BURBANK, CA—Days after doctors at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center told him he had less than two months to live, sitcom writer Joey Kaplan expressed regret that he never accomplished all he could have in his series.
"I had so many plans for my show, so many dream sequences yet to fulfill," said Kaplan, co-creator and executive producer of the CBS sitcom Still Standing, which focuses on the domestic life of Chicago father Bill Miller, his wife Judy, and children Brian and Lauren. "But it was always the same thing: 'I'll do it next season.'"
Though Kaplan, who has advanced lymphoma, made it through 82 episodes of the show, a fixture on CBS's Monday-night lineup, he still laments the fact that he will never get to take his sitcom family to Florida for a Disney vacation episode, watch Brian reach adulthood and get his first apartment in what he assumed was an upscale loft but is actually a condemned property, or witness Judy giving birth to a healthy baby boy while stuck in an elevator.
"It hurts to think of all the half-hours wasted on routine plots," said an emotional Kaplan. "All the class reunions, forgotten anniversaries, new neighbors, bouts of amnesia, living-room weddings, surprise inheritances from distant relatives that end up being worthless, and blind dates disrupted by the meddlesome dad that I'm going to miss out on when I'm gone."
Added Kaplan, "It's tragic to know I'll never hear the sound of canned laughter again."
Kaplan says he has lately found comfort in favorite passages from his series bible.
"I take solace in the words and one-liners of Jesús, the ribald Mexican delivery guy whom I now wish could have been a larger presence in my show," Kaplan said. "I never got the chance to tell him how important he was to the series."
According to caretakers at his Burbank hospice, Kaplan spends much of his time watching videos of his sitcom family and friends.
"Joey wishes he'd gotten to know his characters more, especially the kids," said patient-care coordinator Rosalba Cruz. "We all try to tell him that we're sure he did everything he could for them, and that they're all better off for being created by him."
"Look at little Brian here," Kaplan said, watching the show's nerdy overachieving son take his very first steps on-screen through a swinging kitchen door. "I'll never forget the first thing he said: 'Dad, what do you do to impress a girl?' As I recall, Bill's response had something to do with belching."
Kaplan tearfully rued living "episode to episode" rather than focusing on the big series picture. "My characters made lots of friends—like the kindly old man at the senior center who turned out to be Santa Claus—but they never kept in touch with them for more than one show," he said. "And why did I make Bill so self-absorbed and childish? Sometimes I wish I could reach into that TV and shake the living daylights out of him. That's a beautiful, beautiful family he has, but all he ever thinks about is beer and sports."
Still Standing co-creator Diane Burroughs has promised to carry on with the show, starting with a "very special" episode based on Kaplan's terminal illness.
"Bill misunderstands a doctor's diagnosis and thinks he's going to die, so he goes on a mad spree," Burroughs said. "Long story short, he maxes out the credit card and breaks his leg skydiving. This is for you, Joey."
Kaplan said he just hopes the children he and Burroughs created will someday grow up to have children of their own during a flash-forward fantasy episode.