Malcolm in the Middle...of a salary dispute?

That's what a published report says is behind Emmy nominee Jane Kaczmarek's M.I.A. status from the set of the hit Fox comedy.

The 46-year-old actress, who plays Frankie Muniz's fearsome TV mom, left the show two weeks ago amid efforts by her camp to secure "a big pay raise," USA Today reports.

But her aforementioned camp says migraines--not money matters--are to blame for her absence.

Kaczmarek "has been medically diagnosed as suffering from severe migraine headaches," says a statement from her publicist's office. "...[T]hey are extremely painful."

The statement goes on to say that Fox's doctors have signed off on the diagnosis. "We believe that her health issues are short term and that she will be able to resume work soon," it concludes.

As far as the Malcolm actors are concerned, though, there's not a whole lot of work left to be done--at least not in this, its third season. Non-Kaczmarek-related production delays had already dictated that Malcolm's 24-episode season would become a 23-episode season. With Kaczmarek's absence factored in, that number will shrink by one--down to 22.

Contrary to the USA Today report that had Kaczmarek's character, Lois, being written out of the final episodes, insiders say there's enough existing footage of the actress to work her into the still-to-be-completed episodes. This is because Malcolm is shot out of sequence, like a film--not like a play, like most sitcoms.

Officially, Fox and Regency Television, which produces Malcolm for the network, have no comment on Kaczmarek's status.

The paper says Kaczmarek has a history of butting heads with producers over money. (Possibly the source of those migraines?) It reports she staged a two-day walkout last fall, which resulted in "small" hikes for her and the cast.

Kaczmarek's husband, West Wing-er Bradley Whitford, along with costars Allison Janney, Richard Schiff and John Spencer, played the hold-out game to a win last July, skipping a script reading and ultimately getting producers to more than double their paychecks.

TV stars and salary disputes go together like, well, TV stars and salary renegotiations. Some famous examples of shows carrying on while actors stewed at home: All in the Family making do without Carroll O'Connor for a couple of episodes in 1974 ("Where's Archie!" and, natch, "Archie Is Missing!"); The Dukes of Hazzard trading in for a new pair of Dukes in 1982-83 until John Schneider and Tom Wopat returned to their senses; and, Laverne & Shirley soldiering on during its final season...minus Shirley.

So, could Malcolm do without his mother? Probably. We just wouldn't want to see that household run by Hal.

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