- Not all actors stick to the script, and some of the funniest, most heartfelt TV moments were improvised by the cast.
- In some cases, actors chose to ab-lib genuine reactions, like when Marshall found out his father died on “How I Met Your Mother.”
- Other times, like on the Snake Juice episode of “Parks and Recreation,” the whole cast improvised a scene.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Although many TV shows are completely scripted, some of the most talked-about TV moments were actually improvised.
In some instances, the stars were given creative licence to do what they wanted in a specific scene, and other times, the improvised moment happened totally by accident, and the cast just rolled with it.
Whatever the case, these improvised moments that made the cut often end up being some of the most memorable. Read on for 26 iconic TV scenes that were never supposed to happen.
On “Game of Thrones,” Tormund’s smile toward Brienne was unscripted.
Some of the sweetest (and funniest) moments on season seven of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” are when Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) tries to win over Brienne (Gwendoline Christie).
On one episode, Tormund stares longingly at Brienne while leaving Castle Black, and when she looks over at him, he smiles.
“It’s not something you could ever write,” cocreator and showrunner Dan Weiss told Entertainment Weekly in 2017. “It’s just this moment where this guy is creeping out on her and he smiles in a way that makes her very uncomfortable and she just looks away. I saw it 150 times and every time it made me laugh; it’s purely the two of them.”
On “How I Met Your Mother,” Jason Segel’s reaction to Marshall’s dad dying was very real.
Although CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” is known as a comedy, the light tone takes a temporary shift when Marshall (played by Segel) finds out his dad has unexpectedly died of a heart attack.
During the scene, his wife, Lily (Alyson Hannigan), tells Marshall that his dad died. Executive producer Carter Bays told Entertainment Weekly in 2011 that Segel wanted to deliver a genuine performance, so he didn’t read Hannigan’s lines ahead of time.
“As the last words of Lily’s line – ‘he didn’t make it’ – left Alyson’s mouth, I had to look away, as did our director Pamela Fryman,” Bays said. “It’s our job to watch what happens, but in this case, what Jason and Alyson were going through was so unbearably real … we just had to trust that when we got back to the edit room it would all be in focus. “
Segel ad-libbed the last line of the scene: “I’m not ready for this.”
The moment on “Stranger Things” when Eleven collapsed into Mike’s arms after battling Billy was unscripted.
On season three of Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) battles Billy (Dacre Montgomery) in a sauna to save herself and her friends. After the fight, Eleven collapses into Mike’s (Finn Wolfhard) arms.
Director Shawn Levy told TV Insider in 2019 that they had spent over 40 hours shooting the sauna scenes on a small, crowded stage with six actors and about a hundred crew members.
“It was tight. It was hot. We probably did well over a hundred plus different angles to tell that story right,” he said.
He continued, “At the end when Eleven collapses, exhausted, into Mike’s arms, that was real exhaustion.”
Captain Holt’s iconic “hot damn” moment on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” was improved by Andre Braugher.
The normally very serious Captain Holt (Braugher) gets Amy (Melissa Fumero) to admit why she’s late, and he erupts with a loud and expressive, “hot damn!”
The cast of Fox-NBC’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” said that they mostly stick to the script, but Andy Samberg said in a 2015 Q&A with the SAG-AFTRA Foundation that Braugher’s ab-libs can throw off the whole crew – including the famous “hot damn” moment.
“That was so unexpected and out of the blue that I erupted laughing,” Stephanie Beatriz (who plays Rosa) told Vulture in 2018. “You can see it in the footage they used. The cut is quick but I am very clearly about to break.”
The awkward kissing scene between Michael and Oscar on “The Office” was not scripted.
One of the most unforgettable scenes from NBC’s “The Office” is when Michael (Steve Carell) kisses Oscar (Oscar Nuñez) to prove that he accepts Oscar’s sexuality on the season-three episode “Gay Witch Hunt.”
According to IGN, actor Paul Lieberstein (who played Toby) said in a 2012 PaleyFest panel that the kiss was originally scripted to be on the cheek.
“One take, Steve just won’t let Oscar turn away,” he said. “He got closer and closer and it just got creepy.”
Apparently, the rest of the actors on set were cracking up as Carell improvised the kiss, which is why the camera stays on Carell and Nuñez.
