Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Scrubs: Some thoughts from Bill Lawrence

The hotel's bandwidth is just good enough that I was able to Slingbox tonight's "Scrubs," which I thought continued the show's recent creative upswing - and was the first episode to do so while featuring Zach Braff. (It was also the last Braff episode of the season.) Rather than do a review, though, after the jump I'm going to run some quotes from an interview I did with "Scrubs" creator Bill Lawrence this afternoon at press tour.

Bill said there's still a chance, albeit not a great one, that the show could come back next season. ABC owns it, and it's a known quantity, and there's a chance an episode or two might get to air on Wednesday at 8 (alongside "The Middle," "Modern Family" and Bill's "Cougar Town," all of which were renewed for next season today) before the season is out.

But whether or not the show comes back, he acknowledged there were some creative missteps early this season, specifically in the way that he and his writers handled JD, and in the way the character wound up overshadowing the newbies. I asked if things might have gone differently had they kept JD out of the first few episodes to get more time to establish Drew, Lucy and Cole, but he said that wasn't possible.

"It wasn't a decision that was made creatively," he said. "I think even Zach, in a different world, as a producer with me and a guy who was helping me out a lot, would have approached it differently creatively. I'm not even disagreeing with the business of it. I know ABC's going to sell these episodes as, 'These are Scrubs! They've got Zach Braff in 'em!' My mistake was that I didn't view this as one continual show. I didn't think that people would go, 'Oh, he's regressed! This is so upsetting!' I was really believing my own mindset: 'This is new! This is new! This is new!' The stuff he was doing was the stuff that always made me laugh. But taking a step back, reading what you were saying, I could see, as a viewer it might disappoint me as well. But it didn't disappoint me when the gang from 'Cheers' showed up on 'Frasier' and they were doing old jokes, even though in the finale of 'Cheers' they had moved past their old gags."

And because, in Bill's mind, this was a new show and not a continuation of the series he brought to an end with "My Finale" last spring, some of the creative decisions - like doing multiple storylines where other characters told Denise she needed to soften and open up more to others - were made as if it were season one of "Scrubs Med School" and not season nine of "Scrubs."

"Maybe one of the mistakes of treating this as a new show is that I've always had a belief that in the first year of a new show, you drill home what somebody's about," he said. "You do the pilot over and over. You're not trying to be repetitive, but whether it was 'Scrubs' or 'Spin City' or whatever, you think you have to come out of those first 15 or 20 episodes with people going, 'I know this is the character who is too cold and impersonal. I know this is the character who has burned out before and is fighting to not get in his own way.' Because if people don't, then you can't really start the development. To me, the second year is when you go, 'Now that we know we have a chance to be on for a couple of years, how do we take baby steps?' It's like 'Cougar Town,' now that we've been picked up for next year, how is Bobby the ex-husband - he can't veer off into a dumber and dumber character or he'll be unsalvageable. How do we take steps so he's more of a responsible person without taking away his hillbilly logic that cracks me up so much?"

Whatever you call the series these days, Bill feels - and based on what we've seen the last few weeks, I'm inclined to agree - that "the show gets more and more solid as it goes on. I think if the show did go forward, I can guarantee it would be better, because I know what's working and what has to be fixed. And that's almost the same arc for any show for me. I feel like 'Cougar Town,' we started to find it after five or six episodes. And on the original 'Scrubs,' I felt the same thing. And here I'm finding things I'm starting to enjoy. I really enjoy that Mike Mosley, and I say, 'Hey, even though the show's been on for nine years, we've found a character we haven't done before that we as writers are responding to.' And Eliza Coupe, that's a type of girl I haven't seen a lot of on TV before: not cookie-cutter, but still strong. Once you focus on stuff like that, the people that need to grow and get stronger will."

Finally, I asked him whether, given the low ratings and improbability of another year, he had written a second conclusion for the series, or if he was satisfied with "My Finale."

"No, no, no. This show has no finale. This show to me is a brand-new, 13-episode order of a series that actually got on TV, which puts me ahead of 99 percent of the people. And if it has a chance to move forward, the writers will get together and we'll say, 'We found the things people don't like, and the things they do, so how do we move forward?' At the end of the year, some characters are well-rounded, some need more work. I like Johnny C. and Donald as anchors in the patrician roles, and I like Ken Jenkins floating back through there almost in the way The Janitor used to. I think I could write an interesting show. I don't know if we'll get a shot or not. The only thing that bugs me is when people go, 'Oh, you've killed the legacy of Scrubs!' I don't want to belittle the fact that they loved the show enough to think it had a legacy worth protecting. It's just not the way my personal brain works. I loved the ending of 'Scrubs.' I didn't end this."


