You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Chuck Lorre on Why ‘Mom’ Is His Hardest But Most Rewarding Job

Chuck Lorre has been writing and producing comedy for TV for over 25 years, from his days on “Roseanne,” “Grace Under Fire” and “Cybill” through today, when he helms “The Big Bang Theory” and “Mom” as part of his overall deal with Warner Bros. TV. Here he talks about why he relies on the multicam format, what he’s learned from producing legend Norman Lear, and why he calls “Mom” the hardest but most rewarding job he’s ever had.

You’ve had an impressive string of successes. What’s your secret?
I really believe that the foundation of a good show is characters, and the jokes come second. If you don’t care about the people, it doesn’t really matter what’s on the page. Situation comedy is a misnomer. I think for a long time, the situation has just been life. It doesn’t start with a contrived situation or a joke. It starts with human beings that you can feel compassion for. I think when I’ve been successful it’s because the combination of words and casting, characters and relationships that people can care about.

Your shows all rely on multicam, which others have struggled to duplicate. What is it about the format that works for you?
There’s a terrific vulnerability when you’re working in front of a live audience. There are no tricks involved. There’s no editing or post-production magic. It’s very vulnerable. And I would guess that vulnerability is part of the appeal. When it truly works, it’s great. When it doesn’t work, it’s dreadful. But there’s no failure like a four-camera failure. It is hard to watch. It’s perhaps part of the reason that there’s this negative view of the whole genre.

Bob Newhart once told me he couldn’t imagine doing it any other way because he needed to know where the laughs were.
The audience is a litmus test. I’ve always believed those 200, 250 people. It’s ridiculous to assume it’s [going to be] funnier at home in your living room. So when we shoot in front of a live audience, when something’s not working, when it’s not generating a visceral laugh, we rewrite it. But we don’t put it on television if it’s not working in front of a live audience. It’s very humbling. Some of the words you write that you think are so beautiful are not as magnificent as you might think. An audience will tell you that. They will tell you when it’s not the comedy moment you thought it was. And that’s just the nature of it.

“I had to take a chance and do a comedy that tackles issues that are really happening in people’s lives.”
chuck lorre

On “Mom,” you’ve been able to balance comedy with tackling deeper, more difficult subjects like sobriety and addiction.
One of the reasons to do “Mom” at this point in my career is to try to tell different kinds of stories. Stories that are more in the atmosphere in the Norman Lear world, but have fallen out of favor. Stories that I actually started to learned how to do on “Roseanne,” 25 years ago. Stories that are much more in line with what really goes in a person’s life. That was the reason from the very beginning, to do a series that tackled areas that were maybe lacking for comedy. And almost as an experiment, to find out if we could mine comedy from some of this darkness. I’ve got to tell you, it’s been really hard, but it’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my career. We’re not just tackling addiction, we’re tackling cancer, and teenage pregnancy, and adoption. There was an overdose death in the series this past year. It was hard to do. It was hard to write. It was hard to shoot. It was hard to edit. It was painful because it got so real sometimes. I had to walk out of the room because it was too much. But doing it felt worthwhile. It felt like I had to take a chance and do a comedy that tackles issues that are really happening in people’s lives.

You’ve talked before about how much you admire Norman Lear. What have you learned from him?
He showed me the way. I’d never seen anything like this in comedy growing up. When “All in the Family” started, comedies were really broad on television. And he basically said, “Here’s real life, here’s real people.” He made it OK. I learned it growing up watching it as a kid, and I learned it again working on “Roseanne.” Maybe a lesson forgotten and learned again. You can do a television comedy on areas off-limits.

Do you think audience’s tastes have changed?
The desire to be told a story, and in our case, to laugh at the human condition, is a universal premise. I don’t know that that changes. I think we still like to sit around a campfire and tell stories, and laugh at our foibles. The means by which it’s communicated might have changed, we might be telling these stories on Oculus Rift. You’ll be sitting on the couch next to Sheldon watching this scene play out in the living room with the “Big Bang” characters, but it’s still the “Big Bang” characters. And you’re either engaged in the story and their lives, or you’re not. But no, you will not be sitting in Sheldon’s spot.

More TV

  • Five Takes on Canal Plus, Federation’s

    Just Days Left to Catch Canal Plus’ ‘The Bureau’ on MyFFF

    The most lauded of titles on this year’s MyFrenchFilmFestival, UniFrance’s online showcase featured by over 50 OTT services around the world, may not be a film but a drama series. With four seasons aired, and a milestone in world sales on a French TV show, slow-boiling espionage series ‘Le Bureau des légendes’ (“The Bureau”) is [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

  • TV Writer Christopher Knopf, Former WGA

    TV Writer Christopher Knopf, Former WGA West President, Dies at 91

    Prolific Emmy-nominated television writer Christopher Edwin Knopf, former president of the Writers Guild of America West, died in his sleep of congestive heart failure on Feb. 13. He was 91. Knopf was born in New York and attended UCLA, leaving during his senior year to join the Air Force during World War II. He finished [...]

  • Jussie Smollett The Black AIDS Insitute

    Jussie Smollett Case: Two Suspects Released Without Charges as New Evidence Emerges

    After two days of questioning, the Chicago Police Department announced Friday evening that it has released two suspects in the Jussie Smollett case without filing charges. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said that detectives had developed new information in the case. Police no longer consider the men to be suspects. “Due to new evidence as a [...]

  • GOTHAM: L-R: Guest star Cameron Monaghan

    TV News Roundup: Fox Drops 'Gotham' Final Season Trailer (Watch)

    In today’s TV news roundup, Fox released a new trailer for an upcoming episode of “Gotham” and Disney has announced the cast for its upcoming “High School Musical” series.  FIRST LOOKS Showtime released a new trailer and the official poster for the upcoming fourth season of “Billions,” premiering March 17 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. In [...]

  • Chris Rock

    Chris Rock to Direct Kenan Thompson Comedy Pilot at NBC

    Chris Rock has come onboard to direct the NBC single-cam comedy pilot “Saving Kenan,” Variety has learned. Rock will also executive produce the pilot, which stars “SNL” mainstay Kenan Thompson. Thompson will play a newly widowed dad determined to be everything for his kids while begrudgingly letting his persistent father-in-law become more involved in their lives [...]

  • Peak TV Saturation TV Placeholder

    Apollo Global Management Buys Majority Stake in Cox TV Stations

    Private equity giant Apollo Global Management has cut a deal with Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises to buy a majority stake in Cox’s 13 TV stations as well as three newspapers and a handful of radio stations in Ohio. Apollo has been in the hunt for broadcast TV stations for some time. Cox’s station group, which includes [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content