David Schwimmer accidentally swapped Rachel and Emily’s names during the wedding episode of “Friends,” and it stuck.
An ongoing joke on NBC’s “Friends” was that Ross (Schwimmer) was no stranger to weddings, but his unforgettable “I, Ross, take thee, Rachel” slip left audiences – and the other characters – shocked. And apparently, Schwimmer is to thank for that iconic moment.
According to MTV, Saul Austerlitz wrote in his book “Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era” that although the writers had drafted the London episode, they weren’t sure how it was going end or if Ross and Emily (Helen Baxendale) would actually wed.
While practicing lines, Schwimmer accidentally said, “Rachel, the taxi’s here” instead of “Emily, the taxi’s here.”
“At that moment, “[producer] Greg Malins turned to [creator] David Crane and said, ‘That’s what happens,'” Austerlitz wrote. This one slipup changed the entire course of the series.
One of Zendaya’s most emotional scenes on “Euphoria” was completely improvised.
HBO’s “Euphoria” has plenty of harrowing scenes, but one of the most intense ones is a fight between Rue and her mother, Leslie (Nika King), over Rue not staying sober. The two scream at and chase each other, and it was entirely improvised by Zendaya and King.
Zendaya told Refinery29 in 2019 that for the scene, the script simply said, “Rue and her mum have a fight,” because the director wanted the actors to do what felt right in the moment.
“I don’t care how mad I am, I would never say certain things to my parent, or anybody. It’s not who I am,” she said. “So, having to put myself in that kind of situation and say and do those things, that was one day when I felt sick.”
The way Schmidt says “chutney” on “New Girl” was never scripted.
One of the most iconic things about Max Greenfield’s character, Schmidt, on Fox’s “New Girl” is his hilarious mispronunciation of random words – but apparently, Greenfield came up with those moments on his own.
Jake Johnson (who plays Nick) said in a 2012 cast interview with Vulture that Zooey Deschanel encouraged the cast to “loosen up and go nuts,” instead of solely sticking to the script. Greenfield put his own spin on the advice.
Greenfield said he told the producers, “‘Listen, I’m not gonna do much improv because the writing’s so brilliant, but I will mispronounce a lot of words. I can promise you that.'”
On “Parks and Recreation,” the actors all improvised their drunk Snake Juice reactions.
The cast said at PaleyFest that this was sort of an acting challenge to see who could make Amy Poehler (who was directing the episode) laugh.
“It was like a weird acting challenge and Nick Offerman putting that stupid hat on and actually smiling, dancing, you would never expect to even see him happy,” Aubrey Plaza (who plays April) told Too Fab in 2020. “It was fun to come up with those choices.”
Catherine O’Hara improvised her iconic pronunciation of “bebe” on “Schitt’s Creek.”
One of the things that makes O’Hara’s Moira in PopTV’s “Schitt’s Creek” so loveable is her strange, vaguely European accent.
The show’s creator Dan Levy told Vulture in 2020 that O’Hara came up with that accent herself – no one knew what Moira was going to sound like until the first day of shooting.
One of her most iconic mispronunciations is the way she says “baby.”
O’Hara told Vulture, “I said ‘bebe’ as a joke or a mistake the first time. Once I hit on ‘bebe’ and got a laugh from the crew, that was it.”
On “Dead to Me,” Linda Cardellini came up with Judy’s devastating line about Abe’s death.
On the first season of Netflix’s “Dead to Me,” Judy (Cardellini) finds out that Abe has died, and, visibly devastated, Cardellini improvised the line, “No, I didn’t get to say goodbye.”
“Some of my favourite moments ended up being those improvised moments because they were funny, but also in [the Abe] case because they could be heartbreaking,” creator Liz Feldman told Thrillist in 2019. “That just came out of Linda. I don’t know where it came from, but it certainly felt like it came from a very deep, real place.”
On “The Walking Dead,” Norman Reedus ad-libbed the line, “You look ridiculous.”
On AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” Daryl (Reedus) doesn’t talk very much, and that’s what made his season-five moment so memorable.
Daryl and Carol (Melissa McBride) find a new community to live in, and Carol dresses as a suburban soccer mum. The moment Daryl sees her, he says, “You look ridiculous” – an unscripted, but genuine addition.
