Tuesday, May 4, 2010

NURSE JACKIE at the Paley Center

Last night I attended a delightful NURSE JACKIE event at the New York Paley Center For Media. Next week's new episode Monkey Bits (#208), featuring guest star Harvey Fierstein, was screened. Afterwards there was almost an hour of discussion with Edie Falco, show creators/writers Liz Brixius and Linda Wallem, and producer Richie Jackson. As always at the Paley events, watching great television in a comfy theater with an enthusiastic audience is a unique and lovely experience.

I've embedded the audio from the entire 45-minute discussion at the bottom of this post, if you'd like to get all the delicious details.

On Stage at the Paley Center (L to R):
Richie Jackson, Liz Brixius, Linda Wallem, Edie Falco,
and panel moderator Pat Mitchell/Paley Center CEO
[photos by Chloe Seldman/Michael Priest Photography]

A friend of Falco's sent her and Jackson a script called Nurse Mona, which was very different from the show they ended up making. It was dark with supernatural elements, and included dead characters (ghosts) and even animated sections. Jackson, Falco, and the Showtime cable network fell in love with the idea of Falco playing a strong, blue collar nurse character, and decided to develop a radically altered version of the original script. At around the same time, Wallem and Brixius had written a pilot together for a different show for Showtime, which was passed on. Showtime introduced these two parties, in the hopes that some showbiz magic would ensue.

"We love addiction, we think it's hilarious," jokes Wallem while explaining why she and Brixius were so drawn to working on the nursing project for Falco. Falco is more than an actor on this show, and both Wallem and Brixius gave her much credit for continuing to collaborate with them on this show throughout the process. During the panel, Falco remained adorably modest in this area, but admits that her years and years of acting experience give her plenty of perspective and she welcomed the input. Another very special perk of this show: it is shot entirely in New York City, which was something Falco requested so that she could stay with her family.

Edie tried to do a bit of research in advance of playing a nurse (at Bellevue, "on an outpatient basis," she jokes). Acting research is not something that Falco comes to naturally, and while at the hospital she felt so in the way of the urgent care being given, it became tough work. There were many nurses in the audience at the Paley this evening; Wallem mentioned that the NURSE JACKIE Facebook page gets plenty of comments from viewers who are nurses, doctors, and other healthcare providers.

During the audience Q&A at the panel's end, one fan asked what happened to beloved former All Saints nurse Mohammed “Mo-Mo” De La Cruz. According to Brixius, there were indeed additional Mo-Mo scenes shot which had to be left out of the show due to time constraints. In these scenes you see that Mo-Mo now works for an Upper East Side dermatologist - "pumping botox for three times the money, and working half the hours. He just knew where his life was going, he didn't want to end up 40 and burnt out, he saw it coming." Wallem added that over the development of season one Doctor O'Hara became Jackie's main confidant and friend, which was leading to Mo-Mo's character being redundant.

Most of the panelists brought up the many ways they insure NURSE JACKIE is constantly discussing the problems with American healthcare today. Although the show was created before Obama's current healthcare bill was under debate, and although NURSE JACKIE does not use "ripped-from-the-headlines" cases, such ideas have been embedded in the show at every stage.

Brixius and Wallem are big Paddy Chayefsky fans, bringing up his work on films NETWORK and THE HOSPITAL. They see NURSE JACKIE in part paying homage to Chayefsky, to his unhinged main characters and crumbling institutions. Working on premium cable allows the filmmakers to create darkly funny and affecting stories, in ways a network (ie, free TV) would never sanction.

This was a charming, funny panel if you like the show - listen to the whole thing below. Let me also give a shout out here to Alix, aka The TV Chick, who has posted her own terrific write up of this panel. 'Twas great meeting you, Alix.

NURSE JACKIE has already been renewed for season three.

--> NURSE JACKIE panel discussion (MP3) embedded via Drop.io

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