"Early Edition" time: because I'm going to have a whole bunch of long posts tomorrow morning (including the latest "Wire" rewind and an interview with Jon Hamm), I'm posting tomorrow's column -- in which "Scrubs" creator Bill Lawrence talks about the changes to the show for next season, and defends the decision to keep going after such a satisfying finale -- today.
And, for the "Scrubs" die-hards, after the jump is the transcript of the "Scrubs" portion of the interview I did with Bill at press tour. (We also talked "Cougar Town," but I'll save that for closer to that show's premiere; I wanted to get the "Scrubs" material out there because he's still casting the new leads, so some of what we talked about would be outdated within a few weeks.)
Both story and transcript feature what some might consider mild spoilers for the new season, both about the new characters and what's happening with a few of the old ones. But since Lawrence is treating this as a spin-off that retains a couple of characters, it feels more like I'm giving you information about the premise of a new show. But read on at your own risk.
(As always with my interview transcripts, the stuff in bold & italics are my questions; plain type are the answers.)
How happy were you with the finale?
Oh, it was awesome. Not like I'm self-aggrandizing, but we'd had the ending of the show amped up forever. We'd always known that, since we had a main character who had all these fantasies, that we could do the emotional wrap-up of the show without doing what every show had done before. It isn't, "Hey, everyone ends up happy!" It's just what he hopes it would be. And the show was over for him, and to finally write that thing that we had outlined three years earlier was really cool.
So the transition is, what do I feel like now that it's going forward?
Here's what I feel: I was listening to Stephen (McPherson) there saying it's not going to have a new title, which is true. But it is a new show. I tried to ask him to let me title it "Scrubs Med." He talked about the teaching aspect of it, but he wants to keep the brand, which I understand. Seventy percent of the cast and the setting, where the stories take place, is all different. We're on a (studio) lot now, we've built a huge college campus, and it's like UCLA where there's a teaching hospital attached. We tell the same tonal stories, but it's going to succeed or fail based on the new cast members. The only one returning is Eliza Coupe (as Denise/Jo), plus three new ones who are testing in about a week.
Well, if you were going to bring one of the young ones (from last season) back, it was her.
Oh, she is so talented. Even on a show with seven regulars, she was really talented with a one-line, one-note character. You don't have time to go, "Hey, it's the eighth year. We're going to put them aside and develop you." But she still made it interesting.
Is there going to be voiceover?
Yeah, new character.
So not Turk, not Cox.
Turk and Cox will take the emissary roles. Cox will be as Dr. Kelso was to the old show, and Turk will be this show's Dr. Cox. They're the holdovers. I think what we did that was crafty, if we can make it work, is that I hate when spin-offs don't have any continuity. "Frasier" was smart and they made him move. How are we going to attack this, knowing that I don't want to say that suddenly, Turk's wife is dead and Elliot's moved away? So the way the show's set up is Sacred Heart's been revamped and put on campus, and we actually have these buildings over at Culver Studios. And when the kids are working at the hospital, all the familiar faces will be passing by. I'm booking Sarah (Chalke), Judy (reyes), Ken Jenkins, Sam Lloyd, (Robert) Mascio. So what we're implying is that the hospital is still moving forward and existing, and you'll never notice it. Turk will be in most of the stories, and then one day, very casually, he'll run into his wife at a nurse's station, and it'll be as if she's been working there the whole time. The only thing hampering that for us at all is that Judy and Sarah are pregnant in real life. So they've got a short window of working.
Neil (Flynn) said this morning that he's coming back for at least one episode.
He's doing the first one. We'll leave an open door. In the best situation, he'll never be able to come back because his show will be a big hit. In the slightly not as (good) situation, he'll be back on the show.
Getting back to Judy and Sarah being pregnant, and the fantasy that JD watched in the finale -- the cool thing was, you could interpret it as either what he wishes happens, or what actually happened. So you could certainly do a story where Elliot's pregnant.
And we will. Because to us, it'll be nice that the show hasn't been on for a year. When we come in after "Dancing with the Stars," we'll imply that a year went by, and that JD is off working. It works for us. I'm way too nerdy about this show, you know, I love "Scrubs," and I couldn't just imply that JD left his wallet back there, or I'd be such a whore. But the one thing we always fudged, and that real doctors always gave us a hard time about, is that when you work in a teaching hospital, you have to actually teach. And we used to fudge it on the show with little classroom sets we'd build.
But now, that's the only shift. I've described it as like "Paper Chase." The main set we built, besides the new hospital, is a huge auditorium lecture hall where John McGinley lectures the new students. And he starts out saying he thinks of them all as tiny assassins who wander around the hospital killing people. And it's really funny. And these kids are going to be so young, man. I'd forgotten how young Zach and Sarah and Donald looked like when they started, but they were 24, 25, as interns, and these students are going to be 21, 22, and they look like infants. So that's the show.
So you won't be filming at the old hospital anymore?
