Hiding a Pregnancy on Television
What happens when the actress of a TV show gets pregnant? They are not expected to put their life on hold just for a television role. This can be a somewhat of a problem to the producers of a series. The viewer will definitely be confused when a female character suddenly shows up with an unexplainable baby bump. In some cases, the writers opt to create a pregnancy story arc for the character.
For example, when Lisa Kudrow of Friends became pregnant, a storyline was created in which she was going to be a surrogate mother for her brother’s babies. In Alias, when Jennifer Gardner became pregnant during the last season, her character Sydney Bristow also became pregnant. This can be an effective solution on some TV shows. Maybe a pregnancy can create the perfect drama that is needed to move the story forward. However, making the character pregnant doesn’t always solve the problem. It might be completely out of character or just not where the story was headed. When this happens, the only choice is to come up with some crafty ideas to reduce the damage to the suspension of disbelief.
I will give a few examples of some of the techniques that are used to hide the growing bellies of pregnant actresses.
This is the most popular way to hide a pregnancy. Baggy clothes are used instead of a form-fitting wardrobe so that the baby bump isn’t as noticeable. However, you can still kind of tell the actress is pregnant. Their stomach isn't the only sign. You can tell that a woman is pregnant by noticing weight gain, a rounder face, and even slightly bigger breasts.
When Courtney Cox got pregnant on the last season of Friends, the writers of the show had already created a storyline that could not be altered. Monica and Chandler couldn’t conceive and the characters had already opted for adoption when Cox became pregnant with her daughter Coco. To hide her pregnancy, Monica is seen wearing loose clothing until the end of the show.
Another show that did a wardrobe change was Sex and the City. Since the show was known for its amazing outfits, the costume designers had more liberty in dressing the character of Carrie when Sarah Jessica Parker became pregnant. She wears flowy dresses to hide her baby bump and they cut the season short so that she could go on maternity leave.
Another way to hide a pregnancy is to carry boxes or other bulky items in front of the stomach. You'll see the character always suspiciously covering themselves with objects. They'll sometimes carry bigger purses than they had before, if they had them at all. They'll typically be clutching those huge purses for dear life, as if they were worried of being mugged. You may notice them strangely carrying those large purses inside their own homes.
On the fourth season of How I Met Your Mother, both Alyson Hannigan and Cobie Smulders became pregnant at the same time. They used the technique of hiding themselves behind objects. You suddenly saw them wearing extremely large and ugly purses. Sometimes they carried around boxes or were playing a guitar, which we never knew they could play. In one episode, a hotdog eating contest was used to explain Lily’s big belly.
Another technique is to have the actress stand behind obstacles. This can include tables, kitchen counters, and even other cast members. Sharp viewers can suddenly notice that they never see a full body shot of the actress.
In The Cosby Show, they went as far as to install a new kitchen counter for when Phylicia Rashad became pregnant. The counter was noticeably taller than the one in the previous seasons. The character of Clair was written as constantly being in the kitchen doing different things. They also made a hole in Clair’s side of the bed so that they could hide Rashad’s elevated stomach when Cliff and Clair were lying in bed.
In Cheers, both Rhea Pearlman and Shelly Long became pregnant at the same time. Pearlman’s pregnancy was written into the plot, but Long’s wasn’t. To hide Diane’s growing belly, they had her stand behind the bar a lot. She was usually sitting down as well.
Using camera angles is another cunning way to hide a pregnancy. All they have to do is make sure that the actress is only shown on camera from above the upper chest or in close-ups. This may seem like the easiest way to hide a pregnancy but this can't be done all the time. This might work on some occasions but wide camera angles are important for a television show, especially sitcoms. The interaction between the characters is needed. If the character is alone, this is definitely the way to go. But when there are more people on the scene, other techniques have to be used.
The simplest way to deal with this predicament may be to remove the actress for a while. Some actresses go on maternity leave until they give birth to their child. This can work if they aren't the main character of the show. The writers can come up with some creative storyline to explain their absence.
When Sarah Wayne Callies of Prison Break became pregnant, a storyline was put in motion that had her missing and presumed dead, only for her to return in season four. When it’s the main character that needs a little break from shooting, they might cut the season short like they did in Sex and the City. Conversely, production might be delayed like when Amy Poehler became pregnant during the third season of Parks and Recreation. The season was pushed back from September 2010 to January 2011.
As you can see, hiding a pregnancy on television can be a tricky thing. A lot of effort has to be made to conceal an actress and make it believable. Using props or clever storytelling are some of the ways that this can be done. Sometimes the audience notices, sometimes they don’t. But we learn to ignore it. After all, who are we to deny these wonderful actresses their bundles of joy?