Other segments from the episode on August 25, 2006
DATE August 25, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Creator and executive producer David Shore and
medical consultant Dr. David Foster discuss the series "House"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for the New York Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.
The Emmy Awards are presented this Sunday on NBC, the first time they've been
televised before Labor Day. Today we're going to visit with some of the
people whose shows are up for awards. We'll start with "House," the Fox
series that stars Hugh Laurie as an acerbic but brilliant doctor, tackling one
baffling medical case after another. In an even more baffling case, Laurie
was snubbed by the Emmy voters in the Best Actor category this year, one of
the season's most egregious oversights. But "House" the series was not
overlooked and is one of the five shows nominated for Outstanding Drama.
Our guests are David Shore, the creator and executive producer of the series,
and David Foster, a physician who left his work at Beth Israel Deaconess
Medical Center in Boston to be an executive story editor, writer and medical
consultant on "House." Terry spoke with them last year.
Here's a clip from the show in which Hugh Laurie, as Dr. House, and Lisa
Edelstein, as his boss, debate whether a sudden seizure by a healthy young
female athlete is a symptom of spinal meningitis. House doesn't think so.
(Soundbite of "House")
Mr. HUGH LAURIE: (As Gregory House) Twelve-year-old female, fever, rash,
neck pain. Not meningitis.
Ms. LISA EDELSTEIN: (As Lisa Cuddy) It's the definition of meningitis.
Mr. LAURIE: (As Gregory House) Sure. Pus in the spinal canal makes it hurt
to move your head up and down, but her neck only hurts moving side to side.
Ms. EDELSTEIN: (As Lisa Cuddy) Oh, side to side.
Mr. LAURIE: (As Gregory House) Doesn't fit.
Ms. EDELSTEIN: (As Lisa Cuddy) The three of you, lobby now.
Mr. LAURIE: (As Gregory House) Those little pills you're passing out so
efficiently aren't going to do Ms. Luganis squat.
Ms. EDELSTEIN: (As Lisa Cuddy) You just don't want to deal with the
Mr. LAURIE: (As Gregory House) That's right. I'm subjecting a 12-year-old
to a battery of dangerous and invasive tests to avoid being bored. OK, maybe
I would do that, but I'm not. Turns out she's got meningitis, you're right,
you win. But if we go back downstairs and she dies, your face will be so red.
Ms. EDELSTEIN: (As Lisa Cuddy) You have one hour.
Mr. LAURIE: (As Gregory House) If you have a lumbar puncture, some brain
infections can be pretty clever at hide-and-seek.
Unidentified Man #1: I'll get on her blood work.
Mr. LAURIE: (As Gregory House) No, you won't. You, sir, will research all
the causes in the universe of neck pain.
Man #1: The list is, like, two miles long.
Mr. LAURIE: (As Gregory House) Start with the letter A, and put her on
Man #1: Rifampin is for meningitis. You just said...
Mr. LAURIE: (As Gregory House) In case I'm wrong. It has happened.
(End of soundbite)
TERRY GROSS, host:
David Shore, Dr. David Foster, welcome to FRESH AIR.
David Shore, how did you describe the series when you were first pitching it?
Mr. DAVID SHORE: It's a very different series now than what we initially
pitched. We came in with just the basic procedural element of it. The
character of Dr. House was not defined in any way, shape or form. It was--it
much more closely resembled "Law & Order" or that kind of show, except with
germs as the suspects and germs as the bad guys and investigating that news.
It was pitched as a team of doctors who try and diagnose the undiagnosable
It's a show--what I realized was when you're dealing with a procedural police
drama, you've got all these motives; you've got all these people hiding
things. Germs don't do that, obviously. You don't, you know, you don't have
one germ blaming another ge--framing another germ because he was sleeping with
the first germ's wife.
GROSS: That would make an interesting series.
Mr. SHORE: It would. If I could have done that, the show--that's what I
would have done. But we couldn't do it. So we realized that--and it just
makes it better ultimately. We realized, `Well, you can't just have a dry
procedural in this environment. We have to make characters interesting.' And
I just started thinking about what sort of doctor would be interesting to
watch, and it evolved from there.
GROSS: Why'd you decide a doctor who's really unpleasant would be interesting
to watch? Doctor's really rude to everybody, very condescending.
Mr. SHORE: I did actually. That's exactly what I decided. It's--I just
think--from my personal dealings with doctors, I just find that most of what
they deal with is so mundane and so uninteresting that they--it's got to drive
them crazy. And, also, I think that most people would love their jobs a lot
more if they didn't have to deal with people. And--we're all--we all view
GROSS: Not me. I wouldn't have a job if I wasn't a people person.
Mr. SHORE: That's a good point. But there are other people--I'm sure. We
all view ourselves as being the brilliant people being surrounded by idiots on
a certain level. We also all view ourselves as being hopelessly unqualified
and fooling everybody. But I just thought it would be really interesting to
have a guy who just said those things and just wasn't afraid to say those
GROSS: So where do you get the rare diseases from? Where do you find them?
Do you go looking through rare medical books or through, you know, medical
sections of newspapers and magazines? You know, Dr. Foster, did you actually
have cases like any of the ones on "House"?
Dr. DAVID FOSTER: Some of the cases are from my experiences and the
experiences of some of the other doctors that we have working on the show.
Some come from medical journals. Some come from the Internet, friends at
parties, doctors who think--we're always canvassing the doctors that we know
for what their most interesting case was or what their most difficult problem
that they had to solve was.
Mr. SHORE: And their most annoying patients as well.
Dr. FOSTER: Their most annoying.
