NOW IN THEIR SECOND YEAR OF RESIDENCY, THE SCRUBS TEAM HOPES A HEALTHY DOSE OF NETWORK SUPPORT AND A VERY FRIEND-LY NEW TIME SLOT WILL ADD UP TO A PRESCRIPTION FOR BREAKOUT SUCCESS
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Scrubs NBC, 8:30-9 PM STARTS SEPTEMBER 26

There’s a new tradition on the Scrubs set in its second season: a weekly challenge called ”Scrubs Factor.” In its first installment, cast and crew members were offered $100 for every pickled pig’s foot they could eat. (An assistant director took home the loot, after chomping down seven feet.) Then there are the standing wagers outside of this tourney, like the open challenge for anyone to spend an hour in a drawer in the basement’s morgue. (The medical comedy is written, shot, and edited in a Studio City hospital that was closed in 1998.) ”I hate turning down bets, but that was like, there’s no way,” says Sarah Chalke, who plays the driven, social-skills-free Elliot. ”There’s still mung in the trays.”

The biggest Scrubs gamble, however, comes courtesy of NBC, which handed the sophomore comedy the hallowed post-Friends time slot. That makes it the first critically acclaimed show to start the season Thursdays at 8:30 since, well, Friends did in 1994. ”The spotlight is so bright [at 8:30], it’s almost unfair to ask any new show to go in, no matter how good it is,” says NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker. (Feel free to snicker when mentally pairing the word good with slot alums ranging from The Single Guy to Inside Schwartz.) ”We realized we would probably be better serving the time period and ourselves if we moved an established show in there.”

This increasingly rare instance of a network heartily supporting a show that hasn’t yet reached smash status (it finished in 38th place last year) has the cast somewhat mystified. Says Judy Reyes (the no-nonsense nurse Carla), ”Jeff Zucker loves himself some Scrubs, I have to say.” So far the prognosis seems positive: Since Scrubs moved into its new time slot this summer, it has been retaining 87 percent of Friends’ audience — and Zucker has been quoted as saying that he’ll be happy with a 70 percent retention when Survivor returns. ”I cut that [article] out so I could fax it over to him every time the numbers come out,” laughs show creator and executive producer Bill Lawrence.

Being bequeathed TV’s highest-profile — and, some would say, most cursed — time slot hasn’t given the cast a case of nerves. In fact, they’re downright Zen about it. ”We can’t do anything about it other than tell one joke at a time,” says Ken Jenkins, who plays the show’s soulless chief of staff, Dr. Kelso. Adds Donald Faison (cocky surgical resident Turk): ”We got here because we played hard and didn’t take ourselves too seriously. So we’ll go out, have fun, and enjoy the game.”

The Scrubs folks clearly take the ”game” metaphor to heart: Visit the set and you’re likely to see John C. McGinley (the unrelentingly sarcastic Dr. Cox) practicing Rollerblading in the hall. Between shots, Faison’s been known to strum a guitar and perform his impression of Neil Diamond singing the theme from the cartoon Transformers. Things are so relaxed that when the actors finish early, they often won’t leave. ”People hang out because they’re laughing so hard they don’t want to go home,” says Zach Braff, who stars as the show’s hapless protagonist, the eager resident J.D. Credit for this chummy atmosphere is given to Lawrence’s strict ”no a — hole” policy, announced at the beginning of last season. ”I would rather have a good guy than an a — hole who’s slightly better at a job,” he says. ”It’s a quality-of-life thing.”

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