FandomWire‘s Oliver Swift had the opportunity to speak to Scrubs creator, Bill Lawrence, about his new series, Ted Lasso. Read on to see Bill and Oliver discuss sports movies, American stupidity and Zach Braff.
OS: Hello and welcome to the FandomWire show, I’m Oliver Swift and I’m here with screenwriter, producer and director Bill Lawrence who is here to talk about his new show, Ted Lasso, which is set to start streaming next month on Apple TV +. How are you doing Bill? It’s good to be able to speak to you today.
BL: It’s good to talk to you as well, man. I feel like you’re calling from home, you’re calling from London and I spent a lot of time there with this show.
OS: Well, it’s only been my home for a couple of years, but it’s nice. So, today we’re going to talk about Ted Lasso which is a series adapted from a series of sketches starring Jason Sudeikis. Were you at all involved with these original sketches a few years back?
BL: I was not involved at all. I haven’t decided yet if I’m gonna start lying so I can claim more credit for this. But no, it was a character that Jason came up with, with help from Joe Kelly and Brendan Hunt, who is one of the writers on the show and also plays Coach Beard, in order to promote football/soccer here in the States. The show came to be because Jason and I were meeting about doing something and he said that ‘you won’t believe this, but I’m more recognised when I go overseas as Ted Lasso then I am for any SNL or any of the movies I’ve done’.
OS: Oh, wow, so the show itself was borne from specifically wanting to do a series about Ted Lasso or is it more you wanted to work together and Ted Lasso incorporated himself into that?
BL: We wanted to work together and Jason really liked the challenge of taking a character from a series of sketches, very funny sketches, but not really having a three dimensional character. It’s just a guy who doesn’t know the game. And he said it would be fun to do that and surprise people and make him three dimensional and give him emotional depth and heart and kind of build a show around that. And I was really into it, we both overlapped in a way that we both wanted to do a show that was really hopeful and optimistic in a time that otherwise does not probably seem that way. Ted Lasso seemed like a pretty cool vehicle to do that with.
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OS: I completely agree. So, as you said, Ted in the sketches was definitely portrayed as just an idiot, but in the show there’s something more to him. You know, he’s fine with being the butt of the joke as long as there’s some kind of purpose towards it. Should Ted Lasso almost be an inspiration to people?
BL: I don’t know what it’s like over there but right now, our discourse here is so dysfunctional and one of the things Jason really wanted to do was portray an American character of what we hoped would be the good version of an American abroad. Which is still ignorant, we’re pretty dumb. But right now, in our social discourse, ignorance always comes hand in hand with arrogance. Our social media, political figures, different people are filled with someone, instead of saying ‘I don’t know anything about that’, they say ‘What are you talking about? I know everything about everything! I know more than you about it!’ And Jason was like, ‘Ted can still be a bit of a goofball, but it’s gotta be ignorance with curiosity’. You know, like ‘what’s it mean to be relegated?’ and ‘That’s right, you guys do ties here’. You know, somebody that’s not taken aback by the fact that he’s still learning. Because that’s the type of character you can still do those jokes. I’ve had this thing with people before when you first meet them you’re like ‘Nobody’s this nice’, because that’s the culture we live in right now. And one of the rules on the show was no, Ted turns out to be that pure of spirit. Even though he’s still kind of a goofball.
OS: Even though it’s now developed from sketches to series, do you think Ted Lasso has the potential to continue for multiple seasons or are you happy with the story you’ve told in these ten episodes?
BL: It’s not an endless series. But I will tell you that Jason and I both hope that Apple lets us keep doing the show. We have in our heads a beginning, middle and an end to a story that does not end this year. So, we’ve got our fingers crossed just like anybody who makes television and I think the hard, waiting period of finding out right now is because there’s no production really happening, right now out here in the States. We are planning to get over to the UK, as soon as we get the green light because I think you guys over there have started shooting stuff again. But, I think it’s got an end point. My pipe dream is that it’s three seasons. And if you watch the first ten episodes, you know where they end up for next year and, in our heads, we know where it ends too.
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OS: It’s always good to have an endgame in place. So, I’ve seen the first four episodes, really enjoying the show and I’m looking forward to seeing the rest but there was one name in particular that popped up in the credits that I wanted to ask you about.
OS: Well, you’ve worked with him on Scrubs and I’m assuming it was your idea to bring Zach Braff in to direct an episode?
BL: (laughs) It was. People have often said they see the same actors and actresses on my shows and that’s generally only because I know twenty or thirty people. But if you’re lucky enough to work with someone who is, not only talented, but you wanna spend time with anyways, these people become your friends. The exciting thing about Ted Lasso is that there are so many talented British actors and actresses and people and craftsmen, whether it be your friend, or DP, or cameramen and it was super cool to get to work with a whole new group of people. I was lucky, I’ve always considered Zach a super talented director in his own right. People don’t know, not only Garden State, but Going in Style, Wish You Were Here, he’s been doing movies, commercials and TV episodes for a long time and he’s really good at it. And I selfishly knew he was in London with a girlfriend and that I could sucker him in to working with us. So, I not only got to have someone who was great at his job but someone I wanted to spend time with, anyways.
OS: Was it just the one episode that he directed then?
BL: Yeah, we did ten episodes and he was around then. I’m not sure on this, but I think he was the only American who directed part of the show. But that’s partially because he didn’t have to fly over, he was already there. Like, if you’re here anyways, you’re either acting on the show or you’re directing it.
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OS: Out of all the characters on the show, is there any in particular you feel you are similar too?
BL: Any writer puts some of their own stuff in there, so there’s lots of titbits of all of us. I would never say Ted Lasso because he is so a character that comes from and is embodied by Jason. There is a character you will meet in episode six named Dani Rojas, a Latino player on the team who joins the cast. I fell in love with him as a character because metaphorically, I felt his attitude towards getting to play professional sports for a living is my attitude towards getting to write jokes for a living. The only other job I had was as a mediocre house painter and I got to segue into being a mediocre joke writer and I’m so grateful for it every day, man. So, when you see that episode, that’s my character, hopefully it’ll make you laugh.
OS: I am definitely looking forward to seeing it then. Do you follow any kind of sport?
BL: I’m a huge sports fan myself, as is Jason, but I’m into basketball. I still play, like an idiot. But anything on the TV, the NFL. I did not follow British football as closely, but we were all sports fans, in some way. This show stems from the fact everybody has their favourite, iconic sports movie. For some people it’s Rudy, for some people it’s Hoosiers, for some people it’s Major League or Bull Durham or Rocky. And these movies are always about an underdog triumphing. And they always become character pieces. So, we had to be lovers of sport in that sense that we set out to try and do our version of one of those. Even if it had a little more surprise or a little more heart than people expected.
OS: Sure, well thank you so much Bill. Thank you for your time.
BL: Thank you.
OS: I look forward to watching the rest of the show. Take care.
BL: Thanks man, and hopefully I’ll cross paths when I’m back there. Take it easy.
In the upcoming Apple TV+ original series, Jason Sudeikis plays Ted Lasso, a small-time college football coach from Kansas hired to coach a professional soccer team in England, despite having no experience coaching soccer.
In addition to starring, the series was developed by Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence, Joe Kelly and Brendan Hunt, and is based on the pre-existing format and characters from NBC Sports.