GROSS: Well, my favorite diagnosis, there was an episode where--I think it
was, like, a teenage boy--this was a few weeks ago--who was sick, and
everybody thought, `Oh, he's been poisoned, or he's been exposed to some kind
of toxic.' And it turned out, it was some--had to do with his exposure to
termites in the wall of his home that no one even knew were there; no one even
knew the home had termites. But Dr. House, figuring this out, actually
goes--punches a hole in the wall, finds the termites.
Mr. SHORE: Only after spitting on a surgeon to stop a surgery midprocess.
Dr. FOSTER: And autopsying the cat to find the termite in the cat's belly.
The cats had died.
GROSS: So who came up with this termite-related--I hope rare--illness?
Dr. FOSTER: That actually came out of a conversation between myself and one
of the writers and a consultant from the CDC. We were actually calling about
a different story, and the person said, `You know, this is something that I
find interesting. This is an interesting story to me.' And we took it and ran
GROSS: Now not only is House, like, a brilliant doctor and detective, you
know, the Perry Mason of medicine, but he does everything himself. You know,
he's given one woman a gynecological internal exam. He's done a pelvic
ultrasound for another. You know, doctors never do ultrasounds. There's
technicians who do ultrasounds. So, like, Dr. Foster, do you ever step in
here and say, `Wait a minute. No one's going to buy this'? Like, Dr. House
isn't going to be doing these particular procedures.
Dr. FOSTER: Well, there's a line between `usually does' and `could.' I
Mr. SHORE: Yes, he does. And I tell him he's going to do it anyway.
GROSS: Well, why is he going to do it anyway?
Mr. SHORE: Because it's more interesting to watch Dr. House do it than to
watch some doctor we've never seen before do it. And, quite--and, again, I go
back to the conceit of the show. And I may--this may be somewhat of a
rationalization, but I--we've created a character here who doesn't trust
anybody. And so I--to a certain extent, we can get away with pushing the
boundaries a little bit because he is so off the wall, and he doesn't trust
other doctors' tests. So his reaction's going to be, `You do it, not somebody
else.' He wouldn't necessarily personally do it, but his team would do it.
GROSS: Now, you know, we've talked about what a toxic personality he is and
what a bad bedside manner he has. And you've mentioned that, you know, a lot
of the stories--a lot of the misdiagnoses is based on lies that the patients
or their families tell. Now in the episode that we've heard clips from, this
student who has been in a swimming competition has had seizures; everybody's
convinced it's part of this meningitis outbreak, except Dr. House. He thinks
it's something else. And he finds out it is something else, and this
something else is also related to the fact that she is pregnant and she hasn't
told anybody, and she certainly hasn't told her parents.
So when he solves the problem and he realizes he's also going to have to
perform an abortion to save her life, he can't tell the parents because she
doesn't want the parents to know, and he doesn't have the right to disclose it
if she doesn't want them to know. So I want to play a scene where he's
actually trying to describe the diagnosis and the procedure to the parents
without actually having to tell them that she's pregnant. Here's the scene.
(Soundbite of "House")
Mr. LAURIE: (As Gregory House) Your daughter has TTP. Don't worry, it's
curable. She'll be fine.
Unidentified Woman: Well, wait. I mean, what does TTP stand for?
Mr. LAURIE: (As Gregory House) Some really big words that you'd never heard
before and when we're done will never hear again. Have a nice day.
Unidentified Man #2: Well, when can we take her home?
Mr. LAURIE: (As Gregory House) In a few days. She needs some minor surgery
to remove the underlying cause before we can do the--another really big word.
Man #2: What's the underlying cause?
Mr. LAURIE: (As Gregory House) She has an abnormal growth in her abdomen.
Woman: What kind of surgery?
Mr. LAURIE: (As Gregory House) It's very simple. We do it here all the
Man #2: Could you be a little more specific?
Mr. LAURIE: (As Gregory House) Actually, no. I'm sorry.
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: Hugh Laurie, the determined Dr. House, in a scene from "House." My
guests are the creator, David Shore, and Dr. David Foster, who is a
consultant and writer for the series.
Can you talk a little bit about how the condescending, rude, insulting lines
are written for Dr. House?
Mr. SHORE: That's the greatest thing about writing for this show, I think,
is writing for Hugh Laurie in particular and writing for this character and
writing for Hugh Laurie 'cause he pulls off these amazing things, and he can
take these incredibly dramatic, incredibly serious scenes and you can write a
joke in the middle of it and he pulls it off. And it doesn't lose any of its
import, and it becomes funny without becoming silly.
I think the reason people are responding to him is because he's never nasty
just for the sake of being nasty. He's clearly nasty, but there's always some
reason for why he's doing it. It's always something he's trying to
accomplish, whether it's as simple as learning something about the patient or
learning something about the condition, but there's always a reason--or
getting them to change their behavior. There's always a reason. And,
frankly, if we were to go with our guts, we would just write joke, joke, joke,
joke, joke, funny, funny, funny, nasty, nasty, nasty. We've got to start with
where he's going and what he's trying to achieve and work backwards from that.
