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Two and a half reasons to smile again

February 12, 2008 |  2:55 pm

Loree Veteran TV producer Chuck Lorre has made a career out of being funny. And although there was nothing humorous about not working for three months, Lorre has found his smile again.

Both of his CBS comedies, “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory,” will produce nine more episodes for this season, which means his 200-person staff will be back at work by next week — much sooner than most of the TV industry.

Lorre and his co-show runners, Lee Aronsohn (“Two and a Half Men”) and Bill Prady (“The Big Bang Theory”), returned to work Monday to figure out how they will produce nine episodes in 12 weeks. This is how it will play out:

“It’s gonna be an enormous cluster [insert the word for Charlie Harper’s favorite hobby] of stuff to do,” Lorre said in his first interview since the strike was called. “Normally, the kind of stuff you complain about is now just an absolute joy. Yay! We get to make our show again. We’ll be working seven days a week for the next three months and we’ll be happy to do it to pull this off.”

“Two and a Half Men,” the No. 1 comedy on TV, is in good shape, Lorre said, because they have one complete script ready to produce. “Big Bang,” a freshman show that was gaining momentum in the ratings when the strike began, was in the middle of shooting an episode, so production will start from scratch on that episode.

“It’s really surreal coming back after a strike,” Lorre said. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I really hate to date myself, but I was around for the ’88 strike and it’s very disorienting. It’s not a vacation. It’s not restful. It’s a stressful  three months. It was purgatory. It was not hey, hooray, we’re not working. It was awful. There’s an emotional toll. I’m really lucky because it was not a financial strain. But the financial strain on people around you and entire communities is huge. There’s nothing good about it.”

Lorre says he is thankful his employees will get to complete the majority of the episodes ordered, as opposed to shows that are facing severely shortened seasons and others that aren't returning to the schedule until fall. “Men” will complete 19 out of 24 and “Big Bang” will finish 17 of 22.

“Just like it’s better to have written than to write, I’m glad this is behind us,” Lorre said. “But at the same time, there’s something to learn about it. I certainly learned something about the depths of my workaholicism, because there was withdrawals.”

Returning to his job this time has been nothing like coming back from a vacation hiatus, Lorre said.
“We got sent home,” he said. “Even if you don’t like school, you don’t want to get sent home. And the truth of the matter is to be at work every day with people for years, it becomes your life. And people become part of your family. And when a show stops suddenly, you’re powerless to do anything about it. And it’s not unjustified. It’s all legitimate. There’s no malice on the part of anybody. It was a journey, and these three months were both awful and instructive about how grateful we have to be about being able to do this for a living.”

Did it provide fodder and inspiration for his famous vanity cards? Lorre is known for the musings he posts at the end of each episode of all of his shows. During the strike, the cards stayed on message: “United we stand.”

“I took notes,” he said coyly. “I have some thoughts.”

-- Maria Elena Fernandez