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6:56 PM - It's night 11 of the 29th Annual PaleyFest at the Saban Theatre in Los Angeles. Tonight's presentation starts with a clip of Conchata Ferrell in the short-lived 1975 sitcom "Hot l Baltimore," which was executive produced by television legend Norman Lear. (A very young James Cromwell is also in the scene.)
7:01 PM - The Paley Center's Betsy Scolnick welcomes everyone and brings out our moderator - TV Guide Magazine's Mike Schneider - who says the series remains a Monday night powerhouse, which is not bad for a show in its ninth season.
7:03 PM - Using a Charlie Sheen reference, Mike says, "By now we know who's winning and it's this gentleman I'm going to introduce right now... Chuck Lorre." Chuck takes one of Mike's TV Guide issues and says maybe it's time he go shopping for a new jacket since he shows that he is wearing the same one tonight that he wore on a recent cover. He reveals we'll be seeing the "Palmdale, Ech" episode that will air next Monday.
7:30 PM - Post-screening, Mike returns to bring out the panel. Holland Taylor (Evelyn)! Conchata Ferrell (Berta)! Angus T. Jones (Jake)! Ashton Kutcher (Walden)! Jon Cryer (Alan)! Lee Aronsohn (Creator/Executive Producer)! Chuck Lorre (Creator/Executive Producer)!
7:34 PM - Mike's first question is about Ashton's clean-cut appearance since he had been sporting long hair and an unshaved look. "Ashton, what happened with the Jesus look?" "Jesus wanted it back. I gave it to him," he replies and adds that he misses the look. "I was really enjoying looking homeless," says Ashton.
7:35 PM - Chuck says that the evolution of Walden's look was intentional and can also be seen in the show's set, which has slowly been evolving over the season. Chuck notes that if you watch the first episode of this season and the last the differences are very noticeable.
7:36 PM - Asked about where things were a year ago when most people assumed (due to star Charlie Sheen's very public meltdown) that the show might be over, Chuck says, "It's a miracle that we're here and thank you... a year ago today I thought the show was over... there was no closure. It was a very dark time."
7:39 PM - Mike asks Jon how he felt when they thought the show might not come back and he jokes, "I temped on the 'Ellen' show." (He actually taped a piece for the show doing just that.) More serious, he says, "I would have really been sad that the show ended the way that it did."
7:41 PM - As has already been reported in the press, Holland's character, Evelyn, is going to have a relationship with Georgia Engel, who plays the mother to Alan's girlfriend, played by Courtney Thorne-Smith. Holland explains, "Evelyn has always been a character who would do anything for a box of chocolate... it's in keeping with her character that she would do something unexpected." She says Georgia didn't really know the storyline when she came in. She's not sure if it's going to be a long-term relationship.
7:43 PM - Both Alan and Walden are in decent relationships at this point so Mike asks, "how long will that last?" Chuck says, "You assume too much knowledge and wisdom on us. We have no idea!" He says that the relationships are done so we can learn more about our regular characters so, he continues, "as long as we keep generating good stuff for the characters the relationships can continue." Chuck says it's more of a relationship-oriented show. It's no longer the bimbo of the week.
7:45 PM - Is Courtney (who has been appearing since season seven) now a permanent player? "We can't imagine going forward without Courtney," Chuck says. Unlike her grounded, together character on her previous sitcom, "According to Jim," Jon explains, Lyndsey is more of a mess and Jon loves that. "His relationship with Lindsey is really screwed up," Jon explains. "She's an alcoholic... it gives us really fun stuff to play with." Asked if he minds that some fans have said that Alan is pathetic but Jon doesn't mind that if that's what people think at all.
7:48 PM - "I think I learn something every week, which is amazing," says Ashton of his first season on the series. He says they get the new script after taping on Friday nights but he rarely has not read it by Saturday morning since he's excited to see what's next. Of Walden, Ashton says, "It seems he's a relationship addict and when he's not in one, he just wants to die. The most stable relationship Walden has is with Alan.
7:50 PM - Will we see more Judy Greer, who plays Walden's ex-wife. She's very much a part of the ensemble, Chuck says, but they have to work around her very busy schedule.
7:51 PM - "He's too cool for college," jokes 18-year-old Angus about Jake, who is now a senior in high school. Of Jake's very adult storylines (sex, smoking pot, to name a few), Angus says, "It's very awkward, it's fun, it's silly" since he is very different from his character.
7:53 PM - Chuck says that Angus is not a pot smoker, not an idiot and a remarkable young man. "Day in, day out for nine years this young man has been amazing... the most unaffected human being. We should all be Angus T. Jones when we grow up," he says. "He's been a gift from day one."
