Friday, December 19, 2008

5 Questions with Karen Harris

Since this Q&A is in conjunction with the promotion of Karen's new webseries 'Life in General/"Greenville General", please link to the post rather than copying/pasting to other sites.  Thanks!

Amy – I’m so glad to answer questions from Robin & Patrick fans on Scrubs Hub. Scrubs are my special delight – I enjoy them so much. I’m a huge GH fan, and have been since I first wrote the show more than a decade ago. It’s always fun to taste the ‘different flavors’ of the show. Robin and Patrick are most definitely a flavor all their own in the world of Port Charles. I hope everyone continues to like them as much as I love writing them. (P.S., I’m a huge fan of Kimberly and Jason, too. I’ve adored Kimberly since I wrote her in the 90’s. I had the joy of being a writer during the Stone/AIDS story and it’s a real source of pride for me. And Jason is just as adorable as he seems on camera. Gorgeous, thank you very much, and as nice a person as you could hope to meet.)

Please keep in mind, I can only answer these questions from my position as a script writer. Some of the questions are Head Writer questions, and on those things, I’ll leave those to my boss, the talented Bob Guza.

1. Your webseries 'Life In General/Greenville General ' is a fun look at what goes on behind the scenes of a soap opera, paired with what you see on the soap opera itself. From your blog, you say you began writing the series in the early 90s and pitched the idea to the networks, but they had a hard time with shows about the behind the scenes part of the business. It would seem to be more of an acceptable option now, with shows like '30 Rock' becoming ever more popular, has the show picked up a sponsor?

I’m so proud of LIFE IN GENERAL/Greenville General. I get to work with terrific actors, and create my own stories from scratch. Like the “Jaws” story below, I get to draw from my own life and experiences.  

I am looking for either sponsorship, or 3rd party financing (investors) to go beyond the pilot stage and make it a series. I certainly think, with the popularity of the gossip magazines, and shows like Entertainment tonight and TMZ, viewers are much more sophisticated. They want to see behind the scenes. I think the events on “Life…” are very authentic. And it can be enjoyed by people who’ve never seen a soap in their lives. And Greenville General could become a show in its own right, though I like it best when watched in conjunction with Life In General. I will, of course, expand the cast. We only meet 4 of the actors in the pilot – I’d love to add several more, and if we can keep up the same caliber of actors already cast, both shows would be really strong. But we need to get word of mouth going – the more people who watch it, the more likely we’ll attract a sponsor. We’re already on, youtube,, and, and about to go on We’ve had really terrific reactions to it. People often ask me if I want to put it on broadcast tv (like SoapNet or Oxygen). Of course, I think getting my show on tv would be great, but the more we explore the possibilities on the internet, the more I like the idea of doing the show there. Creatively, it’s very exciting.

The webseries came to fruition during the writer's strike via, how great was it to see your characters come to life on film? The cast is fantastic, for our GH readers, can you talk about casting John Ingle, Lindze Letherman, and Scott Clifton? Their characters are different from those on GH. And lastly, when will the next episode be available?

We developed the show during the strike, and shot it the week the strike ended (last week of February of 2008.) It took several months for to come up with enough programs to feel comfortable launching. (They had over 40 creators working on projects, they just were taking time to deliver them). And there were several more months of getting all the technical bugs out. By the way, there are a couple of really good shows on the site right now, in addition to Life in General. Mary Feuer, who was a headwriter on “Longelygirl15” has a series she produced called “With the Angels.” And there’s a brand new series I just love called “Speedie Date.” Both of those shows were much cheaper to produce than mine (you’ll see why when you watch it), and I paid for “Life…” out of my own pocket. So I really can’t do more without some outside funding.
Anyway, I was able to cast the show with friends and colleagues. Specifically, I think Scott was my first commitment from the GH people. And he was the only one who didn’t have a character written yet. Scott came and walked with the picketing writers one day at the CBS Radford Studio in Studio City. We were walking and talking (Scott, me, Michele Val Jean, and Tracey Thomson, before she went over to AMC), and a couple of dozen other writers from other genres. We never discussed my internet project – I was still trying to figure out what I wanted the show to be.

