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Go behind the scenes each week with the writers of The Big C.

Darlene Hunt on “Crossing the Line”
Sep 26, 2011

Finales are funny things.  Well, in the case of a half-hour comedy, one hopes there’s something funny about them.  But by virtue of this being a finale, I had the chance, if not the pressure, to be a little more emotional – and go out big! 

We usually know a lot about the finale in the very beginning of our writer’s season.  We try to find the end first so we know what we’re working toward.  It’s those middle episodes that can get really tricky. 

So early on, we knew that Cathy would run a marathon that her friend had been training for.  I was inspired by a story that our props person on the pilot told me about her friend who had melanoma and ran marathons right up ’til the end of his life.  I also wanted Cathy to do something noble in this final episode, although Paul seems to think it’s pretty selfish (which provided good conflict between them).

We also knew early on that Paul would confront Daisy, the insurance employee he’s been on the phone with all season.  In earlier episodes we worried that too many scenes with Paul on the phone would be boring but it was important to set up his ongoing frustration with the insurance company so we could pay it off here.  And the heart attack, well, nobody gets off scot-free in a show about mortality.  And I really liked re-emphasizing that truth we bring up a lot in this show: we are all dying.  Just because someone has cancer, it doesn’t mean they’re the next to go… they could live another fifty years while the seemingly healthy person next to them may not.  Hilarious, right?  Well, hopefully there were a few other things that made you laugh.

I also got hooked on the idea of Adam talking to Dr. Todd early on.  I loved bringing Dr. Todd back.  I loved that he was inspired by Cathy to propose to his best friend.  I loved showing how Adam had matured over the season and was showing signs of manhood, asking serious questions about his mom and foregoing an invitation to a party to be with her. 

Sean’s story was very simple.  He’s back.  He’s unmedicated.  But he’s working on staying sane and still and wants to be there for his sister.  He went through a lot this season, expecting a baby and then losing it.  He’s looking for a fresh start.

The song at the end of the episode is Straight No Chaser’s version of Auld Lang Syne.  I found it on iTunes early on while writing this episode and listened to it over and over.  

A lot of versions of that song were very maudlin and I loved this one’s upbeat vibe.  I like how it plays against Paul’s realization at the end – that he might be among the dead and not the living. 

The other thing I enjoyed about the end was seeing Marlene and Lee again.  I toyed many times with using them earlier in the story as well.  I love those actors and it would have been nice to see more of them.  But to have brought them in earlier would have lost the impact of seeing them at the end.  I love Marlene’s smile.  I love the idea that our dead friends are around us, still connected to us. 

Again, hilarious, I know.  But it’s the finale.  Cut me some slack.

Hope you enjoyed, and I hope I get the chance to write for you in season 3!

About the Writer

Darlene Hunt is originally from Louisville, Kentucky. She studied theater at Northwestern University outside of Chicago, the Royal National Theatre in London and the British American Drama Academy in Oxford. While in college she co-wrote a play aimed at high-school students entitled “No Problem” (Dramatic Publishing), which she toured across the country. As a comedian, Darlene has toured comedy clubs across the country and has been featured at the Chicago Comedy Festival and the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen. She has performed as a member of the world-famous Groundlings Theatre in Los Angeles and has studied with Second City in Chicago.

Darlene starred with Sean Hayes (from TV’s “Will & Grace”) in “Platonically Incorrect”, a play which she also wrote. It played in Los Angeles and New York and was later developed into a pilot by ABC. After writing nine more pilots for various networks, her show “The Big C” starring Laura Linney, premiered on Showtime in August of 2010.

Darlene co-starred with Ted Danson on ABC’s “Help Me Help You” and on the big screen she played opposite Jude Law and Lily Tomlin in David O. Russell’s film “I Heart Huckabee’s.” Other film credits include: “A Lot Like Love” with Ashton Kutcher, “Idiocracy”, directed and written by Mike Judge, and “The Merry Gentleman” directed by Michael Keaton.  She has also been seen in numerous commercials and television shows most recently doing guest stars on Hung and Parks and Recreation.