GROSS: You know, in a lot of procedurals, the program basically follows a
formula, and you can set your watch by it. Like, in "Law & Order" shows, you
could basically know exactly what time the police are going to be done with
the story and, you know, the DA's going to come in or the prosecutor's going
to come in. And, like, in "House," you could basically set your watch by what
time, you know, the patient's going to be brought in, when they're going to be
misdiagnosed, when the first breakthrough's going to be in the actual correct
diagnosis and so on. What are the advantages of writing a series that follows
Mr. SHORE: There's something somewhat comforting about it. As long--the
challenge is keeping it--you know, the disadvantages are obvious. I mean,
when you describe it that way, it sounds terrible. But it--I can't argue with
it too much. We try and mix it up every now and again. We did one a few
weeks ago where, at the end of--by the end of Act II, we knew exactly what was
wrong with the person. It was just a question of what's going to happen to
them. So we do try and mix it up. But it is the nature of story-telling; it
just becomes more obvious in a situation like this--that you have a formula
going on. But it is comforting. The audience likes to play along. It's a
game. It's the audience playing along with the game. The game happens to be
exactly 44 minutes long or whatever it is--an hour with commercials. But it
is something that people feel used to and comfortable with. And if they like
the way it's being told, I think they're going to continue to like it, as long
as it continues to be smart and continues to--you don't know why--you know
something's going to go wrong, but you don't know what's going to go wrong.
GROSS: I think one of the things that both crime shows and medical shows are
doing is pushing the kind of language and descriptions of the body that you're
likely to hear on television. Let's face it, you know, "Law & Order
SVU"--Special Victims Unit--and just about everybody on a show is, like, a
rape victim. There's often some pretty explicit descriptions of the evidence.
And, you know, on "House," there's been some pretty explicit descriptions,
too. Do you find that interesting, the way crime shows and medical shows
are--seem to be pushing the boundaries a little bit of prime-time broadcast
Mr. SHORE: I do. Practically, for our show, it's actually very tricky
because we've created this character whose bread and butter is, in a sense,
saying the unsayable. And that is the exact opposite of what network
instincts are. Network instincts are to not shock people, and it's more
dealing with--like in the episode you showed--you played some clips from,
there was a rather graphic line where he is trying to convince her to talk to
her parents, and he's very, very strong about it. And I think the line was
something along the line--if I can say it, it was, `You're old enough to bleed
out of your vagina, now old--it means you're old enough to make your own
decisions.' And he's--or, pardon me, `old enough to do whatever you want.' And
he's obviously trying to make a point to her to say, `You're a 12-year-old
kid; you've got a lot of growing up to do.' If he were to hold her hand and
say, `You're a 12-year-old kid; you've got some growing up to do,' it wouldn't
have the same impact. And it was an issue. The very issue of having a
12-year-old pregnant girl on TV was a real issue, and, you know, you've got to
choose which battles you fight, and we won that battle.
GROSS: What did you say to win it?
Mr. SHORE: We said exactly what we just described here, which is that that's
the whole point of this episode. The whole point of this character and the
whole point of this episode is this kid is a kid. We are not endorsing that
sort of activity, but 12-year-olds are doing the exact opposite. We are
actually talking about how a 12-year-old is a 12-year-old; a 12-year-old is a
child. And that is what makes it--that is exactly what they're objecting to
is the shocking nature of it. But the shocking nature of it comes from the
fact that she is a child, and she is experiencing these adult experiences
before she's ready to experience them.
GROSS: David Shore, Dr. David Foster, thank you both so much.
Dr. FOSTER: Thank you.
Mr. SHORE: Thank you, Terry.
BIANCULLI: David Shore is the creator and executive producer of "House." Dr.
David Foster is a medical consultant and executive story editor for the show.
The new season begins September 5th on Fox. They spoke with Terry Gross in
"House" is nominated for Outstanding Drama in Sunday's Emmy Awards.
Next up, another nominee, "Arrested Development," after this break. This is
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Creator Mitchell Hurwitz discusses the show
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
"Arrested Development," another Fox series up for an Emmy, won't be returning,
even though it's won Emmys each of its two previous seasons, once for
Outstanding Comedy Series and once for Best Comedy Writing. But it is
available on DVD, all of it, so there's still a way to enjoy series creator
Mitchell Hurwitz's twisted take on family dynamics.
The show stars Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth, the only sane person in a
family of eccentrics, egomaniacs, self-deluded showbiz wannabes, embezzlers
and adulterers. "Arrested Development" boasted a large cast of terrific
comedy actors, including Jeffrey Tambor as George Bluth Sr., the family
patriarch who was sent to prison for his illegal dealings in the construction
industry. Here's a clip in which Bateman, as Michael, and Tambor, as his
father, discuss possible courtroom gambits in the father's upcoming trial.
(Soundbite of "Arrested Development")
Mr. JEFFREY TAMBOR: (As George Bluth Sr.) Now listen, we can't just go in
there and plead not guilty. We have to have someone big behind us, our own
private Matlock. So I made some calls and I got him.
Mr. JASON BATEMAN: (As Michael Bluth) Got who?
Mr. TAMBOR: Andy Griffith. What you never say "Matlock"?
Mr. BATEMAN: Not a real attorney, dad.
Mr. TAMBOR: Now for 10 grand he'll actually sit behind us in court and read
the paper. For 15 he'll actually sit at the defense table. For $20,000 he'll
twice lean forward and whisper something in your ear. Oh, white suit, that's
Mr. BATEMAN: Well, that's an awful lot of money for the stupidest idea I've
Mr. TAMBOR: The juries love him.
Mr. BATEMAN: That's just it, dad. There won't be a jury because we are
Mr. TAMBOR: I am not guil--I didn't want to tell you this. Are you ready
for the bombshell?
Mr. BATEMAN: Andy Griffith wasn't the bombshell?
Mr. TAMBOR: I'm a patsy. I was set up by the Brits. A group of British
builders operating outside the OC...
Mr. BATEMAN: Don't call it that.