Pamela Jaye said...

glad your Slingbox worked. wish the early eps had been as good as the later ones.

Jim Hill said...

Perhaps if ABC doesn't want them after this season they could shop themselves to another network again. If only there were a network that suddenly faced a tremendous hole in its prime-time programming lineup ...

Anonymous said...

I don't think Lawrence should crawl back to NBC. I mean I know there's people's livelihoods at stake but ...
Now if NBC did the courting, but then they would have to admit they made a mistake with Scrubs and now you know why it won't happen. Wish Scrubs: Med all the best as they might help Ted.

Pamela Jaye said...

based on the comment by netbook case here and the one on Chuck, i'd say netbook case is not a human.

Jim said...

Really good episode tonight, i thought. Great to see Jordan, and the way Denise put Cox in his place was fantastic. And it's official: I like Cole better than Lucy.

Interesting to see the creator react to criticism without being defensive or angry.

WV: minglyho

Inappropriate for a family TeeVee blog

Anonymous said...

There's a better chance that Johnny Carson's zombie will rise from the grave to take back the Tonight Show than any network is going to keep Zombie Scrubs around another year. RIP Scrubs.

chrisis said...

I was really happy with the last episode. Being a longtime Scrubs fan I was a little bit dissapointed that in the first few episodes of the season J.D. was the weakest part of the reboot (which all in all I still enjoy), but in that episode he actually was funny and didn't distract me from the rest of the episode and the new characters.

Anyway, thanks Alan for that article. I was following your comedy writer panel journal on Twitter and Bill Lawrence probably is the funniest and most sincere man in Television as of right now.

Unknown said...

I want this show to work as much as the next girl, but I hate Lucy. He can't really fix that much.

jcpdiesel21 said...

I really did not like last night's episode. I was annoyed by the return of J.D. again, and while he wasn't nearly as insufferable as he was earlier this season, he still wasn't nearly as enjoyable as he's been in the past. J.D. and Turk have engaged in juvenile antics, and have acted like overgrown children at times, but seriously, hide and seek? Are they mentally three-year-olds now?

And I really dislike Lucy. I wish so much of the show was not centered around her. It seems like she regresses in every episode and keeps learning the same lessons over and over again.

It's a shame, because the rest of the show is still standing fairly competently, and most of the other new characters are clicking.

Josh said...

Am I the only person who cannot stand when a show, in its first season, spends "15 to 20 episodes" constantly repeating the pilot episode? I realize, as Lawrence says, that it's important to fully establish the basics of each character before developing them further, but...I'm a smart enough guy to figure things out after, say, 3 episodes or so.

That said, I'm glad they didn't wait 15 episodes of this season to establish the newer characters. Drew is a solid character, Denise is still funny, but they do need to work on Lucy, who just looks like a deer in the headlights, all the time.

Finally, I realize it's not mentioned here, but is ABC going to potentially place Scrubs on Wednesdays only because they produce the show? Why can Better Off Ted get no love on Wednesdays?

Benjamin Standig said...

Yes, the first good JD episode this season. I think we owe it all to Sarah Chalke as JD is much less baby-ish with her than Turk, at least to some degree...

I'm a little disappointed that Bill Lawrence says he likes Zach Braff behaving in the way he did, that it always made him laugh...really? really?!?!

Anyway, hopefully the show gets picked up with the newbies as the focal point, though if they replace Lucy I won't be upset. I agree with the previous comment that I like Cole better than her and frankly, its not even close.

Anonymous said...

I think Lawrence might be correct, iff he had built deeper characters.

Many of the new ones he created are so sitcom-generic, that they don't need much fleshing out. The rich jerk, the marked-for-greatness tortured soul, the newbie - we don't need a lot of episodes to know these characters.

Just toss them out there, and do something interesting with them. I'm still waiting for the 'something interesting' to come, but I'm with the rest of America - this show currently blows and is no big loss if it were cancelled.

Matt S. said...

i think by saying they might try and episode or 2 on wednesday nights he's implying that they would try to run an ep or 2 there next season----obviously abc is going to have a new show in that 8 o clock timeslot hole on wednesday nights in the fall to go alongside the other 3---but should that fail--either they'll have scrubs as a back-up, or they'll just do what they did this year and run 2 eps a week ahead of the return of better off ted---and when they're running off better off teds, they'll just slot in 2 reruns of scrubs as well.

I would love to see the return of Zombie Scrubs if only because I am that much certain that the return of Zombie Scrubs would mean the return of Better Off Ted right alongside it as well.