Anyway, after about an hour, Scott told us goodbye and headed across the street to his car. Something made me stop dead in my tracks, and then I chased him down before he could reach his car. All I said was “I’m creating a project for the internet, do you want to be involved.” He didn’t hesitate. Absolutely. We exchanged contact info, and when I went home, I pulled up the script and added Fritz the Stage Manager. If we do more shows, I plan to give Fritz more of a story, but now with Scott moving to NYC to do One Life (I’m so happy for him), I’m afraid he won’t be available. Of course that would depend on when I shoot, and how many days I’d need him for, and whether he can manage it. But everyone loved working with Scott. He was so funny, and good and professional. I’d use him again in a minute.

Shortly after Scott agreed, I asked him to put me in touch with Lindze. I knew what character I wanted her for. The ‘good girl’ in Greenville General, who’s a vixen behind-the-scenes. That’s the challenge for an actor (and a writer) on this show – many of them get to play a role, and then play that character playing a role. It’s so much fun, and I knew Lindze could be both Maddie Whittaker, and Nurse Tracey. She also was immediately on board. We’d had a little bit of bonding on the picket line, too – I wrote the day she died on GH, and she told me how, when Mac was weeping over her body, she couldn’t stop crying – and she was supposed to be dead! Anyway, she was so good on Life in General (and Greenville General, too), and I’m lucky to have her. Both Lindze and Scott thought it was cool that they were both in the show without being involved with each other – because it shows that these are very different characters than the ones you were used to.

John Ingle is one of my very favorite people. When I looked at the character of Raymond Kennedy, a legend in daytime, the creator of Greenville General the second longest running soap on television, John was simply perfect for it. A cross between Doug Marland, and Irna Phillips, and Agnes Nixon! I like to joke that John’s my secret love affair, but it’s no secret! I simply adore the man. We have a great connection as writer to actor. One of my favorite moments this year was a scene I was able to write for him when Emily died – where he talked about idolizing Joe Kennedy, and wanting to be like him – and now he was very much like him, watching his children and grandchildren be taken from him. That Edward was aware his success is also his punishment. I actually dreamed that scene (well, a version of it) one early morning at dawn, shortly before Alan’s character was killed, but we had to save it for Emily. And when you watch “Life In General” you’ll hear a reference to that – when Raymond says…”It’s a terrific scene -- it came to me in a dream…” Once again, reality.  

Even if you watch the show on one of the other sites, there’s additional material that’s only seen on Once you get to the site, find Life in General (you can click on “most watched” and it should be second on the carousel – how cool is that?) Click on the image and it’ll take you to the LIG main page. Across the top it has categories “Production notes” “Cast & Crew” etc. You might find it interesting. But if you go on the Greenville General page, you’ll find the same thing, except, of course, it’s all about their fictional characters. I hope your readers enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it!

For a larger view of the clip, click here

2. From Natalie, pt.1 - I would like to know if she feels the writers are up to the challenge to write a happily married couple with no third party interference, and relying on internal angst instead, while keeping them in a front burner story and keeping them interesting and sexy and passionate, at the same time? Can Robin and Patrick escape the predictable route that all couples experience once they are married, and can they be kept interesting by the writers since they are now married with children? I've always felt Robin and Patrick were written differently than other couples on GH (and it is MUCH appreciated), but I wonder if the writers realize how badly fans yearn for a couple that can stay together and make it work.

For Karen's answer

Holy Smokes, Natalie…we don’t ask for much, do we? (LOL) You must know the words “happily married” in Daytime are an actor’s worst nightmare! Of course, we all know there’s a difference between “happily married couple”, and a couple who still love each other but have to overcome obstacles and conflict. You always want to give them good story, a love they have to fight for, romance the vewer yearns for. I think one of the challenges, and part of the joy, of writing Scrubs is their sense of reality. They are so grounded in the world we all live in. It’s fun to make them experience real life marriage /love issues that are dramatic enough to keep the viewers interested, without falling back on triangles, or cheating on their mate. To me, that’s the ‘grand experiment’ that is Scrubs. And if you’re enjoying how they’re written, it’s safe to say that the writers are indeed ‘up to the challenge.’ Part of that challenge is, as you recognize, writing them differently but still keep them integrated into the world of GH and Port Charles. And sexy and passionate is where the actors incredible talent comes in – as long as there is chemistry between them, they will be sweet and romantic and sexy and passionate, and all those other things we love to see in our root-for couples.

Pt. 2 - I would love to know what kind of story she can envision crafting for Patrick and Robin now that they are newlyweds with a newborn.