Mr. TAMBOR: ...contacted me for a partnership to build homes overseas. I
did not know they meant Iraq.
Mr. BATEMAN: We've got a picture of you with Saddam Hussein.
Mr. TAMBOR: I thought that was the guy who played the Soup Nazi.
Mr. BATEMAN: Come on.
Mr. TAMBOR: I told him how much I liked his work.
(End of soundbite)
BIANCULLI: Last year Mitchell Hurwitz accepted his second Emmy for "Arrested
Development." `The Academy has twice rewarded us,' he told the TV viewers at
home, `for something you people won't watch.' When I spoke to Mitchell Hurwitz
last year, I began with the ratings issue.
I actually think of "Arrested Development"--I've been a TV critic for so long.
I remember the first year of "Cheers," where at the end--at one point in its
first season it was the lowest-rated program in all of television. And...
Mr. MITCHELL HURWITZ: Yeah, I remember that.
BIANCULLI: And it was such a great show. And you just had to say there's
nothing wrong with the people making the show, there's nothing wrong with the
show; there's something wrong with the audience finding it. And I sort of
feel that about "Arrested Development," and I'm on the outside. What do you
feel like on the inside?
Mr. HURWITZ: Well, there's a great deal wrong with us, personally, if
that's--if you're--you know. I mean, there's a lot of drinking; I think
that's a negative. You know, there are many theories on why this doesn't have
a bigger audience. There was so much initial positive press that very
generously said that it was a smart show, which is a very nice thing to say,
but I think it may have put people off and made them feel like, `Well, I don't
want to be preached to,' or, `I don't want to watch something that's unfunny
and subtle.' And, really, you know, our delivery on this show is very dry.
The stories themselves and the comedy itself is very broad. So I have always
felt that we do have the right combination to get a big audience, but it just,
for whatever reason, hasn't hit that zeitgeist and hasn't been promoted in
such a way that people understand what we're selling here.
BIANCULLI: The show is almost always described as "smart," but it's also
Mr. HURWITZ: Yes, it's dense.
Mr. HURWITZ: It's dense. Myself and the other writers all come from
situation comedy. And in situation comedy, you know, you're working in front
of an audience, you're getting laughs, but you're only really able to get
three laughs per page, and we've all done that for a while. And this has
really been an opportunity to just pack in as much comedy as we can 'cause we
don't have to hold for laughs. But, you know, the hope is that we can tell
stories about characters that aren't stock characters by showing, you know,
the inconsistencies within the character, whereas in situation comedy
oftentimes you can only tell one story. A character just becomes a dumb
character or a greedy character or a selfish character. And, hopefully, these
characters are more nuanced, although just as absurd.
You know, we don't have a formalized rehearsal period, but if we get on a set
at 8:00, we're up and lit and ready to shoot at 8:10, and, you know, you can
run the scene 14 or 15 times. And that's really where the comedy comes from,
and particularly in a family piece, you know, that's where people really start
to interact and overlap and learn each other's rhythms.
Look, the tough thing about this show is that it does reward those who pay
attention, and my feeling has always been that there is a market for that kind
of thing. I know I'm that kind of TV viewer. I love studying "The Sopranos,"
and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "The Office," you know, both the British and
the American one. And so--although that--"The Office" is a very different
tempo, obviously, than this show. So, you know, in a funny way we often feel
that we're really making a show for the new technology here. We're making a
show for TiVo and we're making a show for DVD, and it really becomes, you
know, part of our objective in making this thing, particularly now that we see
that, all right, these numbers are kind of staying where they are and yet the
DVDs appear to be selling pretty well. So it becomes this new challenge.
Whereas when I started writing television much of it was disposable, there is
kind of the feeling that this might stick around for a while. So we're
encouraged to put as much in as we can while they're giving us the keys to the
building, you know.
BIANCULLI: Mitchell Hurwitz, talking to me last fall. "Arrested Development"
is up for an Emmy Sunday as Outstanding Comedy Series. I'm David Bianculli
and this is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King discuss the
television show "The Comeback"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, sitting in for Terry Gross.
"The Comeback," the HBO comedy series starring Lisa Kudrow, is not coming
back, but, like "Arrested Development," that doesn't mean it hasn't generated
any Emmy nominations at this Sunday's award show. Kudrow is up for
Outstanding Comedy Actress for her role as Valerie Cherish, an actress who
used to be a sitcom star and who now is starring in a reality show documenting
her attempt to break back into the business. "The Comeback" was co-created by
Kudrow and Michael Patrick King after ending their own respective, very
successful series. Kudrow played Phoebe on "Friends." King was a writer and
executive producer on "Sex and the City." King wrote and directed episodes of
"The Comeback," and he and Kudrow were the executive producers. This series,
like the others on today's show, is out on DVD.
Terry spoke with Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King last year.
TERRY GROSS, host:
Now the character you play in "The Comeback," Valerie Cherish, is first
auditioning and then gets the part in a new sitcom. And the sitcom is
supposed to be about four sexy singles who are roommates. But while shooting
the pilot, the writers realize that this isn't going to work because you, Lisa
Kudrow--your character is, like, older than the 20-somethings, the attractive
20-somethings who are in this sitcom. So they decide to make you Aunt Sassy.
Instead of the roommate, now you're the aunt who lives upstairs. Now I'd like
to play the scene in which the writers tell Valerie, the Lisa Kudrow
character, that she's being changed from a roommate to the aunt who lives
upstairs. And it's going to be a much smaller part. So here's the scene.
(Soundbite of "The Comeback")
Ms. LISA KUDROW: (As Valerie Cherish) So what's up, boss? Boss.
