You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Disney Channel’s Scripted-Improv Comedy Crew Shares How They ‘Just Roll With It’

The title of the new Disney Channel series “Just Roll With It” appears to be as much a directive for its cast and crew as it is a description of the multi-camera hybrid sitcom, which is part scripted and part improv.

The plot revolves around the blended Bennett-Blatt family — strict mom Rachel (Suzi Barrett), radio host dad Byron (Tobie Windham) and their tweenage kids (Kaylin Hayman, Ramon Reed).

At three junctures during the show a horn sounds and the actors are sequestered backstage as the studio audience determines what happens next, voting from among three outrageous options — for instance, whether an aerialist suddenly enters the scene, a cast member must eat strange food combinations, or one or more of the thesps wind up drenched by something wet and messy.

For the union crew members who work on the show, the unscripted elements mean they must prepare for a minimum of nine possible scenarios each episode, only three of which will make it to the screen.

“There are so many permutations of how one option can impact the rest of the show,” says costume designer Joyce Kim Lee. 

Crew members receive insert pages so they can do their prep work, but no one knows what’s going to happen until shoot night. And the cast has no idea where the breaks will occur in the script, or what the options are when the audience begins to vote. “It’s part CIA covert operation,” jokes Lee.  

In one episode, the audience was instructed to choose from a long list of combinations of actions, props and costumes to determine the outcome. There were so many blends that Lee and prop master Jill Parry hired a background actor for the day so they could prep for the various possibilities. “Even then we couldn’t do every combination,” says Lee. 

In another installment, one of the scenarios winds up with Reed wearing a three-piece purple magician’s suit. Since the following episode was to feature a school play with animals, Lee pretended the fitting was for that episode instead, so that she wouldn’t give away the possible option for the current episode. “It was the first time I created an alternate truth,” she says. “I felt horrible all weekend, but when he found out the next week, he said, ‘No, Ms. Joyce, it’s OK. It’s part of your job.’ He gets it.” 

Once cast, the actors filled out questionnaires about their allergies, sensitivities and fears. “We try not to totally gross them out,” says Parry. “We don’t want to be mean; we’re making comedy.”

But nothing is quite as it seems. “We did some stuffed jelly doughnuts,” Parry recalls. “Tobie loved the fact that it was sweet and thought he’d lucked out. Then, he got a bite of a cricket [stuffed inside].” 

The audience learns which option wins the vote at the same time as the cast. “They go wild when it’s revealed,” says Parry. “The best part of my job is show night when the hard work pays off.” 

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • Game of Thrones

    Ireland Lures Filmmakers With Locations, Expertise and a 37% Tax Credit

    Few locations on earth can match Ireland’s proverbial 40 shades of green. In addition to its restful hues, the island nation also boasts alluring lakes, rugged windswept coasts, small charming hamlets, rustic farmhouses of aged stone, hilltop castles and breathtaking expanses of wild scrubland. Bustling and modern Dublin, Ireland’s capital, will be the largest English-speaking [...]

  • UNDONE Animated Series Amazon

    How Animated Series 'Undone' Used a Mix of Techniques to Tell the Mind-Bending Tale

    When Kate Purdy wanted to tell a story about the nature of reality, she knew she wanted to play with perception and time, fade in and out of memories and give voice to visions that only her main character could see. And it wasn’t long before the executive producer and co-creator of Amazon’s new series, “Undone,” [...]

  • John Wick: Chapter 3

    James Cameron, Keanu Reeves Starring in '2nd Unit: Invisible Action Stars' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Rootbeer Films has completed “2nd Unit: Invisible Action Stars” with James Cameron, Keanu Reeves, Mark Wahlberg and Halle Berry, Variety has learned exclusively. The film explores relationships between actors and stunt performers — a topic at the heart of Quentin Tarantino’s recent “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Joe Mantegna narrates “2nd Unit: Invisible Action [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    'Hustlers' Costume Designer and DP Joined Forces to Create Gritty Glamorous Look

    Mitchell Travers wonders if anything can really prepare a costume designer for working on a movie in which G-strings, double-sided tape and 8-inch platform heels comprise a complete outfit. But from the moment he began to read the script to “Hustlers,” he was in. “From the third page, I said I didn’t care what [any of the [...]

  • Joerg Pohlman to Leave Camera and

    Joerg Pohlman to Leave Camera and Lighting Company ARRI

    Joerg Pohlman is stepping down from the management board of Germany’s ARRI, one of the world’s leading movie camera and lighting manufacturers. The board will now consist of two people: Michael Neuhaeuser and Markus Zeiler. For the past eight years, every best picture Oscar winner has been shot on an ARRI camera; this year’s award [...]

  • Downton Abbey Movie BTS

    How the Production Crew Added Scope to 'Downton Abbey' for the Big Screen

    The feature continuation of “Downton Abbey” reunites the cast and much of the crew of the period TV series with a mandate to deliver more of the glamour, drama and just plain kindness that prompted millions of viewers on both sides of the Atlantic to fall under the spell of the sprawling Crawley family. “We wanted [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content