Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mothers Day 2009 – Pregnant On TV And In Real-Life

Actresses are the most inconvenient people, at least as far as writers, directors and producers are concerned. They keep insisting on having sex and making babies, even when the characters they are playing are supposed to be single, uninvolved and yes, even downright virginal. This season we've had Sarah Shahi on Life, Alyson Hannigan and Cobie Smulders on How I Met Your Mother, and Anna Belknap on CSI: New York all being visibly pregnant, and that's probably an abbreviated list. Reportedly Eva Longoria, who is married to Tony Parker is contractually obligated to not get pregnant while the show is on the air

There are lots of reasons for not showing the pregnancy. As I mentioned the character might be single and uninvolved, and their virginity (in the past) might have been key to the show. Barbara Eden was pregnant with her only child during the first season of I Dream Of Jeannie but it was patently obvious that Jeannie was not that sort of girl, even if network standards and practices would have allowed it, which in the 1960swas a non-starter. Alternately the character may be happily married and the husband and wife might even have talked about having a baby, but the writer "knows" that the show just doesn't need another kid. Sometimes the actress doesn't want the publicity of having a kid on the show and in real-life. (Wait, an actress who doesn't want publicity? Isn't that like a soprano with only a slightly inflated ego?) What's a writer (or a director, or a producer) to do? Well, in most cases they hide the pregnancy. The put the actress behind a "conveniently" placed desk, or have them constantly carrying bags. This works to varying degrees, and some producers have a lot of fun with it. My favourite was an episode of The Nanny during Lauren Lane's pregnancy where they did everything to let us know that she was pregnant except have her carry a sign – oh wait, they did that too. (On the other hand Rachel Chagall, who played Val on the show, was pregnant at least once during the run of the series and no one ever noticed.) Close to their delivery dates the characters may disappear from the screen – The Nanny sent Miss Babcock to the funny farm, while Jane Leeves character Daphne was sent off to a fat farm.

But then there are those shows and those actresses who that embrace pregnancy. There aren't as many but they're often quite interesting. And mind you this isn't a comprehensive list by any means, just ones that interest me.

Lucille Ball: She wasn't the first TV star whose real life pregnancy became part of the show – that would be Mary Kay Stearns, the female lead of what is today an obscure series called Mary Kay And Johnny that aired at various times on Dumont, CBS and NBC, who in 1948 had her pregnancy with her first child written into the show – but Lucy was the model that others tried to emulate or the example that they desperately wanted to avoid. Ironically executives from CBS and Philip Morris Tobacco, which sponsored the show, were vocally concerned about a pregnant Lucy appearing on TV. And After consulting extensively with several religious figures, the network and the sponsor agreed to show the pregnancy on the show, with two restrictions. The word pregnant couldn't be used, and Lucy couldn't be shown smoking while she "enceinte" (the word that was used in title of the episode in which she found out about her condition). The rest as they say is history. Lucy Ricardo gave birth to her son Ricky Jr. on the same night that Lucille Ball gave birth to her son Desi Jr. (by caesarean section).

Elizabeth Montgomery: Samantha Stevens had two kids, and her pregnancies coincided with Elizabeth's. While Lucy's pregnancy might as well have been a case of non-sexual conception – Like most TV married couples (even ones who wer married in real life) Desi and Lucy slept in twin beds, apparently as a sop to the Motion Picture Production Code – there should have been no mistaking how Samantha got into her condition. Samantha and Darren (either version) slept in the same bed (presumably often prodigious consumption of alcohol on the show played a part as well). And, no, Darren and Sam weren't the first TV couple for whom one of the essentials of procreation was obvious. That honour goes to Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns as well who, in 1948, slept in a bedroom with just one bed.

Tyne Daly: By the time that Tyne Daly got pregnant with her third daughter at age 39, it was not so much a matter of whether or not you could show a pregnant woman on TV as whether the actress wanted to be seen pregnant. In the case of Tyne Daly, the idea of integrating her pregnancy into the series probably wasn't a difficult one to make since she has been outspoken about "maintaining a natural appearance" in her TV work. What makes Daly's pregnancy interesting is that it was not only an early depiction of an older woman – who had health problems in the past – dealing with pregnancy but also a working woman, and one who was in a high stress and physical job. Early in the pregnancy Mary Beth Lacey puts herself on desk duty not because of problems with the pregnancy but because a case affected her significantly. Later she has to be put onto maternity leave (by her partner Christine Cagney, who is temporarily in charge of the squad), but that doesn't stop her from being involved in the job. And then after she gives birth to her daughter, she doesn't stay at home for an extended period of time. Instead she goes back to work as soon as she can, with her mother-in-law helping with the baby.

Nana Visitor: Here's a neat trick. How do you deal with the pregnancy of one of your two lead actresses when her character is essentially unattached on the show they've made a point of the fact. Well one way is to make the child a product of a one night stand, and indeed that is what was done on Without A Trace when Poppy Montgomery and her husband decided to have a baby – in fact the father of Sam's baby was played by Montgomery's real life husband. If you happen to be a science fiction series though, what you do is to use technobabble to explain the pregnant first officer. When Nana Visitor, who played Major Kira on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine became pregnant with then boyfriend (later husband and still later ex-husband) Alexander Siddig's child the producers decided that it would in fact be Keiko O'Brien who would be pregnant, but only briefly. A convenient accident on board a runabout would force Dr. Bashir to transport the O'Brien fetus into the only available womb – Major Kira's. Unfortunately, Kira's alien physiology meant that the fetus couldn't be transported back, so Kira had to carry the baby to term as a not entirely willing surrorgate.

Lisa Kudrow: Lisa Kudrow's pregnancy was written into Friends as a more conventional form of surrogacy. Because her half-brother Frank and his wife Alice are unable to conceive together they ask Phoebe to carry Alice's fertilized eggs, a procedure to which she agrees. The pregnancy is typically Phoebe, and includes her breaking with her vegetarian beliefs in order to satisfy a craving for meat. The same explanation was used on Law & Order: Criminal Intent when Kathryn Erbe became pregnant – the widowed Detective Eames was serving as a surrogate for her sister. In this case however it was her eggs that were used – and the pregnant Eames was nowhere near as funny as the pregnant Phoebe Buffay.

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