7:56 PM - Berta has some shady side businesses but how does Conchata feel about the character she's played since the series began. "Berta has done absolutely everything," says Conchata, who says she'd love to have her character's courage. "She's had marriages that didn't last and she's raised four daughters on her own and if she had to clean houses to do it, she cleaned houses to do it." She adds, saying she's not funny in real life, "if you're waiting for a joke, they didn't write me one."
7:58 PM - How has this experience been for Ashton? "It's been absolutely incredible," he says. He says ever since "That '70s Show," he has wanted to get back into live television. "There's no thrill like performing for a live audience... there's nothing greater than that."
8:04 PM - Is Ashton coming back for another year? He says the show is not renewed yet but he also says he has not heard from the powers that be yet. Chuck clarifies that he is not the power that be. But Chuck says on a potential tenth season, "It's unusual when they cancel a show that's in the top 10... I think there's hope."
8:08 PM - Since Ashton has received story credit for some episode ideas, Mike asks Ashton if he'd like to direct an episode of the show. Ashton isn't sure if he could direct an episode well and also play his character well. "Self directing," he says, "I don't think I'd be very good at that." He also says he has ideas but he's not a writer.
8:11 PM - Mike compares Ashton's "That '70s Show" character Kelso to Walden by saying that Kelso had confidence but lacked smarts. Walden is the opposite. Ashton explains, "I spent seven years developing a comedic sensibility and comedic timing based on a character... I learned to be funny on a television show [and] in so many ways this character is so different... I'm learning to be funny again for a different character in a different way."
8:15 PM - Asked what else is going to happen through the rest of this season and Chuck replies, "You keep thinking we're writing 'Lost.'" He does say that one milestone that is coming up is the high school graduation of Jake and where he goes post-high school will be explored.
8:17 PM - The show has dealt with the passing of the Charlie character, who died prior to the season premiere. Chuck explained, "We revisited the past with Alan's character a couple of times this past year and how he was recovering." Chuck says that that story choice seemed right and that seems like what you do in life. He's also fine bringing back past characters as long as they inform the core cast and reveal more about them.
8:18 PM - Of the episode this season where Alan takes on Charlie's characteristics, Jon says, "That was an exercise in trying to find the right tone... it was a huge challenge for me. I didn't want to do Charlie. I just wanted it to just sort of organically come out of this."
8:19 PM - Is the ghost of Charlie now gone? Mike asks. Chuck says, not entirely. "It's in our DNA... he's very much a part of the show and our lives... I'm not going to pretend that it didn't happen."
8:21 PM - Audience Q&A time. "I've been extraordinarily fortunate all of my career and this is the example of it here," says Holland when a fan says she's loved all the tough women she's played in her career.
8:22 PM - A wannabe comedian/actor asks Chuck how he can break into the business. Chuck nicely says not to wait for permission. Jon says to put his stuff on YouTube.
8:23 PM - Asked how the writers break the episodes, Chuck says the first thing is to pray, while patience is the key in making the show stay fresh and not to pull the trigger on a story until it feels right.
8:29 PM - Jon says from his first reading of the "Two and a Half Men" pilot script he knew he was a good fit for the character of Alan. The network didn't necessarily do back flips for Jon Cryer when his name was first brought up for the role of Alan but Chuck says when Jon walked into the room with a room full of skeptical network executives to test he "killed it."
8:31 PM - Walden was originally going to be very different. "It was going to be a darker character," Chuck says, but once he spent time with Ashton he said it was wrong because the actor has such a joyful energy. Lee adds that Chuck made a decision early on that Walden should have a broken heart and it hadn't occurred to any of the other writers to do that. Lee adds that giving Walden a broken heart gave the audience a way into the character and that was essential.
8:35 PM - A former classmate of Jon's (Bronx Science, Class of 1983, by the way) want to know why he has not shown up at any of the reunions. "I have a two year old and I blame everything on her," says Jon.
8:39 PM - Chuck is asked by a young girl what was the biggest obstacle in becoming a TV producer has been. "The biggest obstacle has been me," says Chuck to big laughs but he's not kidding. He advises to simply write good scripts and get people to read them.
8:41 PM - Who would Ashton like to work with that he hasn't yet? "I've been really, really lucky in my career to have worked with unbelievable people," he states. He says he can't really pick one but says that sometimes he can learn great things from that one actor who comes in for a small role, you never know their name but they do something you take with you. Of anyone, Ashton says right now he wants to work with these guys on stage with him. Awwww...
8:43 PM - That's a wrap from tonight's panel. Brian will be back to cover tomorrow's "Mad Men" panel.
And for more PaleyFest coverage - past and present - visit our Paley Center topic page.