Unidentified Actor #1: Well, it isn't working. The network thought that the
four-girl thing was tired. So we're just going to make some changes to the
script. No one was buying you living with these kids. So now it's two young
girls and two young guys, and you're the aunt who lives upstairs.
Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) OK. Ooh!
Actor #1: Yeah.
Ms. KUDROW: So much information. My head's going to explode, you know.
(Actor #1 laughs)
Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) OK. So--all right, so now I'm the aunt?
Unidentified Actor #2: Mm-hmm. Aunt Sassy.
Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) OK. Whose aunt? Does it matter?
Actor #1: Cassie's aunt.
Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) Uh-huh. Oh, so June is not fired?
Actor #1: No. Oh, God, everyone thinks June is a star.
Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) Oh, good. Good.
Actor #1: Yeah.
Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) Yeah. Well, me too. Yeah.
Actor #1: Yeah.
Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) Yeah.
Actor #1: Look, we wanted to find a way to cement you into the show, so
you're Aunt Sassy who lives upstairs and owns the building.
Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) OK. All right. So she owns the building and she's
an architect. Did she design the building?
Actor #1: No, we dropped the architect thing. See...
Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) You did?
Actor #1: Well, we want to use you whenever we want to use you. And if you
had a job, it'd be all sorts of like chuffa...
Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) Right.
Actor #1: ...about why you weren't working.
Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) Mm-hmm. Yeah. But, you know, 'cause I'm it. I
Actor #2: This isn't a workplace comedy.
Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) Yeah. Well, not today, but who knows what's coming
tomorrow, right? But--and--no, I know what you're saying, though. Yeah. But
it's just on it, you know, I worked, but they still manage to write me into
every scene somehow. But, no, I understand. This is not a workplace comedy.
So, yeah, I get it. OK. All right. So I'm an aunt--still sexy, smart and...
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's Lisa Kudrow in a scene from "The Comeback." And Lisa Kudrow
co-created the show with my guest Michael Patrick King. Lisa Kudrow and
Michael Patrick King are my guests.
This is a really funny scene. It's also a kind of sad scene for the Valerie
character because she's being so offended in such euphemistic ways.
Mr. MICHAEL PATRICK KING: Right.
Ms. KUDROW: Yeah.
Mr. KING: This scene is interesting to me because it's everything in a
nutshell that you need to know about Valerie. She comes in in denial,
pretending that she's just going to get a new joke. She, underneath the
surface, knows that things aren't good. She gets thrown. She's greatly
disappointed. Yet within a matter of two minutes she's decided to spin it to
be, `Oh, I own the building. Oh, I know, this'll be fun.'
Mr. KING: In two minutes they tell her the truth, and she decides to hear
what she wants to hear and keep going in a bad situation. Maybe a healthier
person would have said, `Hey, you know what? Not for me. This whole thing
changed.' But Valerie's too needy. And, on the other hand, the thing I like
about Valerie is you can hand her a plate of crap, and she goes, `OK, mm-hmm.
Well, I was hoping someone would hand this to me later. I just didn't expect
it so soon. And isn't it a pretty plate?' And...
Ms. KUDROW: Yeah. `And it's a rich color.'
Mr. KING: It's a...
Ms. KUDROW: `Look at that rich brown and'--it's good.
Mr. KING: Yeah. I love that about Valerie.
Ms. KUDROW: That's what--yeah, that's what I actually like about her. To
me, her flaw is not how quickly she tries to adapt; that's the good part about
her is--you know, she wants what she wants; that's her flaw. She wants to be
the star again...
Mr. KING: Yeah.
Ms. KUDROW: ...and it's not possible. It's not a possibility...
Mr. KING: And no...
Ms. KUDROW: ...in this environment that she's in.
Mr. KING: And no matter how good her scene is, no matter how good she
manages them, over the next 12 episodes to create a scene for her, she's
always going to be standing next to a blonde 22-year-old in a bikini.
GROSS: Lisa Kudrow, one of the things I really love about your performance in
"The Comeback" is that although your character often doesn't get it--she
doesn't get that she's as important--that she's not as important as she hopes
she is or thinks she is, and she's not really picking up on some of the
obvious clues people are giving her. But she still registers the hurt, she
registers the pain. And to be able to do that as subtly as you do it in a
comedy is, really, just fascinating to watch. Could you talk a little bit
about trying to register subtle reactions in what's basically a comedy? It's
not a drama.
Ms. KUDROW: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Well, what's funny to me is someone who has no
idea how they're coming off. And, you know, the registering the
disappointment or the horror or whatever it is, she thinks she's covering it
so fast that you didn't even see that crack. And, you know, with a reality
camera in your face, you know, all day long, they're not going to miss a
thing. She just doesn't have a clue. She thinks she's covering really well.
GROSS: I want to play another short scene from the first episode of "The
Comeback." And this is during the shoot for the pilot episode, and this is
Valerie Cherish's big scene and I think her only scene in the pilot.
Mr. KING: Yeah. Scary.
GROSS: And what's happening is that two of the young, attractive,
20-something roommates are on the couch. The guy is beneath the woman. The
woman is--they're both wearing, like, shorts and T-shirts. She's kind of
straddling him playfully. And as they're like this on the couch, Valerie
Cherish walks in. So here's the scene.
(Soundbite of "The Comeback")
(Soundbite of scream)
Unidentified Actress: Oh, wait. Just because we're kissing and I'm on top of
you does not mean that I'm open to a relationship.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Actor #3: Damn, forget the relationship. Just open my shirt.