Well, it’s not the scriptwriter’s job to craft, it’s our job to execute the headwriter’s vision and story. I think newlyweds with a newborn has plenty of story potential. I mean, look how much mileage we have already gotten out of the marriage (two weddings!) and journey of baby Emma (a baby conceived by and born to an HIV mom, surviving a difficult birth, and a mom who is Robin – perfectionist, control freak, fulfilling her dream to be a mother…only what now? Plus a dad who is Patrick, a brilliant, arrogant surgeon, commitment-phobic, skirt-chaser, a hopefully reformed dawg). Right there, you can see how rich this story already is. No way we’ll let them get boring now!

3. From yankess9140 - I would love to ask her why they didn't really focus much on the HIV aspect of the pregnancy story. There was almost never any discussion of Robin's mortality, etc. Was this a conscious decision and what was the reasoning behind it?

I know a lot of research was done – and I’ve been told that the fact that an HIV+ woman can now carry and give birth to a child of her own with a minimum of risk (which was impossible when Robin was first infected) inspired this story. TPTB were very excited to present the most current information re: HIV and childbirth. The idea of Robin (and Patrick) came early in their relationship, but we wanted to give them a chance to be a couple before we brought a child into the picture. And that created a complication because, by the time we got Robin pregnant, some of the medical information had also changed. For example, there was an early script that I personally researched that dealt with which drugs from Robin’s daily cocktail might have to be sacrificed because they’re a danger to the baby. However, we were then informed by our consultants (The Center for Disease Control) that the info was no longer relevant/accurate. So everything had to be rewritten. Because of the speed which new information becomes available, and because many expert sources often provided conflicting/contradictory information, I would guess the choice was made to stick primarily with the emotional drive of the story, and not let ourselves get hung up in the smaller details of the situation – rather than give misinformation. (Although there are still a number medical aspects that are portrayed. Not being able to breastfeed is one, the danger of the baby being nicked on the ear during birth, which created the blood-on-blood situation, was another.) We used Public Service Announcements to inform and enlighten, and the story itself to entertain.

As for Robin’s mortality, I remember a number of scenes that dealt with it – when Robin was refusing Patrick’s many proposals – where her fear of dying…her mortality…was discussed at length. Patrick and Anna discussed it, for certain. I’m pretty sure Robin spoke to several people about how she was terrified of dying and leaving Patrick alone to raise a child he hadn’t even been certain he wanted. The single HIV mother from NS1 was brought up on another occasion. Robin’s awareness of her own mortality is one of her driving forces, and a motive to her desire to want to create a perfect life for herself.

4. From court - One thing I'd like to know that I suppose is an obvious question is: what was Karen Harris' favorite SCRUBS episode that she penned? And does she realize how huge 'JAWS day' has become? 

Oh, my. I know I have favorite scenes, but favorite episodes??? Let’s see…well this year’s Thanksgiving. As a writer it was particularly fun because it was so different. I’m a big fan of “Sliding Doors” (the movie with Gwyneth Paltrow), so I approached the script with that in mind. Unfortunately, our budget and one-day shooting schedule won’t allow for a full-blown version like that, but the idea that if someone turns left instead of right, their entire life changes -- in this case it was ‘what if Robin and Patrick hadn’t met the way they did?’ – is so appealing. We wanted to say that even they’d met differently, they were meant to be together. All roads lead to Robin and Patrick! It was also fun to structure it like a mini-movie – instead of the more traditional daytime structure where each act consists of a scene from the various stories in the day. I got to skip over time from their first meet, to a month later, and two months after that! It was a challenge to the viewers, because they’re used to their shows laying out a certain way. It’s fun to shake it up a little.

I loved writing the day leading up to the first wedding, with Anna and Robin, and Maxie, Coleman, Mac. (Loved the Mac/Maxie scene in the chapel, too.) I loved how Robin knew Patrick would be there while everyone else was panicking.

Going back, I’m especially proud of the day that Patrick got stuck by the needle in the O.R. He went to the docks and Robin followed him there, and he let down with her, emotionally. (Pay attention on Thursday, January 22 for a special treat in that regard.)

I had a couple of very cool scripts on Night Shift. In Season One, I got to write their break-up, which I thought was so bittersweet. Honestly, I cried while I was writing it. I didn’t have a lot of their couple-dom in the others, but I was always committed to seeing how much Patrick supported her during her father’s illness. That’s the subtle stuff that’s sooo romantic.

I also had the gift of the first ‘girls night out.’ Even though it wasn’t a Robin/Patrick day per se, it was quite a bit about their relationship, and the troubles between the sexes.

