The ATX Television Festival panel for HBO’s The Comeback got off to a somber start Sunday.
Creators Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King were joined by stars Laura Silverman and Dan Bucatinsky (also an executive producer on the show) to discuss the cult-classic Hollywood satire. However, missing was former star Robert Michael Morris, who was originally set to appear on the panel but died last week at the age of 77.
King said he received a call from Morris the day before he passed away. “On Monday, he called me and the reason he called me was to let me know from the hospital that he wouldn’t be able to make it to this festival,” King said. “He didn’t want anyone to be disappointed.”
It was King who first had the idea to cast Morris, his college drama teacher, in the role of Valerie’s (Kudrow) hair stylist and best friend Mickey. Because of the show’s mockumentary style, King thought the long-retired actor would be a great fit. “He felt like someone who wandered in from a reality show,” King said.
Bucatinsky also praised the “one of a kind” Morris for his unique take on the role. “He’s the only person that could have played that part,” he said.
According to Kudrow, Morris’ network test for The Comeback was his first audition ever. It was then that he gifted her with a necklace. “It was really beautiful and sweet,” she recalled. “I immediately put it on. It felt like a good luck charm.”
In the nine years between the first and second seasons of The Comeback, King and Kudrow said that Morris had been diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma, which he was battling as production began on season two. “He was uninsurable and HBO let us proceed anyway,” said King, because he and Kudrow assured them Morris could still do the part.
“Everyday was an amazing gift because it was seeing someone so happy,” King recalled.
Added Kudrow: “It was like he was getting well as we went along.”
Morris’ personal health battle influenced the writers when it came time to write the season two finale. In the episode, Valerie is on the way to the Emmys and is considered a strong bet to take home the award. However, when she learns Mickey has collapsed and is in the hospital, she leaves the ceremony to go be by his side. The finale ends with Valerie, Mickey and Mark (Damian Young) watching her announced as the winner from Mickey’s hospital room. “That last scene meant a lot to us,” King said.
The entire creative team expressed interest when asked about a third potential season. “It’s always a possibility,” Kudrow said.
King pointed to the current Peak TV era of more than 400 scripted shows and said he would love to see Valerie on one of “these small shows that you’ve never heard of,” on an obscure cable network. “TV is so desperate now. It finally caught up to Valerie,” King said, which elicited laughter and applause from the crowd.
Added Bucatinsky, “The desire to speculate about where Valerie is at any given moment … no matter what, it’s always exciting and it’s just a matter of what’s the story.”