Thursday, August 13, 2009

'Scrubs' creator previews next season - Sepinwall on TV

"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get the "Scrubs" material out there because he's still casting the new leads, so some of what we talked about would be outdated within a few weeks.)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.

A she?

Dynamic shift.

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


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
LA said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alan Sepinwall said...

Sorry for deleting those first two comments, guys, but you were pointing out something in the story that I didn't realize shouldn't have been there. I know nothing's ever truly gone from the Internet, but... I didn't realize that's what that was.

The rest of you, nothing to see here. Please.

Anonymous said...

No problem Alan. Great interview though.

LA said...

Ooops, no problem, Alan.

So what I was saying is that I was a big fan of the Scrubs finale and feel somewhat skeptical about the new phase of the show. Nevertheless, I trust Bill Lawrence creatively and respect his decision to "swing for the fences," as it were. I'll definitely tune in.

Hatfield said...

It would have been totally sweet if you could have included a picture of the police chief from South Park with your above comment.

Here's a question the interview made me think of: is it common, or even SOP that a show's storylines will be completely or mostly mapped out out even before the show is cast? It makes sense, but I'd never thought of it before.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I don't know that he's saying all the storylines are mapped out; just that they know what they want the new characters to be, and in one case what relationships they want them to have with the returning veterans.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to know what they would have done if Faison and McGinley's pilots had gotten picked up too. Would we be looking at classes taught by Dr. Beardface?? I just think this whole thing is so misguided. And Lawrence is dead wrong. A s--tbomb year DOES taint a great show, particularly if it winds up being the show's last.

Michael G. said...

Bill Lawrence is amazing. Just reading this interview makes me excited for this show, and I didn't even watch most of the last Scrubs season.

Hatfield said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hatfield said...

Ahh, ok, I read it as him having lots of storylines planned, but I'll go with your judgment since you actually spoke to the man. It just brought up an interesting concept that I suppose should be obvious: casting to story instead of writing to your cast. I know that's how movies are made, but I guess I always thought of television as an idea that gets filled out by the cast. On the other hand, being a fan of Deadwood, The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, et al., I suppose I always knew it. And now I'm rambling...

Alan Sepinwall said...

Bill Lawrence is amazing. Just reading this interview makes me excited for this show, and I didn't even watch most of the last Scrubs season.

You should track down the previous season if you can. Other than a lull around midway through, it's the best the show has been in years.

remlap said...

Great read Alan, I think the cat is out of the bag now.

I think the half finished Sacred Heart is an hysterical idea.

Thanks very much.

Juliette said...

I've always liked Bill Lawrence, but now I think I love him. He cares more about helping his friends stay employed than his artistic legacy - he is so right and that is so sweet.

Craig Ranapia said...

OK, Nu Scrubs has just been upgraded from 'must flee' to 'you have two episodes to blow me away'. I have to agree with Alan that last season was the best Scrubs has been in years, which is why this reboot pisses me of -- Scrubs could have been the rare show that went out on a high instead of vanishing in a puff of suck, but no...

Anonymous said...

I'm so bummed Sunny is not going to be a regular. She was super funny and I want to see a lot more of her. I know she will be a recurring...but I hope they give her more than what they gave her last season! I'm totally in love with Sunny.

Matthew said...

One thing I was unclear about was the reason for moving production out of the old hospital - the interview almost reads like the demolition of the hospital was just a way to justify the new sets. Was it a creative decision - move out of the old location in order to clearly mark it as a new series, albeit with the same name? Was it to move production so that Bill Lawrence can more easily overseas both Scrubs and Cougar Town? Could they not have built the lecture theatre set in the hospital - would it have required taking out supporting walls and would therefore have been unsafe? Did they need to move closer to a campus location for outdoor shoots? I mean, I think the half-finished idea sounds very funny, but it all seems like they're coming up with ways to make a problem (the loss of the hospital) into an advantage, but I'm just trying to figure out why the problem arose in the first place.

In any case, it sounds interesting. It sounds like Lawrence has some very clear (and promising-sounding) ideas about the new version of the show, and I'm looking forward to seeing how they work.

BigTed said...

The one thing I always hated about "Scrubs" was the incredibly needy, infantile aspect of J.D.'s character So I'd definitely be willing to give the new folks a try.

alynch said...