No, we moved the whole thing to Culver Studios. The only piece of pipe we're implying is that the old hospital was such a piece of (garbage) that it got ripped down, and they put the new one up on campus. It has all the Sacred Heart logos on it, but it's the corporate building at Culver Studios. We built a brand-new set, but the idea is that they ran out of money because of the economy, so there's doors that go to nowhere and half-finished operating rooms and stuff.
Okay, I'm going to play devil's advocate here.
Go for it.
The last season was really strong. You got to bring the show back, got to do a great ending...
I know what you're going to say. Let me jump ahead. Here's how I rationalize it: I feel so good about what the show was that, if the worst-case scenario is that the show comes on for one year, doesn't find any audience and people feel that creatively it's not strong, as long as I know we tried, I can live with that. I won't get hung up on, "Did we ruin the legacy of eight years?" The high side was too high. I don't stand to make money on this particular year of the show. The syndication thing has run out, and it wasn't a huge hit its last year. For me, there wasn't a huge financial incentive to keep it going -- although in the best world, it'll catch a new audience and have a new life -- but what it came down to for me was talking to the people involved, many of whom I've worked with for eight years, and they were all, like, "Keep it going." For me, as long as I know we gave it a shot, I'll live with it. And we're really busting our hump with stories, and being interesting, and characters we haven't seen.
And keeping these people employed is more important to you than what happens (to the legacy)?
Sure, because to me, even a s--t-bomb year can't taint what was a great experience. That would be like me saying -- and this is a bad example, because I liked Charlie Sheen -- going, "Oh, I wish we had never done another year of 'Spin City' with Charlie." Who cares? It would be different if it was a mail-it-in, who gives a s--t?, and the quality was so bad. But we're going to try. The one thing I've said to everybody, and it's a quote I'm living by: It very well may suck. But don't say it sucks until you see it. And my pledge is that if it sucks, it's not going to suck in a fizzly way. It's going to suck in a giant, "Oh my god" kind of way, because we're really swinging for the fences and trying to do some big stuff.
So the new main character hasn't been cast yet, but he's going to do the voiceover...
It's a she, actually.
Now, I was never a big fan of the "His Story"/"Her Story" episodes (narrated by other characters).
I felt in those stories that you had already established on the show that there was an inherent lead, so when we did those stories and he was gone, it was like, "Where's the lead?" In our first episode back, you'll know who the lead of the show is. The most interesting dynamic of the first six that Zach are in will be to see if audiences are savvy enough to follow the fact that, for his group of episodes, there's two people where you'll occasionally hear their thoughts. It helps us; it's almost a passing of the torch that we'll get to hear JD's thoughts.
But for me, it wasn't just that the lead wasn't narrating those episodes, but that JD had a specific worldview that made sense for us to be inside his head so much.
Without a doubt. And that's why the show is going to succeed or fail based on the strength of new characters.
So what can you tell me about them?
Eliza, I just like as an actress. We're just rounding her out more. Her main dynamic will be with Donald, because he's lost his best friend, essentially. We're trying to see what we haven't explored on the show, and we haven't done the guy and girl best friends. We thought that if Turk would be friends with any chick, it'd be with a chick who's like a guy.
The new male lead is somebody that we loosely based on the real JD again. The real JD didn't go to med school till he was 28, because he went to college as a math major, bounced around for a long time. So to have a med student who is 30, with a bunch of 21-year-olds, who is romantically involved with Eliza, who is two years his superior in here, and yet he's still the one adult among these kids, is really funny. That's going to be the hardest piece of casting. We're trying to find a laconic Bill Murray type of guy who can stand up to Dr. Cox. One of the early threads of the season is that we have a med student who's 30 and has some confidence behind him, and is only coming to it now because he flamed out at 21 and took a while to bounce back -- that's a guy that Dr. Cox would see as his new protege type, but in a way that JD never got. That's a guy Cox would respect and give an arm. So for JD on day one to see a med student getting that: "Are you f---ing kidding me?"
The female lead, her name is Lucy. She is very intentionally as young as a kid could possibly look. She is a sweet-faced young girl. She is based on somebody that Josh Bycel, our new head writer, knows. She is her family's big hope. First one in her family to go to college from a family of blue collar folks, pressure's on her, not even sure she wants to be there, she is from the smallest town, never seen anyone who talks so fast -- exact opposite of Sarah. The way that JD's fantasy life was dreamy and full of unicorns, hers is more fear-based. The fantasies you'll see at first are of a girl who thinks she's not just over her head, but a hundred feet deep.
And I can talk about this till I'm blue in the face. But none of this will work until we get to see the people. I got to do tryouts last year. You probably could've told me before I told you which one of them won. Zach called it "Scrubs Idol." Eliza won, and the girl Sonal (Shah), who I thought was adorable, will be back as a recurring character. What's harder is testing and trying to catch lightning in a bottle. It's either going to work or not work based on that. The writing will be solid, but you'll go, "The girl doesn't have that," and if it's not there, it's not going to work.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com