“… It is so foreign to what we’ve lived with for five years to see Carol in that pastel getup, we all sat there going, this is frickin’ weird. So then she walks down the footpath and Norman yells, ‘You look ridiculous!'” executive producer Greg Nicotero told EW in 2015. “When I did the cut, I was like, I’m leaving that in because that is exactly what Daryl would say.”
Jo kissing Arizona on an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” wasn’t part of the original script.
On one episode of the long-running ABC drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” Jo (Camilla Luddington) greets Alex (Justin Chambers) and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) by kissing both of them on the mouth.
In a 2018 tweet, Luddington revealed the moment was unscripted, writing, “It was unscripted but I thought hello?!!! Who wouldn’t want to also smooch Arizona Roberts?”
On “Game of Thrones,” the kiss between Ellaria and Yara was totally improvised.
During season seven, Euron (Pilou Asbæk) interrupts an intense kiss between Yara (Gemma Whelan) and Ellaria (Indira Varma); and although the kiss seemed like a scripted action beat, it wasn’t.
“It wasn’t directed that we would kiss. It just seemed like something we should do,” Whelan told Entertainment Weekly in 2017. “We led it, very much so. It was meant to be a suggestion [of flirting] and then it became more sexual than we expected because it seemed right.”
Although it worked on-screen, Whelan’s stunt double (who stepped in after Whelan hurt her back) was seemingly thrown off by the surprise.
“So I had to start kissing this poor stunt double and she was so terrified! That was quite funny, bless her,” Varma said in the same interview. “I don’t think she’d ever been put in that situation before. She’s used to falling over and being attacked and all the stunts, but to be kissed by an actress was a bit beyond her.”
During the series finale of “One Tree Hill,” Brooke’s speech about high school being special was not part of the script.
At the very end of The WB-The CW’s “One Tree Hill,” Brooke (Sophia Bush) gives an emotional speech while reminiscing about high school that left her in tears.
This unscripted moment was based on Bush reflecting on her years on the show.
“I spent 35,000 hours filming OTH. Our last scene ever in that hallway was immensely emotional for me, and so I took a deep breath and imagined how it would feel for B. Davis,” Bush tweeted in 2018. “Those words are mine. And hers … together. Glad the bosses let me have that one. For all of us.”
Stefon’s habit of covering his mouth is actually Bill Hader trying to stay in character.
Plenty of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” is improvised, but sometimes those impromptu lines and gestures become a hallmark of the character, like in the case of Hader’s Stefon.
Stefon memorably wheeled on stage in just about every segment covering his mouth with his hands.
And in a 2014 interview with Stefon’s “SNL” scene partner Seth Meyers, Hader said that it always made him laugh when a patient Meyers would say, “Now, Stefon … ” – so he started covering his laughter with his hands to try and stay in character.
One of Andy’s best lines in “Parks and Recreation” is one that Chris Pratt improvised.
On the season-three episode “Flu Season,” Andy tries to diagnose Leslie’s sickness by typing her symptoms into the web.
He then says, “I typed your symptoms into the thing up here, and it says you could have ‘network connectivity problems.'”
“I like ‘Flu Season’ a lot because it has the funniest line I think we’ve ever had on the show, which was improvised by Chris Pratt,” script coordinator Greg Levine told Wired in 2014. “It’s just brilliant writing, and he just delivers it so well.”
The emotional junkyard talk between Zeek and Amber on “Parenthood” was improvised by the actors.
NBC’s “Parenthood” is full of tear-jerking moments, and one of the saddest is when Zeek (Craig Nelson) takes Amber (Mae Whitman) to see the car she totaled from a drunk-driving accident.
Zeek tells Amber that when he was at war in Vietnam, his goal was to make it home to start a family, with grandkids like Amber, and added that she didn’t have his permission to mess with his dream by not taking drunk driving seriously.
Whitman told Entertainment Weekly in 2018 that Nelson came up with the whole speech.
“I went into that scene, and I didn’t know what he was going to say,” she said. “So, all my reactions in that scene are totally surprised and genuine.”
On “This Is Us,” the scene in the barbershop between Randall and William was unscripted.
On the episode of the NBC show titled “Memphis,” there is a short scene where William (Ron Cephas Jones) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) get haircuts and the two bond in an impromptu conversation.
According to E! Online, Jones and Brown were actually just having a conversation where they were talking about their real-life first haircuts.
