After a few months off the air, ABC's "Samantha Who?" returns this week in a new timeslot (Thursdays at 8:30/7:30c) with six new episodes featuring the amnesiac Samantha (played by Christina Applegate) piecing together her forgotten life. Co-creator/Executive Producer Donald Todd talked to our Jim Halterman about the sitcom's shortened season and what's in store for Sam and the rest of the cast in this crop of episodes.
Jim Halterman: Welcome back to the air with these new episodes.
Donald Todd: Thanks. Ya know, it was a tough choice coming back because we have eleven in the can and the network can only find room for us to air six and of all the things in a difficult year that's well up there; deciding which five not to air this season. First, we liked them all and, second, we had stories that were on going and we had to decide what was important to tell and what's not.
JH: Assuming the episodes do well in the ratings, any chance they'll try to find a spot for the remaining episodes this season?
DT: Right now, they say they have no spots because "Ugly Betty" is coming back into that spot and they've given us a good run in a really good time slot but they also have a lot of "Ugly Betty" episodes to run. I think that a network finds itself airing extra reality shows than they meant to and then they end up with the scripted shows in a pile on the floor and that's the kind of situation they're in right now. Look, I would love it if we could air more episodes but it would mean that someone else's show failed and I don't want to wish that karmically or otherwise. We have eleven and the one airing [this week] was meant to be a January airing and you plan your season a certain way where you've got peaks and valleys that flow and all of a sudden we had to pick six episodes that would represent out entire back half of the season so I hope we do well.
JH: Watching this week's episode, I realized that while the show is about Samantha's amnesia, it also seems to be a show about the trials of various relationships.
DT: I think any show has to ultimately be a show about relationships whether it's one of my favorite shows like "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" or our show. You've got your premise but the premise is an envelope but then it's really about the relationships and the characters. A show about a person who has amnesia could burn out pretty quickly if that's all we talked about. There were people from the beginning � including me, by the way, when I came aboard the project � who wondered if amnesia could sustain an entire series but immediately you find that's not what you're doing anyway. It's a jumping off point. It's a way to bring a character back to zero and then have her examine her ongoing relationships in a way that people in their normal lives don't do.
JH: Are there a lot of single people on the staff or are you pulling the single life stories from your pre-marital days?
DT: I think that dating stories are really important and single women, especially if they're writers, have a lot of crazy dating stories. You know, writers being pretty nuts anyway and generally making poor choices most of our lives, we're going to end up with some great stories. I'm really good at the marriage stories and I'm really good at the what's difficult in an ongoing relationship stories but as far as meeting people and finding out what's that like, I don't remember. I've blocked all that out.
JH: Looking back on the last year, can you talk about Christina Applegate's health issues and the hurdles involved with keeping the show moving forward.
DT: It's been a lot of kind-of hurdles. Obviously the big one being her and making sure she was healthy and we're really grateful. Production-wise, of course, it caused a few changes. We had to delay slightly while she recovered and then her stamina, after a huge, major surgery, was not as great as it would've been earlier in the first season so we changed the storytelling slightly. It allowed us to have other characters have bigger stories and this was something we were planning to do anyway because the first season we just about burnt her out anyway. You get a show like "Ugly Betty" or any show that's a single lead, essentially, and those people get burnt out real fast in single camera. They're the first one in in the morning and the last one out at night five days a week and it's really hard. So we were going to change the storytelling so that other characters got more time anyway and that sort of gave us the opportunity. That's why you have more stories like the one that comes up this week with Andrea (Jennifer Esposito). There's a story that I don't know that we would have been able to tell last year which is very much about her relationship with Andrea but also Andrea's relationship with another person.
JH: Without giving too much away, is the Andrea story going to carry on beyond tonight's episode?
DT: Absolutely. That actually was designed in a truncated form as the beginning of Andrea's major arc for the season. She started this season, I think in episode four, that she wanted to meet this famous basketball player and the whole season arc for Andrea is she's always dated below her a little bit. She's had boy toys and she's dated rich guys and famous people but they've always been people that she was in control of. So now she's decided to date this superstar and dating a superstar is a big shock for her because she isn't necessarily the center of attention and how does Andrea get herself back to being the center of attention in a relationship where she can easily be arm candy? Seeing Andrea date somebody who is out of her league was really the emphasis for the entire season arc for her and carries all the way through the entire season and into next season. That's why we decided to air this one as the first one back because it's really important for her character and I think it's a good Sam story, too. It also establishes that Sam has things in her past that she'd like to get rid of.
JH: The relationship between Samantha and Todd (Barry Watson) also goes through a bit of a twist in this episode. Can you talk about what's coming up for them?
DT: The Todd relationship is the anchor for the show and it comes and goes and their relationship in the next six episodes will undergo huge changes which over eleven episodes might have been a little more subtle but when you put it in six it happens pretty quick. We also have the reintroduction of the character from last year, Winston Funk, who last year was played by Timothy Olyphant. Winston Funk is the billionaire that wanted to marry [Sam] and she passed on him for Todd last year but he comes back into the picture in a couple of weeks.
JH: And who is playing him now?
DT: Billy Zane. Tim was great but Tim had a major role in "Damages" and they were still shooting right in the middle of when we needed to do these four or five episodes with the character so unfortunately we had to move on but it worked out clearly for us because Billy Zane was fantastic.
JH: Belated congratulations on Jean Smart's Emmy win last fall. What's coming up for Regina?
DT: Thank you. Jean is great and we always are trying to find things to do with her. And there's a situation where we have a solid marriage in the show but a character who has always wanted to explore more outside of her life than she's been able to do in her marriage and Samantha continues to be a catalyst for her self-discovery. So what will happen in the next few weeks is that she becomes increasingly restless with the life that she has especially when reflected in the exciting life that she sees Sam having.
JH: You mentioned earlier about the show being single camera. Was that always the way you were going to do the show or was multi-camera ever discussed?
DT: It was a personal choice for me. I had done multi-camera most of my career and I had made a choice to leave multi-camera because I had gotten burned out on the process. Obviously there are plenty of successful multi-camera shows and more to come but I just didn't feel like doing it anymore so I had left to go to drama. I had done several dramas so when this opportunity came along it really was always a single-camera opportunity for me and I don't think it was ever pitched as anything else. I suppose if it were pitched now given the economic realities people would consider doing it multi. I know that Christina didn't want to do multi. It was a good mix for all of us. Single camera is much harder work day to day for the actors and the producers but for me it's just a more satisfying job at the moment. Maybe I'll go back to multi someday.
"Samantha Who?" returns this week on ABC in its new Thursday timeslot of 8:30/7:30c.