"My Guest Appearance"

A visit to the set of NBC's hit TV show 


"I'm not a doctor ... but I played one on TV"

On Monday, February 9, 2004, I began my one-day career as a television star with a special guest appearance on the hit NBC television series 'Scrubs'. During the twenty minute drive from my hotel to the studio on Riverside Drive, I memorized all my lines and mentally prepared for a full day on the set. The producer had called me over the weekend and told me I had an eight o'clock call, so I was ready for a full fourteen hour day. In the foyer of Sacred Heart ('Scrubs' set)

Arriving a few minutes early, I drove into the parking lot, chatted briefly with the guard, and glided into my reserved parking space. My publicist and her daughter had come with me and they went off to find my trailer while I entered the east side entrance and headed down the hall. I nodded to the assistant director, took my place on the set, said hello to Zach, Sarah and John C. and looked around for the hair stylist ...as usual, this was a bad hair day and I needed someone to work their magic before we shot the morning's first scene. Just a few minutes later ...

What? Something doesn't seem right to you?   Shoot.    I'll bet "one-day career" gave it away, didn't it?   [a heavy sigh is heard in voice over]    So much for the opening fantasy scene ...

My "special guest appearance" was actually a walk-on role, which had been graciously donated by the Scrubs production company and auctioned off in the fall of 2003 to benefit the  Minorities in Broadcast Training Program.

My "publicist" was my loving wife and our daughter was the intended recipient of the role. However, for a long list of reasons that only lawyers could love, you must be at least eighteen to appear on any television show as a non-union walk-on. In most cases, you can't even attend a sitcom taping unless you are eighteen. Or go to comedy club. Since the Scrubs producers kindly allowed her to join me on the set, I may still have to clear a spot for that "Dad of the Year" trophy. 

It was easy to memorize my lines, because I didn't have, and didn't expect, any -- a "walk-on" role is loosely defined, but is essentially an "extra" which is rarely, if ever, a speaking role. Winning a walk-on role in a contest or a charity auction isn't going to jump-start an acting career, but if you are as lucky we were, you'll have the opportunity to meet some terrific, hardworking people, learn a little about television or film production and have a lot of fun. (By the way, I did have a reserved parking spot waiting for me, though my name had been spelled "V I S I T O R").


Spoiler alert:
If you haven't seen any season three episodes yet, you may want to read the original version of this story instead of continuing ahead.



In December, shortly after I had won the role, a production intern called to review the details and schedule my visit. I needed to be available for two consecutive days and she suggested that the weeks of January 12th or February 9th would be best. February worked better for us, though the January date might have been interesting - I think Michael J. Fox was shooting his episodes that week, though at the time I didn't even know he was going to appear on the show. As a Sea World trainer Outside Paramount Stage 18

I made the travel arrangements and finalized our vacation plans for what would be a whirlwind week. We'd been to Disneyland before, so we gave this trip a Hollywood focus.

We made arrangements to tour the Los Angeles area by helicopter, see a traditional sitcom being filmed ('Still Standing'), walk around Hollywood and the Walk of Fame, visit Paramount Studios and the set of 'Star Trek: Enterprise', swim with the dolphins at "Sea World", and window shop on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. And, though all of those things were very cool, the 'Scrubs' walk-on role and set visit was the highlight of the trip.

On the Tuesday before our flight out to L.A., associate producer Danny Rose called to confirm the arrangements. He indicated that although the script wasn't yet finished, Monday the 9th looked good. Two days later, I came home to a message on the answering machine that confirmed it.

"Hey, it's Danny at Scrubs - Monday is the most perfect day I've ever seen an interior walk-on ever do. It is all perfect scenes. Every single scene will have background, so I'm really glad this is working out great for Monday."

I called him back, we finalized the details and traded cell phone numbers in case there were any last minute changes, but it was now official - the admissions work for our once in a lifetime visit to Sacred Heart Hospital was complete.


Arriving at Sacred Heart Hospital

Unlike most television shows, Scrubs isn't filmed on a studio soundstage. Instead, the production company, Touchtone Television, leases the former North Hollywood Medical Center in Century City, now transformed into the fictional Sacred Heart Hospital, to use as the Scrubs studio. Using a former hospital provides realism to the show that would have otherwise been difficult to achieve on a typical Hollywood soundstage. The four-story building and an adjacent one also house production offices, facilities and other non-hospital sets used for the show. The studio

During filming for the first season, there were occasions where people drove in, thinking it was still a working medical facility. That seems less likely to happen today. Closed to the public since 1998, any signs on the unassuming building which may have indicated it was a hospital have long since been covered up or removed. Most viewers wouldn't recognize the building from the street - the stock exterior shots for 'Scrubs' were filmed outside another hospital elsewhere in Los Angeles. It's easy to miss if you're not looking for it, though I'm sure some are confused whenever the Sacred Heart ambulance is parked out on the street, as it was when we first arrived. At the east entrance

We pulled in to the security gate at about 7:45 am, checked in with the guard and parked in the aforementioned visitor's space. The parking lot is long and narrow, and wasn't nearly as large as I expected. On the south section of the lot a series of trailers were parked next to a number of tents that served as an outdoor dining area. We said hello to a couple of police officers near the canteen truck and continued fifty yards or so to the emergency entrance. When we saw the Sacred Heart signs for the first time, we paused to appreciate where we were.