(Soundbite of audience reaction, `oohs')
Ms. KUDROW: (As Cherish) Note to self: I don't need to see that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: I love that scene. It's so bad. It's just--I think that scene just
perfectly embodies what's really bad about a certain type of sitcom.
Mr. KING: You know, it's true that it's bad, but here's the thing. That
line, "Note to self: I don't need to see that."...
Mr. KING: The original line that Lisa had and I wrote in the pilot script
was, `Get a room.' And Lisa said to me, `I think let's'--you know, I mean,
`Let's try to make this really a better, better, better sitcom joke,' you
know, because there's a thing called a "clam" in sitcoms, which is when you do
a phrase and every show then does the same phrase. And it's called a comedy
clam because it's overused. And so we were thinking, like, `What could it
be?' And then we came up with, `Note to self: I don't need to see that.' And
we started laughing so hard. But the fact of the matter is that is a
realistically good sitcom joke entrance line. And the sitcom itself, all
those things and the audience `Ooh'...
Mr. KING: ...it's accurate to me. And it's really fun because we actually
are writing a sitcom within this half-hour comedy. And it's fun to sort of
say, `And this is a potential 'nother type of comedy that you can see within
our show,' you know, this, as you said, awful show.
GROSS: Because you're...
Mr. KING: Thank you, by the way.
GROSS: You're writing a sitcom that you'd never want to write. And, Lisa
Kudrow, your character is starring in this sitcom that Lisa Kudrow would never
want to star in.
Mr. KING: Oh, Lisa...
Ms. KUDROW: Oh, my God.
Mr. KING: Oh, my God. Here's the story.
Ms. KUDROW: Ohh...
Mr. KING: That scene right before she comes in and says, `I don't want to
see that,' I directed the pilot--we were shooting the pilot, and Lisa's
standing out there waiting to make an entrance. And I look out there, and
she's completely transformed into this other sort of fraught-with-emotion
person. And I said, `What's the matter?' And she said, `I hate stupid, stupid
joke and saying this stupid line.'
Ms. KUDROW: I--yeah...
Mr. KING: And then she thought she had to make it funny...
Ms. KUDROW: Yeah, I got a little disoriented.
Mr. KING: ...like she was...
Ms. KUDROW: I was, you know, on a sitcom set about to make an entrance and
didn't believe in the line I was about to say. And...
Mr. KING: And a file downloaded.
Ms. KUDROW: Yeah. And I just like--obscenities are flying out of my mouth,
and, you know--`All right. Well, now--so how do you want me to do
it?'--'cause he kept wanted me, like...
Mr. KING: I kept wanting to do it more like a sitcom.
Ms. KUDROW: ...do it with a certain of energy and...
Mr. KING: And we tapped...
Ms. KUDROW: `But that won't be fun, that's not good.'
Mr. KING: We tapped into the cellular memory, just like the very first day I
walked onto our stage and saw the sitcom set and thought, `Somebody just put a
piece of concrete on my chest. I can't breathe. I can't breathe.' And then I
realized, `Oh, oh, no, we're making fun of the jobs that we have been trapped
Ms. KUDROW: Yeah.
Mr. KING: We're not actually doing them. We're trying to eviscerate our
feelings about them.
Ms. KUDROW: And make no mistake, that had nothing to do with "Friends," by
the way, 'cause it was really well written. And those--our writers on
"Friends" were really sensitive to if a line wasn't that great. Yeah, they
would change it. They'd change stuff on show night. So it wasn't that. It
Mr. KING: Making something out of nothing.
Ms. KUDROW: ...`Oh, my God.'
Mr. KING: Using your thing to make something out of nothing.
Ms. KUDROW: And I hadn't had to do that in, like, 10 years.
Mr. KING: Yeah.
GROSS: What do you both envision "I Am It" as having been like? And "I Am
It" is the sitcom that Lisa Kudrow's character...
Mr. KING: "I'm It!"
Ms. KUDROW: "I'm It!"
GROSS: "I'm It!" "I'm It!" Yes.
Mr. KING: It's much cuter than that, Terry.
Mr. KING: It's "I'm It!" It's not "I Am It." That's not--that's a sitcom
created at Harvard.
Mr. KING: It's "I'm It!"--exclamation point.
GROSS: "I'm It!"
Ms. KUDROW: "I'm It!"
Mr. KING: "I'm It!" That's how Lisa hears it in her head. You know what?
GROSS: So that's the sitcom this character used to be on before "Room and
Board." So what...
Mr. KING: Right.
GROSS: ...do you think of the sitcom as having been like?
Mr. KING: Well, you know, I think of--and actually, you know what is
interesting and another sort of fun thing for us is this week coming up, you
get to see actually a scene from "I'm It!"
Mr. KING: We created a scene from like 1992 from what Valerie's sitcom would
have been like, and when you see it, you get the sense that it's one of those
shows where the single girl ruled and she had an office and she was a lawyer
and there was a view of Manhattan and a cute guy in the office liked her and,
you know, it had a feeling of a low-rent "Designing Women," or, you know,
wants to be "Murphy Brown" and wants to be "Anything But Love." But that era,
you know, where the hair was a little bit bigger and the business suits were
bright. And the reason we put the--we attempted to do the scene is because we
wanted to show where she fell to, from the business suit and the office to the
running suit and the sitcom.
Ms. KUDROW: Yeah. And she was the A story and now she's the tag.
Mr. KING: Yeah. You know, and...
GROSS: Lisa--yeah, go ahead.
Mr. KING: No, no, it's--and it was really fun to do that, too...
Ms. KUDROW: Yeah.