Tatiana Maslany and Kristian Bruun came up with the scene in which Alison and Donnie bury a body in their garage on “Orphan Black.”
During a 2014 Nerd HQ Q&A with the cast of BBC’s “Orphan Black,” Bruun revealed that Alison (Maslany) and Donnie (Bruun) burying a body in the garage was unscripted.
“In the script, it was sort of just describing what we were doing, but T.J. Scott, who was directing that episode, was like, ‘I’m just gonna set up a camera, and I’m just gonna let it run, and you guys you guys just … do it,'” Bruun said.
Maslany added, “It was really hard to do.”
On “The Haunting of Hill House,” Theo and Shirley’s reactions to Nell’s ghost in the car were genuine.
One of the Netflix show’s most terrifying jump scares is during episode eight when Theo (Kate Siegel) and Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser) are arguing while driving, and Nell’s ghost (Victoria Pedretti) pops out from the backseat.
Creator Mike Flanagan told Entertainment Weekly in 2018 that although Siegel and Reaser knew the ghost would appear in the car, he instructed Pedretti to make her appearance sooner than scripted.
“The girls had another half-page of words to get through before Victoria would appear, and she just bolted up right in the middle of their lines, and so their reaction is completely genuine,” he said. “It also scared the s— out of all of us at the monitor.”
On “Breaking Bad,” baby Holly said “Mama” all on her own.
On an episode of AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” there’s a particularly sad moment when Walt (Bryan Cranston) kidnaps his daughter Holly, and she calls out, “Mama, mama.”
Co-executive producer Moira Walley-Beckett told Today in 2013 that she didn’t have that in the script.
She said the two actresses playing Holly were only on set for about 20 minutes at a time, and when one of the actresses saw her real-life mother just a few feet away, she called out to her.
“I scripted that Walter would come to it himself as he stood Baby Holly up and looked in her face and realised he was doing the wrong thing by her,” she said. “And then, when he stood her up, and she looked over his shoulder at her ‘Mama’ and started asking for her, Bryan the consummate actor rolled with it. We just got some movie magic.”
Gary and Mike actually did break an expensive tea set while filming in London on “Veep.”
Plenty of scenes in HBO’s “Veep” were improvised, but one moment really wasn’t supposed to happen at all – Gary (Tony Hale) and Mike (Matt Walsh) break an expensive tea set and joke that they will never be allowed in London again.
In a 2016 interview with AOL Build, Walsh said, “We/Tony broke a very expensive tea set … but Julia was there and she was like, ‘Keep going!'”
Julia Louis-Dreyfuss suggested they use the broken pieces in the scene to their advantage, and the result made it into the finished scene.
On “Stranger Things,” most of Murray’s conversation with Jonathan and Nancy at breakfast was unscripted.
While Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) are eating breakfast with Murray (Brett Gelman), Murray asks Jonathan, “How was the pull-out?” Jonathan spits out his water and says, “Uh, sorry?” Murray replies, “The sofa.” As Jonathan scrambles to say it was good, you can see Dyer trying not to laugh.
On Netflix’s “Beyond Stranger Things,” Heaton and Dyer talked about how hard it was to film that particular scene because of Gelman’s impromptu innuendos.
On “The Walking Dead,” Reedus improvised a scene where he hugged Lydia and ended up making her cry.
On the season-10 episode “Silence the Whisperers,” Reedus’ character Daryl hugs Lydia (Cassady McClincy) after she broke down in tears while talking about her father.
Reedus improvised the gestures, and it was so emotional and genuine that it made McClincy cry and excuse herself from the room.
On “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” Joshua Bassett came up with Ricky’s monologue about loving Nini on the spot.
On the Disney Plus show, Ricky (Bassett) tells Nini (Olivia Rodrigo) how he feels about her. Showrunner Tim Federle wanted the moment to be authentic and told the LA Times in 2020 that he encouraged Bassett to improvise the words.
“I pulled Joshua aside, and I was like, ‘Just talk to her. Just tell her you love her,'” Federle said. “‘And if it means you improvise something that isn’t on the page, I just need to see Ricky put it all on the line.'”
Bassett did exactly that and improvised the lines, noting it “was really a magical moment.”
Bassett said while he was saying the monologue in character, he was also admitting his feelings about his real-life relationship with Rodrigo.