'Parenthood' cancer storyline hits home
BY RITA SHERROW World Television Writer
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
10/23/12 at 4:47 AM
Click here for a preview of the episode
For executive producer Jason Katims, the breast cancer storyline on "Parenthood" isn't just a story.
His wife, Kathy, went through treatment for the disease two years ago.
What his lead characters Kristina Braverman (Monica Potter), her husband, Adam (played by Peter Krause), and their family and friends go through on NBC's comedy drama is definitely familiar territory.
That her character would experience the devastating diagnosis also wasn't a surprise for Potter, who shared a recent teleconference with Katims.
"I went for my first mammogram in April and I had just mentioned it to my husband 'This would be a great storyline,' " said the actress.
"And knowing that it touched Jason personally, I just reached out and said 'What if we tried to do a storyline on Kristina?' He emailed me right back and said 'I got the chills' because they had been working on that storyline already, which was kind of cool."
Potter was on board for the whole ride but wanted to make sure the writers found the humor in the situation so she wouldn't spend the entire season crying. The stuff of life must go on, Katims said. Kids still have to go to school. Work continues. Laundry has to be done.
Case in point: In Tuesday's episode, Potter's Kristina undergoes surgery. On the same day, her son Max (Max Burkholder), who has Asperger's syndrome, must give his speech in his bid for class president, and her husband's anxiety over the surgery translates into nervous energy.
Key for the actress was talking to her own two sons about what that situation would be like instead of going online and doing research.
"I did nothing. Only because I wanted to experience it as a person doing it for the first time and because there's so many different aspects of it and there's so many stories that I can pull from.
"... I had gone to get my mammogram and this was in April and they said that there was a blip or something on the screen so I had to go back," said Potter, who had a six-month checkup this month to make sure the "blip" was gone. "And those real feelings came out in performance, as well, because I have to go back and see if it's gone. So it's stuff that I'm sort of going through but not really investigating too much because I don't want it to feel safe."
She emphasized that she is playing a character who has breast cancer. She does not have it herself. But she didn't want to over-research the role and miss experiencing it with her character and the audience.
Even the decision of which surgeon to go with on the show was based in real life, she said. The person with the worst bedside manner may be the right choice but not the most popular.
"You pick the best guy for the job and that's what she did," said Potter, who was in the same situation when her daughter needed an appendectomy recently. "I think she made the right choice."
During the season-long storyline, viewers will see the family dealing with everything that comes along with a diagnosis of cancer - fear, frustration, anger, chemotherapy, missing work for doctors' appointments, missing school events with the kids, issues with insurance, relationship stress and the ways family members deal with the situation. Basically, reality, Katims said.
The showrunner, who also executive produced "Friday Night Lights" and "Boston Public," said that's what he wants from his actors on the show - to find the reality even if it's something funny.
"As I said before, 'Find the humor in it' ... like I found going through this. That as difficult of an experience and terrible thing that it is to go through, there are silver linings and one of them is that you know you really wind up appreciating life so much.
"What you really come out with is you realize the sort of fragility of it all and also how precious it (life) is. And the whole expression 'don't sweat the small stuff' really hits home in a new kind of way."
When: 9:01 p.m. Tuesday
Where: NBC, channel 2, cable 34
Original Print Headline: 'Parenthood' storyline hits home
Rita Sherrow 918-581-8360
Monica Potter stars as Kristina Braverman on NBC's drama series "Parenthood," airing at 9:01 p.m. Tuesday on channel 2, cable 9. MITCHELL HAASETH / NBC