(also as slim as the chance of renewal might be---ABC NEEDS a timeslot hole filler that can perform somewhat ok on last minute notice usually in the middle of the season that it can count on---its the role that According To Jim filled on the network the last three or so years----as much as some of you might not love zombie scrubs--its at least worthier of plugging in the network's holes better then according to jim ever was right???)

Viva Scrubs & Better Off Ted (even tho that one is actually owned by fox so abc doesn't have nearly as much financial insentive to renew it)

Oh and as for the episode last night itself---it was about as good a send-off for JD as you can get without actually saying this is a send-off or doing a big satisfying fancy hour long thing the way they did last season--just letting JD be JD while commenting on his new life change without making a big deal of it should they be brought back---seemed just right to me.

Man I wish you managed to catch the 2 Better Off Ted's last night.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Man I wish you managed to catch the 2 Better Off Ted's last night.

I'll get to them eventually. Press tour just makes it tough.

Unknown said...

This season has definitely gotten better as it's progressed, and the best episodes have been, sad to say, the ones without JD. I would like to see another season and see them get more solid footing under the show, but I'm a little flabbergasted by one line:

"there's a chance an episode or two might get to air on Wednesday at 8"

I know I'm re-treading a little as a few people have mentioned this already, but my $0.02:

Wednesday is obviously ABC's comedy night, and their shows are doing great there (particularly Modern Family, which is easily in the top 3 new shows on TV this season). That is prime real estate for a struggling comedy like this incarnation of Scrubs. But let's be honest, I think we can all agree that Better Off Ted is the better show of the two, yet is dying in the ratings.

As was said, Scrubs is a known entity, it has a built-in fanbase (myself included), and it just doesn't seem fair to give preferential treatment to it over BOT. BOT makes the most sense to put in the Wednesday lineup, as it's a great show that hasn't had a chance to find it's audience like Scrubs has. Moving Scrubs to Wednesday is really not going to help it's ratings, because it's been on for nine years now - people already know whether they like it or not and whether they're going to watch it or not. Ted doesn't have that luxury, as it's never been well-advertised and ABC hasn't been the best at helping nurture an audience (burning off episodes in the summer, random Friday night showings, etc).

So if Scrubs has it's audience already and BOT doesn't, it makes sense to at least *try* and let BOT find some footing. Put it on Wednesday for a couple of weeks and see if it can grab an audience. If not, no sweat. But to not give it the opportunity is a little short-sighted.

Alan Sepinwall said...

All things being equal, Ted is the much stronger show creatively right now and has more creative life ahead of it.

But all things aren't equal. ABC owns Scrubs. They don't own Ted (which comes from 20th). So given the choice between a microscopically-rated show that gives the company some back end, and one that doesn't, they're going to go with the former.

Again, I doubt Scrubs comes back. Even Bill didn't seem optimistic; he just wanted to suggest that it wasn't an impossibility.

Ted coming back, I'm afraid, is a 99 percent improbability.

Kensington said...

I think I understand what Bill is saying about the phenomenon of returning characters behaving in old ways without harming anything ala Cheers characters on Frasier, but Frasier didn't lead off with Ted Danson acting retro for half of its first season.

They waited awhile, and if Zach Braff came back for an episode or two in season 2 or 3 of Scrubs Med, it might not have seemed so regressive.

Stew said...

Last Braff episode? Promise?

I was so pleased when I heard JD wasn't going to be the main focus. I've never liked either the character or the way Braff plays him, which has made the start of this season particularly painful. All the worst bits of both the character and Braff's acting have been accentuated by the writing, and he's been *far* too prominent.

Unfortunately, even with Braff gone, the sparkle has gone out of it for me. They've replaced one extremely irritating main character with two (Lucy and Cole), and lost a lot of strength in the supporting cast, both in terms of who's still in it and how they're using them.

Millie said...

Zombie Scrubs gave me Michael Mosely. You can bet I'll be getting my tickets to see him stretch his dramatic chops in The Glass Menagerie here in NYC in the spring.

David said...

Didn't JD build Turk and Carla's baby crib for their first baby?

I admit I HATE Cole. So irritating, and Lucy would be better without the voice-over. I also the think the fantasy bits need to be laid to rest -- except in possibly extreme circumstances. And, something about Jo just is working for me this year.

G.H. said...

Like I mentioned at the start of all of this: the Braff episodes have been the worst, and has probably doomed the show from continuing. I could probably get used to Bishe after awhile, but to say that she's the star is a joke. A co-star in a cast ensemble, yes. THE star, a resounding NO.