Eh, legacy schmegacy. A sucky season won't make any of the good seasons less good, so I'll give it a shot.

Caleb said...

This isn't at all what I expected, but I'm certainly willing to give it a try.

Though I do wish that the new surgical intern (Derek) made the cut. I thought he was hi-larious.

Tony said...

Last season, Eliza's character was dating Lee Thompson Young's character. Did you ask if he'll be back? I thought he was really good.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Tony, that's the entire portion of our conversation that concerned "Scrubs."

remlap said...

Think you maybe able to go back to the original article now Alan, seems they announced it publicly.


Alan Sepinwall said...

Think you maybe able to go back to the original article now Alan, seems they announced it publicly.

Ah, yes. I see. Sarah Chalke is now officially pregnant, as opposed to when Bill Lawrence casually mentioned her pregnancy in that interview, with me not realizing this hadn't been made public yet.


remlap said...

At least the interview makes sense again.


Anonymous said...

Whenever he's questioned about continuing the show, Bill Lawrence frequently spins the story to how he's keeping his friends on the cast and crew employed. I believe this is disingenuous. If HBO or Showtime had offered him a new show- one that filmed outside of L.A.- he would haved jumped at that opportunity, let SCRUBS end at season eight, and wouldn't have given unemployed cast and crew a second thought. It's convenient for him to act like he's doing this for them, but it's even easier for him to continue to cash in on a proven product.

Unknown said...

I think the major key is to keep an open mind. I've been around the internet and TV message boards long enough to know that threads are going to be full of "New characters? Hate. I don't care about them." That'll be after one episode. The fact is that if you're looking to hate it, you'll hate it. If you're not, well, you still may, but at least you were fair. Lawrence has proven himself to be a great writer and caster. There is a great chance this will suck, but there's a great chance it'll put some brand new life into the show.

It's not exactly the perfect example given that the shows are so incredibly different, but I've been a fan of the most recent incarnation of Degrassi since I was in high school. The show took a major nosedive in quality a few years back and was horrific for a while. This year, they basically started from scratch, introducing new characters and wiping the old ones mostly out. And as a result, it was a fantastic season. Even if the situations and stories were similar, the new characters reacted just differently enough. I assume the same can happen here, and I have high hopes that it will.

I admire Lawrence's honesty here, so I'll definitely be supporting him. Here's hoping he doesn't make my post seem useless.

Alan Sepinwall said...

It's convenient for him to act like he's doing this for them, but it's even easier for him to continue to cash in on a proven product.

So you think he's lying when he says he's not going to make any real money on this season?

Pamela Jaye said...

hmm... a female lead with a voiceover (is this the one who is older than the others?) Where have I heard this before?

No problem. I do hope that they can really focus on the teaching - they were doing a little of that on Grey's last year and I really liked it (and then there were too many cast members and their stories and dead people and they stopped doing it again - and then there was Izzie and she was teaching and that was good)
More teaching, I say!
It was good on ER when they did it too.

Did I ask how JD can be there when he's left Sacred Heart and moved "37 minutes" away?

Anonymous said...

So you think he's lying when he says he's not going to make any real money on this season?

Bill Lawrence's definition of "real money" is probably a bit skewed. He stands to make tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, once season nine hits syndication. Even if he doesn't consider it "real money," he gets stacks of cold, hard cash for every new episode that gets made.

Anonymous said...

I'm happy to hear that Rob Maschio will appear in some episodes!

Matt P said...

When they say that the old sacred heart was torn down, is that part of the storyline to explain why they moved to a different location and they purposely didn't finish the new hospital?

Or was it actually a pile of crap and they HAD to move? If it's this one, then I assume the half finished hospital was unintentional.

Pamela Jaye said...

don't various shows (esp on DHC) shoot at North Hollywwod Med? (that was the former name, yes/no?)

Mental was using the exteriors from Grey's Anatomy - a VA Hospital in the Valley

Andrew Sparkes said...

I'd love to see Aziz Ansari make a return as a student, when he finally DOES get some motivation (the character he played, I mean).

He's a great comedian and certainly could pull out a great bit of dramatic acting when he needed to (when he was fired, that look of dejection yet acceptance was perfect).