Once inside, we proceeded down the hall and a guard directed us to a back elevator, which took us to the third floor production offices. Danny had told me who to look for, but not where to find them. A very friendly assistant directed us back down to the first floor and in past an area dressed as Sacred Heart Information Services. There was a large open area with a few sofas and chairs with clothes racks all around. A few dozen extras in various hospital garb were sitting, chatting, reading or watching a small TV.

I was introduced to Oorala Yamada, the production assistant in charge of the background actors and one of my contacts for the day. We went into her office to go review details of the walk-on role. She asked me if I wanted to be a doctor. I'm not sure what the other options were, but being a doctor was my first choice anyway. I didn't have my reading glasses so I don't know what the fine print said, but I signed the release and became the latest addition to the fictional medical staff of Sacred Heart hospital.


Becoming "Dr. Greg Bilson, Jr., M.D."

All set as Dr. Greg Bilson, Jr. M.D. We went down the hall to the extra's wardrobe department, a small room with a surprising variety of outfits and costumes. An assistant fitted me with an official Sacred Heart lab coat and found a tie that complemented my shirt.

On the far side of the open area there was a door with a large "This is a prop yourself show" sign on poster board which provided instructions on what was required for each extra, depending on type of role. id badge

As a doctor, I needed a red-striped ID badge and a black stethoscope. My wife and daughter helped look though a box of badges, looking for one that was a close match. They decided that the badge for "Dr. Greg Bilson, Jr, M.D." was the best bet. I found out later it didn't matter - except for the principals, you don't see the pictures on screen anyway. Most extras had badges depicting a different race, age, hair color or even gender.

We looked at a variety of "Sacred Heart" forms and paperwork on the prop cart clipboards - a small example of the detail we would see throughout the day that most viewers will never notice.


It takes a village to film a show

Oorala introduced us to 1st assistant director Franklyn Gottbetter, 2nd assistant director Scott Harris and 2nd 2nd assistant director Lyda Blank, who were setting up a shot with the second team on the admissions set. I'd left my Hollywood job title decoder ring at home, so I never quite figured out their specific responsibilities, but they were constantly busy.

Oorala indicated there were some director's chairs set up for us in Video Village, which was then located in the hallway outside the side pharmacy window.
Video Village is the mobile nerve center of the production, with video monitors set up to provide the camera eye view and headsets to listen to the dialogue as picked up by boom operator Kevin Santy.

In the front row were silk-screened director's chairs for episode director Richard Wells and script supervisor Denise Karey, then those for Executive Producer Bill Lawrence and Director of Photography John Inwood, and then ours. Our chairs weren't personalized, but they were surprisingly comfortable and provided a great vantage point to watch the production.

We spent much of the morning in Video Village talking with Richard, John, and various crew members. I would have loved to talk with series creator Bill Lawrence, but he was not on set that day.

Video Village
The view from Video Village
Director Richard Wells
Director Richard Wells shows off his new megaphone,
courtesy of the prop department
Video Village - relocated to the gift shop
Probably the only time all day that script supervisor
Denise Karey wasn't in her chair

A visit to the set of 

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
     Next >
View entire article as a single page

This site was updated after the episode was first broadcast. The original version (without spoilers) can be found here.

For more information on [Scrubs], visit the show's NBC web site, the production company website or this terrific Scrubs fan site.  
Learn more about the Minorities in Broadcast Training Program or see TV and Hollywood items they have on their auction site.

Broadcast images and text of Scene 22 from Scubs episode "My Fault" copyright 2004 by Touchtone Television.
Unless otherwise identified, all text, pictures and video on this site is copyright 2004 by justbecauseican.com and may not be downloaded or otherwise used without written permission. All ownership claims are subordinate to those of the production company, Touchtone Television and NBC. All rights to characters and images from Scrubs are reserved by Touchtone Television Productions. See terms of use here.

Comments? Send me an e-mail.

This page best viewed in a maximized browser window at a resolution of 1024x768 or better.
Page  last updated Friday March 25, 2005