Jenny Bicks on “The Darkest Day”
Sep 19, 2011

…oy, I know. Sad.  Yes, he’s dead.  I am being cagey about who died in case you are one of five people silly enough to read this blog BEFORE you see the episode.  Stop reading now. We’ll wait.  You gone?  Okay, good.  Yes, our dear Lee passed away.  It was so hard to let him go. But it was so important to show that melanoma is insidious.  Trials don’t work for everyone. Cathy was the lucky one this time around.  And she needed to see that death isn’t just terrifying—in the case of Lee, it can be freeing.  You can own it and go with strength and dignity, as he did.  Oh and get this—Hugh Dancy lost 25 pounds to play Lee’s death.  Yes, 25 pounds.  And this guy wasn’t big to begin with.  Applause for Mr. Dancy.  I’m hungry just writing that.

After the darkest day, as Lee says on his deathbed, comes more sun.  Sean is back. Andrea is reclaiming her power. So sit tight, things are looking up.  Or are they?

About the Writer

JENNY BICKS started her career in advertising in New York City and went on to write radio comedy before breaking into writing for film and television.  Her series credits include “Seinfeld,” “Dawson’s Creek” and “Sex and The City”. She wrote on the show for all six seasons, rising to the rank of executive producer. Her work on the series earned her several awards, including an Emmy® Award, multiple Golden Globes and three WGA nominations. During this time she also created and Executive Produced “Leap of Faith”, a comedy series for NBC.  After “Sex and The City”, Bicks created and executive produced “Men In Trees” which ran for two seasons on ABC.  In the feature world, her body of credits include “What a Girl Wants,” “The Nanny Diaries” and rewrites of several films including  “Never Been Kissed.”  Her short film, “Gnome”, which she wrote and directed, had it’s premiere at the Berlin Film Festival and went on to win awards at multiple festivals. Currently, she is writing “Mother Nature,” with Reese Witherspoon attached to star, as well as a remake of the 1937 classic “Stage Door.”  She recently completed a feature film musical based on the life of PT Barnum, with Hugh Jackman attached to star.   A born and bred New Yorker, Bicks divides her time between New York, Maine and Los Angeles.

Cara DiPaolo and Melanie Marnich on “Fight Or Flight”
Sep 12, 2011

Some writing teams emerge out of longstanding friendships. Others are forged from enduring creative synergy. Ours was created when our boss, Jenny Bicks, asked, “Hey, how would you two feel about writing this episode together?”

We had been very (very) used to working on our own, and had known each other only a few months.  But we made each other laugh in the writers’ room and figured that was a good sign. Turns out, we had a blast writing together. So to continue the spirit of this collaboration, we decided to interview ourselves for this blog entry.

What was your favorite part of writing this episode?

Melanie: From the craft perspective, it was great to have a dialogue with someone about writing dialogue. Cara is such a generous writer, I was able to see into her process. That opened my mind and creativity. From the story perspective, my favorite part was exploring Paul’s dark side and getting him to justify his choice to take part in a crime because it pays. I loved that.

Cara: I think, for me, one of the best things about writing this episode (other than working with the delightful Melanie Marnich) was getting to create dialogue for the incomparable Alan Alda. I have such fond memories of watching him on MASH in reruns.  It was one of the few shows my parents approved of me watching  (“All in the Family” was the other one) because, as they put it, it had “depth.” That’s the way I feel about The Big C. It’s not a typical half-hour comedy. It has so many levels.

What was the most difficult part?

Melanie: Nailing Adam’s story was tough. We wanted it to be a quiet element that lay against the more dramatic stuff. But it still had to make a difference in how Adam felt about his uncle’s disappearance. We had to see him evolve in a very short amount of time, and it had to feel true to a 15 year old kid.

Cara: I would have to say figuring out how to make the Dr. Sherman scenes both fun and story propelling was pretty high up there on the painful scale. But really, the whole writing process is difficult and hair-pulling for me. I’ve always admired/hated writers who have a natural gift with words. I once had a writer friend tell me he just “hears” a scene and transcribes it. He’ll create entire beautifully crafted and eloquent scenes in mere minutes. That happens to me every once in a great while. But mostly, I agonize over every line. At any given point during the writing process you will find me curled up in a fetal position under my desk – dirty, tangle-haired and sunken-eyed. A few years ago, my husband bought a car while I was writing an episode. I didn’t see it for a week because I tend not to leave the house (or shower) when I’m in writing mode.