As for “Jaws”, that’s just crazy! I can’t believe the ‘Jaws’ day has become a fan fave. I’m so excited! “Jaws” is a true story – it happened to my sister and her son. I’ll tell you how it came to fit into Patrick’s mouth. It was very early in the Scrubs relationship – and we didn’t really know Patrick and his history all that well yet, other than the fact he was a womanizer, and some of the dynamic with his father. Every once in a while, a writer gets a real treat…the chance to write whatever inspires them to round out a day’s scenes. When a show is running short, you look for your opportunities to expand on characters and relationships (without affecting any plot points). I really felt I wanted to start to know Patrick better – figure out what makes them attracted to each other. Why would our Robin fall for this guy. I thought “what would make Patrick sort of interesting and quirky? What could he say about himself that would make him unlike any of the other men on canvas? What’s his unique voice?” I knew I wanted it to connect to his childhood, because the loss of his mother, and his disappointment in his father are huge in his life. But I didn’t want it to simply be “I miss my mother, she would have liked you.” That’s too easy. In moments like this, you want to try to dig a little deeper. Usually, in those moments, you take a story from your own life, and make adjustments to fit the character. Because we were building the character, I didn’t change a thing. It happened word-for-word the way Patrick tells it. The only thing different is his sense of sadness…which is where we realize how vulnerable he is in missing his mother. But here’s the whole truth:

My nephew, now a grown man with two beautiful sons of his own, was the little boy who fell in love with Jaws, the book. My sister wanted to encourage his reading, but not at the expense of his innocence. She tore out several pages that involved a love scene. When Michael (the nephew) questioned it, my sister lied and said she doesn’t know why those pages were missing but she ‘remembered’ those pages, she told him, and nothing much really happened on them. There was nothing he could do at the time, but it bugged him. And one day, they happened to be in a bookstore, and he disappeared, and when she found him, he was reading the missing pages. He looked up at her, crushed. He was only ten, but he knew she had lied to him. That’s exactly how it happened, the way Patrick describes it. It’s a story that my sister, my nephew and I still laugh about today. And wait’ll I tell them that the Scrubs fans TOTALLY got it!! It’s a classic example of “write what you know.” Sometimes the best stuff comes right out of your life and your heart. (I’d love to know what it was about that scene appeals to you).

5. From It'sOnlyMe - How did she feel about a 3rd party for Scrubs? I've always felt a 3rd party was not needed for them. I'd like to know as a writer if she agreed or disagreed with it. Also did she feel NS 1 did any damage to Scrubs as a couple? And if it did does she think they were repaired on GH?

I agree -- right now I don’t think a triangle would add much to the fun that is Robin and Patrick. That’s what made the Thanksgiving episode interesting – it was a chance to see them with other people, without jeopardizing what they have because it was outside the characters reality! That doesn’t mean someone won’t catch someone’s eyes one day in the future . It’sOnlyMe asks as though there is a 3rd party, but I’m racking my brain, and I’m not coming up with anyone who was a substantial threat to their love. I think Patrick’s dalliance with Leyla (which was during the break up) showed us that Robin and Patrick belong together. There was the deep friendship with Jagger on Night Shift. But no, I think Night Shift was a great chance to see our couple more in depth. I don’t think any damage was done.

Many thanks to Karen Harris for answering fans' questions, the Scrubs board for hosting the repository of questions, and the fans for asking such great questions - it's a rare opportunity to get a glimpse into the process of writing for a daytime drama!


court,  December 19, 2008 at 11:21 PM  

Thank you Amy for setting this up and to you Karen, if you're reading. Loved all the answers! Awesome! :)

Candi,  December 19, 2008 at 11:57 PM  

Thanks to Ms Harris for answering the questions (and Amy and the Hub for coordinating this). I'd like to know if her thoughts on Season ONE of Night Shift with regard to pre-break up interference by the third party and subsequent damage that followed them to GH if she is kind enough to return for another q&a. Thanks again to all.

ALLY2HisHeart December 22, 2008 at 11:59 AM  

This is awesome! Thanks so much, Ms. Harris, for your terrific and thought-proving answers, and to Amy for setting this up.

Once I have more time to catch up, I plan on it and viewing this web series.

Thanks again! And Happy Holidays to all.


GH Rocks January 7, 2009 at 6:36 AM  

I think Karen is brilliant and loved reading this. Thank you!

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