So I’m watching the best-of Cybill Shepherd’s ’95-’98 CBS sitcom Cybill on DVD, and at the end of the final episode, “Ka-Boom,” Cybill (Shepherd) and her newly broke best friend Maryann (Emmy winner Christine Baranski, doing Karen Walker before Megan Mullally) are arrested for the murder of Maryann’s ex, Dr. Dick. (In their defense, they didn’t think he was in his car or his boat when they blew them up.) “To be continued…” the screen read. Only there’s a problem: It wasn’t. The series got canceled.
We all know the pain of an unresolved cliff-hanger. Five years ago, for one of EW’s Guilty Pleasures issues, I actually phoned a creator of the Olsen twins’ canceled sitcom Two of a Kind and demanded that he tell me whether the father (Christopher Sieber) would have gotten together with the live-in babysitter (Sally Wheeler). That led to minor ridicule around the office, of course, but also to a recurring item in EW called What Would Have Happened, where I asked creators and executive producers of TV shows taken too soon to resolve the questions their cancellations left unanswered. After I got to the bottom of Cupid, John Doe, Wonderfalls, Popular, and Miss Match — click on those links for much-needed closure — the magazine’s TV review section underwent a redesign and there was no longer a home for WWHH. Well, we’re bringing it back. Hopefully in the pages of EW, but definitely on PopWatch, where we’ll be able to give the resolutions the space they deserve and you the opportunity to weigh in on them.
How do we begin? You tell us the cliff-hanger mysteries you’d like solved, and we’ll try to find producers willing to talk. The shows can be recent casualties (note: sometimes the show runners are still, understandably, in the fetal position and not ready to dish) or older ones that continue to consume you. In the meantime, I took the liberty of phoning Cybill Shepherd to chat about the drama-filled end of Cybill. The interview after the jump.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When we last saw Cybill and Maryann, they were being arrested for the murder of Dr. Dick, who’d just spent all of Maryann’s money.
CYBILL SHEPHERD: It was a great cliff-hanger, wasn’t it? Was, in fact, Dr. Dick killed, or did he fake his own death? Maryann could’ve gotten a lawyer that got her out and Cybill ends up in prison, or vice versa. Well, you know I did play Martha Stewart going to jail [in the 2005 TV movie Martha Behind Bars]. I really think what would’ve happened with this series would’ve rivaled the real story of Martha Stewart going to prison. A real comedy version of it. I mean, the two of us ending up in prison — it would’ve been so fantastic. And we had one of the best writing staffs that ever existed — Michael Patrick King [Sex and the City], Alan Ball [Six Feet Under]. I was heartbroken that we didn’t get to go further. It felt like having one of my limbs cut off. Michael Patrick King once described Cybill and Maryann as “Cybill was the heart and Maryann was the razor.” In my humble opinion, it was one of the great partnerships on television.
Did you have any idea that the show wasn’t getting a fifth season when you shot that final episode?
Well, that’s very interesting. Between the third and fourth season, I found out about the deal that had been made between the network [CBS] and the studio [Carsey-Werner], and the deal was such that the network essentially paid for the show and then once the show went into syndication, the studio would pay the network back. It was too good of a deal for the studio. The network and the studio were in a feud, so I [suspected] that the show would not go on, but everybody was kind of pretending like it would. [In 2001, CBS would file a $53 million lawsuit against Carsey-Werner alleging that the studio hadn’t tried hard enough to sell the show into syndication; the companies would reach an out-of-court settlement in 2005.] I can’t even believe the show is on DVD. I never thought it would happen. Over the years, I really didn’t have the show. I had ¾-inch videotape, and who has a player for that? So I asked Carsey-Werner, “Can I get a DVD just for my own personal use?” I think I paid $4,000 or $5,000 to them to do that. So it was a struggle even for me to get copies. It was a hugely emotional thing for me and really bad for my career to have that show just disappear like it never existed. Not having a goodbye episode. Not being syndicated. Not coming out on DVD. That was 10 years ago [that it ended]. It wasn’t until The L Word that I really started making another comeback. But Cybill holds up great, what do you think?
It does. It makes you miss those days when mature women could headline smart comedies like Cybill, Designing Women, Murphy Brown.
I think 1998 was kinda like the Bermuda Triangle for women over 40 in shows. Not only did Cybill go off the air that year, but so did Murphy Brown, Grace Under Fire, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. I mean, we just disappeared for a while off network television, and we didn’t really come back until you look at some of the wonderful shows on television now. Brothers & Sisters with Sally Field. Damages with Glenn Close. The Closer with Kyra Sedgwick. The nails were starting to be nailed in the coffin of the Cybill show [in season 3] around the time of the “Valentine’s Day” episode. I’d gotten the idea from Gloria Steinem that Valentine’s Day was originally, like, Vagina Day. [In the episode, Cybill explains what a heart-shaped Valentine actually symbolizes.] So we went to the network censor and said, “Can we say vagina?” And he said no. Then we asked, “Can we say labia?” And he said yes. And we thought, Does he not know what that means? And so it went on the air like that. Breaking all the rules. Hysterically funny. Huge ratings. And then we got our hand slapped royally by the network. We did a history-making episode on menopause, and I had to fight the network to use the word period.
There are only 13 episodes on the set. Are there ones you wish made this first volume?
I’m very grateful that it’s out, but we couldn’t use any of theepisodes that I sang in because of the cost of the music. That’s one ofthe things that kept it from coming out on DVD. Originally, the creditsequence was “Nice Work If You Can Get It.” But that’s been changed to”Gonna Make It.” The one episode that I really wanted on this set wascalled “The Big Apple Can Bite Me.” Maryann and Cybill go back to NewYork, and I sing “That’s Life” on a sushi bar with Maryann at my feet.I asked how much it would cost, because I was thinking maybe I wouldpay. It would’ve cost $65,000.
What would you have done differently if you could’ve scripted the ending of the series?
It breaks my heart that we didn’t get to do a proper last episode. I at least wanted to make sure that the two main characters got an incrediblegoodbye. [In “Ka-Boom”] I’m hosting a talk show and have to fill time and, if yourecall, I bring Maryann on and she has this monologue that is so funnyand touching. [I had filmed a] little goodbye, a song [Sings] “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody.” But that scene was cut. Once I was off-camera, they said I wasn’t allowed in the editing room anymore, like I had been for 85 of the 87 episodes. Ten days later, I almost died and had to haveemergency abdominal surgery. I had a double twist in my small intestine. The show almost killed me.
Well, luckily that drama had a happy ending.
I’m alive. [Laughs] And flourishing.
That’s right. You’ll return for The L Word‘s final season (premiering in January ’09 on Showtime), and you’re guesting on the Oct. 6 season premiere of Samantha Who?
I play Jean Smart’s nemesis. Like, we grew up together in highschool, and I won the beauty pageant and she didn’t. I have the perfectfamily and she doesn’t. Now we’re both competing in a dance competition.It was so much fun. I would love to come back on that show. I wanna come back! I wanna come back!
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