The nice thing about working with Melanie was that I was forced to break out of my normal routine and be human. I didn’t want her seeing my weird Gollum-like ways  – cowering and sniveling in the dark over my precious “wordsies,” (yes, that’s a Lord of the Rings reference).  It was truly lovely having someone to bounce ideas off of and help juggle any notes or issues that came up along the way. It made the process much more fun.

Who is your favorite character to write for?

Melanie: I think this is a trick question devised by my wily partner, Cara. Every one of these actors is a dream to write for. The way they make dialogue sing and the magic they can work with a look or a change in their posture… It’s all stunning alchemy.  However, hearing Alan Alda speak his lines for the first time was a dream come true. I mean, Alan Alda! I had to pinch myself.

Cara: Melanie’s right. This is totally a trick question. And even though I know I should say – “What? I don’t have a favorite character!” – the truth is, I really enjoy writing for Paul. He approaches life with a lightness and humor that I find endearing. Paul is one of those people that, for all his faults (and there are a lot), you can’t help but love. And there’s nothing better than seeing him react to an awkward situation (like when he’s caught with the “phallus art” at Dr. Sherman’s house).  I also have a lot of fun writing stuff for Andrea’s character. She’s blunt and unapologetic without being off-putting. It’s refreshing to create dialogue for someone who actually says what’s on her mind and doesn’t sensor herself. I wish I could be more like her. Maybe that’s why I enjoy writing for her so much.

Was there a particular theme or story that spoke to you?

Melanie: Paul’s story. I think it’s so real and reflects what’s going on in this country right now. On top of everything, he’s struggling to keep up with younger, stronger competition and it’s killing him. The humility and courage that Paul has to display slays me. And Oliver Platt hits it out of the park.

Cara I was intrigued by the “fight or flight” theme of the episode. At the end of last season, Cathy decides she doesn’t want to go out like Marlene; she wants tofight. This whole season has been about her pushing back against her cancer. She wants to beat it and she’s willing to do whatever it takes. Lee, however, is in a different place in his life and in his cancer battle. He’s been fighting his disease for many years. So, when he finds out the clinical trial isn’t working for him, he’s at peace with giving up the struggle and “letting go.” This is a hard concept for Cathy to accept. She feels Lee is just giving up. He, on the other hand, believes that he’s merely accepting his fate. It raises an interesting philosophical question: is it more “noble” to fight until one’s last breath or to welcome death and go out peacefully?

Did anything in writing this episode surprise you?

Melanie: Many things. Paul deciding to get a little “chemical” help; Cathy’s break-up with Lee; the peek into Dr. Sherman’s private life and personality… For each of these moments we had to ask ourselves, “Can we go there?” We can. And we’re not about to stop now. Just keep watching…

Cara: I think I was most surprised by Dr. Sherman. Who would have suspected that in addition to being a magician, the good doctor is a world traveler, art collector, accomplished cook and “oral enthusiast” with a young hot wife? It was fun seeing him out of his lab coat and expressing himself more freely, too. I liked hearing, from a doctor’s perspective, how frustrating the American medical system can be.

About the Writers

Melanie Marnich is thrilled to be a member of the writing team on The Big C. Prior to this show, she wrote for the final three seasons of the acclaimed drama, “Big Love,” during which time her episode “Come, Ye Saints,” earned a WGA nomination and was recognized by both Time and Entertainment Weekly as the best drama episode of 2009.  As a playwright, Melanie’s work has been produced at major theaters including Manhattan Theatre Club, Steppenwolf Theatre, Dallas Theater Center, and the Actors Theatre of Louisville, and has been supported by generous awards and grants from the Jerome and McKnight Foundations and The Samuel Goldwyn Foundation.

Cara DiPaolo got her start in television as a Writers’ Assistant on the HBO series “Six Feet Under”. Other TV credits include: Fox’s “Head Cases” and ABC’s “Men in Trees. Prior to joining “The Big C”staff, Cara spent two seasons on ABC’s “Ugly Betty”.