Mr. KING: ...because we tried to make "I'm It!" as--or as Lisa says,
(shouting) "I'm It!"--as expressive and as authentic to that time as we could.
And Lisa, you know, is doing a whole 'nother sort of style of acting and it
was risky to show Valerie what Valerie thinks is good, but we went for it and
I think it turned out all right.
GROSS: Lisa Kudrow, a couple of things that you do in the role of Valerie,
you know, Valerie wants to be assertive. She wants to show her power, but she
really doesn't have any power. So she has meetings with writers and directors
in which she's really humiliated. But she'll say, mustering up all of her
assertiveness, `I need to know that I'm being heard.' And it sounds like such
the weak person's way of asserting themselves. And then she'll often like
bow. She'll bow to the crew or you know, bow to the director or whatever, and
that's what somebody who is really powerful does. And she just doesn't
recognize her lack of power. And I love those little telling gestures that
you have like that. Can you talk a little bit about developing those for the
Ms. KUDROW: Well, what--you know, the first thing that always came to mind
with her, she's like that bad old-time ad guy, that if you sell it and you
sell it well enough, they'll believe it even if there's absolutely no
substance there to support what you're trying to sell. And so that's one
thing that I was hoping would be really obvious, that she's just a little over
the top with her--very assertive and I, you know, demand respect, even though
no one--she never--it only comes up--she doesn't address it when she's
actually getting pummeled.
Mr. KING: I also want to mention something, Terry, that--about the hands.
You were talking about her bowing all the time earlier. We call those the
yoga blessing thank-you hands. And we laughed so hard, because that also is a
little bit of a virus that's running rampant in the actress community. Now
you'll start seeing it a lot. A lot of actresses do the yoga blessing
thank-you hands, to interviewers, to people bringing them their lattes.
Suddenly the hands come up, like I've had actresses do it to me about when I
say, `That was a really good scene.' They go--here come the hands--(whispers)
`No, you, no, it's about you.'
But it's never about you. It's about you saying, `It's about you.' So what we
liked about the yoga blessing thank-you hands is that it was accurate and
goofy. And she'll try to squeeze them in as she's going out a door.
Sometimes you just see the tips of the hands as the door closes.
Ms. KUDROW: But it's also--and it's just--it's like a--it's a phony gesture
Mr. KING: Yes.
GROSS: Yes, yes.
Mr. KING: And centered spirituality, which she wouldn't even know how to
BIANCULLI: Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King, of the HBO comedy series
"The Comeback," speaking to Terry Gross last year. More after a break. This
is FRESH AIR.
BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's interview with actress Lisa Kudrow and
writer-director Michael Patrick King, who collaborated on the HBO series "The
Comeback." Kudrow is up for an Emmy Sunday night as Outstanding Comedy
Actress. Terry spoke with them last year.
GROSS: You've both come off incredibly successful series, Lisa Kudrow from
"Friends," Michael Patrick King writing and executive producing "Sex and the
City." Can I ask you each to talk a little bit about the last episode of each
of your series and how much input you had into it? Michael Patrick King,
let's start with you and "Sex and the City." Like were you in--you must have
been in on the decision of who Sarah Jessica Parker should end up with.
Mr. KING: Yeah. I was--I actually knew who she was going to end up--I wrote
it, and I, you know, heralded or spearheaded the movement to it be Mr. Big,
of course. Also I was in on the decision to end the series, so that was one
of my decisions as well. So it was very much a big deal to write the finale,
because I knew that I wanted to make the audience happy and I wanted to make
myself happy and I wanted to make, you know, mostly the audience happy. And
plus we were in Paris, so there was all sorts of other exciting drama around
that. And it was just a blast from beginning to end. It was a beautifully
realized script by the production people, and I felt really, really good about
it. And it was very emotional to write it and it was very emotional to film
it and it was--I felt very satisfied when we were finished. It was a great
Ms. KUDROW: It was great. That was a great finale.
Mr. KING: Thank you.
GROSS: And were the rumors true that there were alternate endings that were
Mr. KING: There were. I wrote--just like I wrote "Room and Board" scripts,
I wrote three alternate endings, and we filmed all three because my big,
big--the press was kind of crazy and--about wanting to find the information
out, and I really didn't want the party to be ruined for anybody who was going
to be sitting and watching it on that Sunday night. So I filmed three
different endings. One, of course, is the one you saw. One was where she
married Petrovsky in Central Park. That was the TV Guide version that they
had said that they were all going to get married in Central Park. And I was
like, `All right, that'll be that version.' And then the last one was she was
a single girl who was jilted and unhappy. And you know what? That was the
easiest and most accurate one to write, 'cause it was the truest to the show,
that she'd come back and have been betrayed, and the four girls would have
GROSS: And how come you didn't do that one?
Mr. KING: Because it wasn't the end of the road. It wasn't the journey I
wanted to leave people on. I wanted to have the feeling that love is
potentially possible. You can have a dream and it can come true, that people
can be in different places at the different time and then all of a sudden find
themselves together. But it was very important to me that they not be married
at the end, because I don't think that was the message of the show. The
message of the show, or the series, was find love in whatever form works for
GROSS: Lisa Kudrow, how much of a say, if any, did you have in how your
character ended up in "Friends"?
Ms. KUDROW: Oh, not much of a say, and I wasn't looking for much of a say,
to be honest, 'cause, you know, David Crane and Marta Kaufmann pretty much
took care of the show for the whole 10 years. And we all trusted them
GROSS: At what point did you find out? Like, at what point did they actually
tell you what the last episode was going to be?
