Karen Berger, PharmD
Karen Berger, PharmD
Karen Berger, PharmD, graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy in 2001. She has worked in community pharmacies for over 16 years as a Pharmacist in Charge, staff, and floater pharmacist for a large chain. Currently, she is a pharmacist at an independent pharmacy in Northern NJ.

An Interview with "Vials" TV Series Creator Michael Carl Jude

DECEMBER 07, 2017
I cannot count how many times I have thought, "Someone should make a show about a pharmacy."

Now there is a new series on Amazon about pharmacy life called, "Vials."  I watched the first episode and was hooked. It was full of funny jokes (my favorite was the hard-of-hearing patient with angina) and personal stories. 

Recently, I sat down with Michael Carl Jude, the creator, producer, and writer of "Vials" for a behind-the-scenes look.

Question: What was your inspiration for creating this show?
Answer: I worked in the pharmacy industry for about a decade while I was in college and law school. The show is completely fictional, other than the fact that one of the characters, Joe, is a lawyer, but I only did that in order to create an interesting arc for the story involving a corporate takeover. Luckily for me, I was not put into the position that Joe finds himself in the series. I always admired the pharmacy community and thought they should be represented. However, I am not into drama so I decided to go the comedic route. 
 
Q: How long did it take to write "Vials," and did you work with actual pharmacists to get an accurate picture of pharmacy life?
A: I have had the idea for "Vials" in my head for the better part of nearly 2 decades. Every year, I would look at the fall lineups and always expect a pharmacy comedy to pop up on a network or streaming service. However, year after year it would not happen. Then last year I decided it was finally time to get it done. Of course, after I wrote the first season I figured this would be the year someone else would do it, but again, it didn't happen. So, it all worked out, and even after decades of procrastination, I was able to write and produce the first comedy series about pharmacy. I worked with pharmacists for a decade, and I have a number of pharmacist friends. We also had a pharmacist on site during production. Every single thing I came up with was always mentioned to a consultant who said, "Yes, that happens all the time."

Q: How did you end up working with Amazon, as opposed to Netflix or a cable network?
A: Amazon really offered the best opportunity to reach the widest possible audience. 

Q: What was your experience working in a pharmacy; were you a technician and in what kind of setting?
A: I was a technician for 5 years at CVS and for another 5 years at an independent store. 

Q: What is your most memorable experience from when you worked in a pharmacy?
A: 
Every day was an adventure. I used to love dealing with the public. Even when they were in the foulest of moods it was a great job, because it always felt good to help them. That's the point of the show. Yes, it is satire and exaggerated but that is why we bring it all back to reality at some points. Like at the end of the first episode we mention that people complain about the wait times, but when you are in pain even 15 minutes can feel like an eternity. The show, if you really pay attention, is about the importance of the pharmacist in the community, and that will come out more and more once the full season in released this spring. 

Q: What was your least favorite thing about working in a pharmacy?
A: 
To be honest, anything involving math and science was never for me. That is why I never pursued it professionally and became a lawyer instead.

Q: How did you cast the characters?
A: 
We held auditions in Texas and hired a talented group of actors with an extensive background in improv to make the show feel natural. 

Q: We all know technicians are overworked and underpaid. Tell us about your petition to raise pay for technicians.
A: 
I was shocked to learn it seems that technicians have taken a step back in terms of respect and pay. When I was a technician in the late '90s and early 2000s, I was making at least $15 an hour. It was also looked at as a great job or at least better than being some greeter at a department store. It seems like they are making the same or less nearly years later, which is absurd. So, since we had a nice platform with the show we decided to try and give back. 

Q: What are useful things to keep in mind when dealing with the sometimes difficult public?
A: 
Yes! A small segment of the pharmacy population has seen the show as a poor reflection on the profession, but that is the farthest thing from the truth. That is the beautiful part about the closing monologue of episode 1. Yes, the job is stressful, and the public can be tough, but that is the job, and pharmacists love it. There is a ton of responsibility. Throughout the course of the shows, we will tackle some tough issues in a satirical way, but we will always bring it back to the heart of the matter and ground it in reality. This is an honorable profession that saves lives. We have to remember people are sick, suffering, dying, or dealing with addiction, and each scenario cannot be looked at in a vacuum. This is a narrow snapshot using satire and humor to address serious workplace and social issues, but there will always be a moral to the story or a lesson about patience and courtesy. 

Q: What has the feedback been like? Has it been different from people in the industry as opposed to other viewers?
A: 
As of today, we have had over 80% 5-star ratings on Amazon. Similarly, the percentage of positive comments on Facebook and other social-media outlets like IMDB have been in the 80% to 90% range, which is amazing. The technicians and pharmacists have really seen the levity of the show and the heart. My goal in all of this was to create a great cult classic comedy. The small percentage of negative reviews have been mainly focused on the show making technicians and pharmacists look bad due to some of the themes. However, these are just plot devices, and without any spoilers everyone needs to relax because not everything is as it seems about Rich and Lisa. We made Lisa a strong character who is brilliant and hard working. The plot needed to be interesting. Otherwise, it would have just been a show of various skits, which was not our intention. The customer interactions, whiteboard animation, and interviews have been the parts of the episode people enjoyed the most. The future episodes will all feature a whiteboard animation and at least 2 to 3 customer interactions per episode. 

Q: Who is your favorite character and why?
A: 
Joe. He's the fictional me. 

Q: I really want to understand Rich. Is he a nice guy under his exterior?
A: 
Rich went through a tough divorce. He is mad at the world. His store is in the midst of a hostile takeover, and his daughter is with the one guy who has been driving him crazy the past 5 years. He is a complicated character, and we will learn more about him as the series progresses. Another interesting fact: His ex-wife is a pharmacist and happens to have some ownership rights to the pharmacy. So, we will have to see how that plays into all of this. 

Q: The pre-pharmacy student was the obvious choice for the replacement hire. Will that be a good choice? We could tell by her counting that something may be off, according to what was said in the episode.
A: Yes, Carmela may or may not be a nut. She certainly interviewed like one. Stay tuned. 

Q: When can we expect more episodes?
A: 
This spring.

Q: Can you give us any clue as to what is next? 
A:
 Although this is a comedy, there will be a number of twists. Everything in this episode will tie into the finale, and then people who were upset about this or that will say, "Well, if I knew that, I wouldn't have been so annoyed. You should have told us right away." Where would be the fun in that?
 
Thanks to Michael Carl Jude. Check out this amazing, hilarious, and innovative show. And as always, feel free to email me about anything you want to talk about (karenmichelleberger@gmail.com).
 


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