Scrubs," a single-camera show without an audience or laugh track.

"On 'Scrubs,' you can get away with hiring people who aren't necessarily ha-ha funny," Benner said. "You can hire people who are funnyish or you can hire a type."

Benner's involvement in the series has nothing to do with several Pittsburgh references on "Scrubs" this season. Scripts for early episodes revealed Dr. Cox is a native of the 'Burgh, and Dr. Kelso's ancestors settled in Monroeville. Lawrence said it's just a strange coincidence.

Although the ratings for critically acclaimed "Scrubs" are not through the roof (it's tied for No. 40 out of 209 broadcast network series so far this season), NBC has already renewed the show for fall. It has faced tough competition from ABC's "NYPD Blue," CBS's "The Guardian" and Fox's "24" through most of the season. Lawrence hopes for a ratings upturn in year two.

"In the pipe dream in my head, I would hope this show would follow the same pattern as 'Will & Grace' and all the recent hits," he said. "It's so hard to get an audience in today's landscape. We have a real specific goal of trying to be incredibly ambitious this year. Maybe sometimes, to tell you the truth, we err on the side of trying to pack too much into shows, but nowadays you have to do anything you possibly can to separate yourself from the pack."

The show's use of music, sound effects, narration and quick fantasy sequences gives "Scrubs" a signature style that differentiates it from standard sitcoms.

The piercing whistle of the irascible Dr. Cox is among the sounds heard regularly, generally followed by one of his nicknames for J.D.: newbie, Gladys, Clara, Janis, Kimmy. (Others call poor J.D. "Bambi" and "Q-Tip" on account of his unruly hair.)

McGinley, who plays Cox, said he's been impressed with the show's scripts.

"These guys keep putting all these layers in every script," he said, unconcerned about Cox's constant cynicism. "[Bill Lawrence] seems to redeem [Cox] by the end of each episode. I think he can be cynical because his point of departure is love and acceptance."

Lawrence praised McGinley's performance, crediting him with the character's development.

"People have been very nice to me about creating a very cynical guy with a heart," he said. "I would be the first person to say that Mr. McGinley is the one that brought the heart to it and that's what made him an incredibly interesting character.... The moments where Johnny C. shows his emotional side and reveals that he [cares] are some of the strongest moments of the show."

Lawrence said the series was inspired by several college friends who became doctors. He joked that his worst nightmare would be to wake up in a hospital to see them in charge of his care. Before shooting began, Braff and the other actors visited hospitals. Now doctors approach them and want to share stories.

"They're like, 'Tell this to the writer,' and then, without a doubt, [the stories are] way more gruesome and horrifying than we would ever use on the show," Braff said.

Jenkins, who plays the evil Dr. Kelso, always gets his character's favorite phrases thrown back at him.

"They say, 'Hey, sport' and then tell me that their chief of medicine was much tougher than I am," Jenkins said.

Friendly reactions from viewers make the long hours of work more rewarding.

"It makes it easier to stay up until 3 in the morning when you run into somebody in the airport who says, 'Wow, your show cracks me up,' " Lawrence said. "It does make it sweeter, to be honest with you."

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

Back to top Back to top E-mail this story E-mail this story
Search | Contact Us |  Site Map | Terms of Use |  Privacy Policy |  Advertise | Help |  Corrections