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They can laugh, now

Two CBS shows are among the first to resume shooting. And, boy, does it feel good.

February 27, 2008|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

AFTER 100 days on the picket line, this is how Chuck Lorre, the veteran TV writer-producer, brought his two CBS sitcoms back to life.

On Stage 26 last week, at Warner Bros. Studios, "Two and a Half Men" star Charlie Sheen writhed on the floor of a pizza joint after having been Maced by a woman. His costar, Jon Cryer, had it a little rougher. His first scene involved underwear as his only wardrobe item and an ice pack on his burned crotch.

"It wouldn't be 'Two and a Half Men' without some fresh assault on my dignity," Cryer noted wryly as he sat in the hair and makeup room, covering himself with a robe.

The writers strike has been over for two weeks, but the TV industry is just starting to get its groove back. Although the writers for all of the programs returning this spring are back at work, only seven series have begun shooting, including "Men" and "The Big Bang Theory," which were the first two shows across the five broadcast networks to begin production.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, February 28, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 61 words Type of Material: Correction
CBS sitcoms: In some copies of Wednesday's Calendar section, an article about the shows "Two and a Half Men" and "The Big Bang Theory" said Joel Murray, a director of "Big Bang," is the son of the actor Bill Murray. He is his brother. Also, a caption accompanying the article misspelled the name of the show as "The Big Band Theory."

Next door to "Men," on Stage 25, Simon Helberg, who plays nerdy Wolowitz on "Big Bang," sent signals around the world via the Internet so that a "cybernista" in Bogota, Colombia, could use his computer to grind coffee in Leonard and Sheldon's apartment. In another scene, Jim Parsons tried to make the most of a direction in the script: "Sheldon puts his fingers to his temple and concentrates fiercely, trying to explode Leonard's head."

"That's one instance where plain English doesn't help," observed Parsons, who had just received the script with the addition of the brain blast. "That's just more confusing. What do you mean, I'm trying to explode his head? But it's fun to do, actually, now that I know what it is."

Indeed, if the gag survived several rewrites and rehearsals before this "Big Bang" episode taped in front of an audience, Parsons' scrunch-faced blowup of Leonard's (Johnny Galecki) intellect is one of the funniest moments of the half-hour. The joke had occurred to co-show runner Bill Prady the previous night as he thought of the film "Scanners" and pictured Sheldon doing "an angry face like in that movie."

But executive producer Lee Aronsohn thinks there's more to it than Prady's penchant for sci-fi flicks. This "Big Bang" episode was in the middle of production when the Writers Guild of America strike began, and now the writers can't help but draw from their unemployment experiences.

"The whole runner with Sheldon trying to explode things with his mind is something we didn't have in November and something I don't think we would have if it wasn't for the strike," Aronsohn said. "You know, we have a lot of frustration stored up, which comes out in comedy. The transition from sitting around doing nothing but being stressed out to sitting around trying to be funny and stressed out is not that big of a stretch, it turns out."

Starting up

Multi-camera comedies are easier to start up than dramas. ABC's "Boston Legal" was the first one-hour series to begin filming, and three more CBS series -- "Shark," "Ghost Whisperer" and "Cold Case" -- begin Thursday. But Lorre's sitcoms were ahead of the half-hour pack because his company was ready to tape one episode of each of his shows when the strike was called on Nov. 5. The "Men" script would have taped on Nov. 9. "Big Bang" was set to tape its eighth episode Nov. 6.

Returning to his 200-member TV family felt "terrific and a little surreal," Lorre, a prominent creative force in Hollywood, remarked. Over the years, he has been at the helm or toiled on some of the most popular comedies on the small screen: "Dharma & Greg," "Roseanne," "Cybill" and "Grace Under Fire."

"The three months was traumatic," Lorre said. "It wasn't a hiatus, a vacation. It was miserable. I thought we might be rusty and stuff, but it felt like the writing staff was firing on all cylinders. It's strange. It's like the strike didn't happen."

At least on Lorre's stages. The Warner Bros. lot was virtually empty Thursday as the three lead actors of "Two and a Half Men," the No. 1 comedy on television, and the crew pre-taped a few scenes. The rest of the episode was shot before an audience on Friday night.

"It felt very comfortable," Cryer said. "Although having peeked into the abyss, there was a certain maturity. You tend to take a situation like this for granted, and when it's taken away from you, you have a newfound appreciation."

Cryer was touched that the head of catering had remembered his affection for Pop-Tarts and had welcomed him with a "spectacular assortment" of them. Second assistant director Chris Jensen, who had used his time off to train as an emergency medical technician, said he laughed when he arrived at the Warner Bros. security gate and realized he'd forgotten the number for the stage where he has worked for five years.

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