Is Jane Kaczmarek staging a sickout?
This much we know: Migraine headaches have kept ”Malcolm in the Middle” mom Jane Kaczmarek away from her Fox show, forcing producers to scrap two episodes and cull together two more using footage the Emmy-nominated actress had already shot. Here’s what we don’t know: whether her illness has anything to do with a growing epidemic in TV land — using ”sickouts” as a calculated ploy to get mo’ money. So far, alleged ailments have struck the supporting cast of ”Becker” and ”Judging Amy”’s Tyne Daly. Even ”The West Wing”’s Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, John Spencer, and Bradley Whitford (Kaczmarek’s husband) threatened to stage their own flu-out before scoring nifty pay raises. ”It’s a great equalizer, the sickout,” says one network executive. ”It has given talent some plausible deniability, and representatives have become more sophisticated [about it].” Parties close to Kaczmarek say the actress is indeed sick and that her contract negotiations began long ago, but Fox insiders are skeptical about the timing — perhaps because Kaczmarek’s attorney is Peter Nelson, the same guy who shrewdly repped the ”West Wing”ers (he declined to comment). In any event, net suits seem resigned to the fact that specially timed sickouts are spreading, and there isn’t a cure in sight. Says one exec, ”If it were a waste of time, actors wouldn’t be doing it.”