Ms. KUDROW: I think we all kind of knew how it would end, but, you know,
exactly what scenes and how--you know, exactly how they'd make it happen, we
weren't sure, like how--if we would all just walk out of the apartment, and
there was a lot of talk about how we all walk out of the apartment, and should
someone take the--there was a frame around the peephole and...
Mr. KING: Yeah.
Ms. KUDROW: ...you know, there was a lot of...
Mr. KING: Did anyone take that...
Ms. KUDROW: ...discussion about that.
Mr. KING: ...peephole frame, or did it stay there?
Ms. KUDROW: As a gift one year, I think set dressing gave us all a frame,
which was nice. But...
Mr. KING: Did you destroy it with all of your other memories?
Ms. KUDROW: Oh. I know. No, I didn't. No, but one thing that I
got--Matthew Perry gave me something that is treasured, and it was something
that was in the kitchen. It was a cookie jar with the face of a clock on it.
And one year, one show a few years ago, we were shooting and Phoebe--no one
had really thought this through--Phoebe had to gesture to something that, `Oh,
look, it's time to go,' and there was no clock available. And I just pointed
to the first thing that looked like a clock, and it was this cookie jar with a
clock face on it. And we shot it, and afterward the script supervisor came
over and said, (in British accent) `You realize you just pointed at a cookie
jar. You didn't'--it was a British woman. Anyway, I don't know, it made us
laugh really hard. That became our little joke. And then he gave me
the--`gave me'--asked someone if he could give me the actual prop. So that's
BIANCULLI: Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King of "The Comeback," which has
just come out on DVD. Kudrow is up for Best Comedy Actress at Sunday's Emmy
Coming up, David Edelstein reviews two new films. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Critic David Edelstein on movies "Idlewild" and
"How to Eat Fried Worms"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
Film critic David Edelstein reviews two movies this week, "Idlewild," a
musical set in the '30s starring Andre 3000 and Big Boi of Outkast, and an
adaptation of a beloved children's story about eating worms.
Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: Critics have lauded Outkast as hip-hop's most
entertaining mishmoshers. They mix rap and funk and pop and other genres, all
filtered through the sensibilities of two distinct personalities, Andre
Benjamin, aka Andre 3000, and Antwan Patton, aka Big Boi. Now the pair has
collaborated with their music video director Bryan Barber on an ambitious
mishmosh movie called "Idlewild." It's a period gangster musical with tommy
guns and vintage roadsters and numbers that range from hip-hop, to funk, to
blues, to Busby Berkeley deco extravagances, plus plenty of bloody shootings
and even a dewy romance. Does it gel? Not a chance. But it's entertaining
enough to remind you how many great American pop culture epics are
"Idlewild" revolves around a lusty, deep South cabaret nightclub known
blasphemously as The Church. It's run by Sunshine, played by big Faizon Love
until and his gangster godfather, played by Ving Rhames, are gunned down by
Trumpy, played by the great Terrence Howard. Big Boi is the guy who takes
over the nightclub, along with its debts, while Andre is the dutiful
undertaker's son, who by night tickles the ivories and falls for a chanteuse
played by Paula Patton, who's a tall drink of water.
The gangster melodrama is surprisingly effective, thanks to Howard's cunning
mixture of ice and hot-headedness. And the attitude is exhilarating, the way
the film is always perched between genres, ready to leap effortlessly from one
to another and back. What's too bad is that the musical numbers are hit and
miss. Barber's Outkast videos are witty montages in which the whole universe
comes alive and comments on the action. The director does some of that here,
especially with Big Boi's talking flask which is like something out of "South
Park." But mostly, he tries for the hyperactive sizzle of the movie "Chicago,"
and it's a big mess, with choppy hip-hop moves and weirdly disembodied vocals.
Even the raps don't seem to be coming from the performers' mouth. Give Barber
a point for oddness, at least, when Big Boi raps during a car chase with
Trumpy on his tail.
(Soundbite from "Idlewild")
Mr. EDELSTEIN: Although Big Boi has a casual and funny screen presence, that
sequence doesn't work as either a chase or a rap, and Andre's performance as a
moist romantic juvenile only plays because the ingenue opposite him is so
But "Idlewild" is diverting enough to suggest all the unexplored possibilities
in movie musicals, the way Outkast's best numbers suggest new avenues for
hip-hop which can bind together and energize so many home-grown musical
There was excitement of another sort at the media screening I went to. During
the shoot-'em-up nightclub climax, a fight broke out in the theater and the
audience freaked out and made for the exits. It was just two guys throwing
punches, but given the shooting onscreen, we all thought that bullets were
I hope life doesn't imitate art in the other fun movie opening this week, an
adaptation of Thomas Rockwell's gross out 1972 kids classic "How to Eat Fried
Worms." The writer-director Bob Dolman has taken Rockwell's disgusting conceit
and grafted on a narrative about a new kid who stands up to bullies and a
moral about the perils of bullying, but it's the worm set pieces that rule as
our hero must carry out a dare to eat 10 worms, 10 ways, between sunup and
I admit I spent much of the film with my fingers in from on my eyes, but I did
see bits of the burning fireball, a worm in a pot with Tabasco, and the big
porker, a worm fried in pig fat with blobs of fat melting with the
semi-liquified worm. I didn't watch the radioactive slime delight, which
makes a mess of the microwave. Reportedly no worms were harmed in the making
of the movie, and if you fear the film will inspire copycat dares, well, a
quick Web search informs me that earthworms are 70 percent protein. Have a
great Labor Day barbecue.
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.
BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.