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November 27, 2014

Bill Lawrence of Scrubs: The TV Squad Interview (Page 2 of 3)

by Joel Keller, posted May 22nd 2008 2:19PM
Bill Lawrence with members of the Scrubs cast
JK: Can you go over how this whole thing with NBC transpired after the strike?


BL: When the strike happened, you know, it was a dicey situation because the last thing you want to ever be doing in something that is much more important than a TV show that's been on for six years, is bitching and moaning that your show is going to end and you're not going to get to do it right. I mean, I was disappointed but I had the foresight and had worked out with Mark Padowitz (President of ABC Studios) that "hey, worst case scenario, you know, you end on a DVD, you don't get any money." (laughs) "You get to end the show and Disney makes a lot of money."

But when, you know, when the strike ended I was all geared up; we had seven more episodes scheduled to make and I knew they wouldn't make all of those by any means. But, you know, we were ready to go and I had this whole thing mapped out. I think I can probably end this in like three half-hour episodes. Remember the show's been on for seven years, made NBC millions upon millions of dollars. I worked there for years, you know. I felt like a good employee because I pumped that much money into their company.

And I think in my opinion still that it was an emotional decision, you know, and not a smart business decision because the answer was, you know, "Fuck it. We have no interest. We don't want to spend that money." And I'm like, "Really, after seven years, man, you don't want to do a finale to the show?" That's kind of lame. And after arguing and cajoling they said, no, we'll do an hour-long finale. An hour-long finale to the show, which isn't horrible at the time, it's like two episodes instead of three, so I figure that sucks but I'll figure it out. But then they hit the Disney Studio up with, "but we won't pay for it, so you've got to go ahead and absorb your $2 million per half-hour cost and just pay for it yourself for free. Give it to us and then we'll air it."

And the weird thing about that, that I didn't get a chance to tell Mr. Ausiello is that I would have done it. I mean, because quite honestly I just wanted to end the show on television. But Disney studio just balked and they said that's just too disrespectful and too lame and we can do better making a DVD and it'll cost us less money or doing something else with it, you know? And so they said that's, you know, they took that decision out of my hands and said I can't do that. It's not, you know, good business.

And then Mark, in his -- and he's always been a champion of the show -- he said well I guess we'll just do like six episodes for DVD or something, you know? He said, "Look, this is a show that we own. We get the money off of it. And, you know, I think that there's a chance we could actually get it on ABC and you could finish the show up there at a place, you know, that was actually proud of its involvement with the show over the years." And, you know, the President of the network (Steve McPherson) was the original champion of the show.

Steve was like a huge champion of it so we went out and we talked about it and there were two topics of the conversation (we had). One is if he was going to -- he always believed this show was ABC's brand and that it would help them. Their biggest problem, you know, has been launching comedy because they don't have any comedies to build off of, you know. And he said first of all for the show to come back to ABC you can't half-ass it. You've got to return to the, you know, the creative level your show was at a couple years ago.

And I certainly don't mean to take a slam at my own show but I'd be the first person to admit, and you cover TV, that when you get to the seventh year, you know, the last few episodes we were doing we were, you know, we were gearing up to write a good end and had the end in mind, but, you know, you get lazy habits. You know, you do broad silly jokes because they're easy to do and they're a crutch and you -- it's hard. It's hard, man, to write the same show for eight years.

JK: That was the question I was going to ask: how do you, when you know the finish line's coming, how do you reset yourself and say, "Oh, now the finish line's not the seven episodes, it's now 18 episodes?"

BL: Well, I'll tell you how you do it, man. You've got to get back on the ball, creatively and do the type of stuff that, you know, writers like yourself are going to take notice of and that they're not going to write stuff like I would write, like, "Wow, even though I enjoyed the episode, you know, if I go over to Comedy Central and watch some of the earlier ones they hit harder or they had more emotional stakes" and they, you know, at its worst, any comedy, when you get to the seventh or eighth year, I think it can seem like a parody of itself.

And I would be, you know, I would defend myself first of all by saying man, it's hard to please everybody because I still think there are episodes that were really good but I would also say I, you know I witnessed that happening and saw us doing stuff that I would not have done in years previously, you know?

JK: Well, that's kind of a surprise to hear. There has been talk out there that the last couple seasons haven't been as consistently good as they were in the first few seasons. I mean, there's periods of time where people really think you guys are on a roll and then there's kind of a dip. It's really not as consistent so I'm just kind of surprised. Usually a show-runner say something like "No, this is the best stuff we've ever done."

BL: We slid into a tonal thing on our show that the things that used to be only fantasy and things that used to never be portrayed as reality became part of the tone of the show. And that being said, I think it really diminished the ability to have any dramatic stakes especially the last couple years, because if things are so broad that people can fit in backpacks and live in sand castles, it's hard to believe that it matters if someone's dying, you know, so I think we made some tonal mistakes.

But then when I would get defensive I would also tell you that there's not a show on television, whether it be shows that are a lot more highly-perceived, that when they have this long a track record they don't go through the period of taking hits. You know what I mean? And whether it's Sopranos or Seinfeld or whatever, I'm saying, well, this show's gotten long in the tooth and creatively uninspired.

I think it's a product of the first thing I said and it's also a product of the fact that in television we don't like our characters to change too much, you know? And I think that people, the same people that would get mad at you if you changed completely, you know, also are mad that it's the same old thing and that's why shows have to get off before they overstay their welcome.

You know, I think we found a way to get creatively inspired. And one is returning to that old tone where we're trying to trying to touch people and affect people emotionally.

And the other way was because the second half of Steve's conversation to take it back was he said to me also, if I go forward with this, you know, you have to know that if the show does well and if I'm enjoying it, no matter what you want I have the right to move on with the show past this year.

JK: So, in other words, a ninth season?

BL: And if I tell you that even if that were to happen I know that it would be in a different incarnation than what it is now. Because I think one of the things that is appealing to Steve is when he first pitched it with me around to all these other networks is because he pitched it as ER as a comedy. It would be very easy to, you know, rotate faces in and out and have, you know, new dynamics and new worlds under the same umbrella. It's a working hospital. You know, because our show is not really Grey's Anatomy where we're tracking the relationships that much, so.

JK: Is that the reason for the new cast members?

BL: there you go, man. We know what the ending of this show is because the end of this year, barring some weird miracle, at the end of this year, you know, is Zach Braff's last year. It's the only year he's under contract for and, you know, I would imagine it's my last year of the show, you know. And I'm going to write it as such and he's going to act it as such.

So how do we get creatively inspired? How do we make it that we're not stagnant and how do we get back into the shows that we used to be doing? And it's to ditch all the, you know, baby shit and ditch all the couples shit because I think it's not a crutch, man, but any time you've been doing a show for seven years you get to this point of, well, what would happen next in a person's life? Well, they'd probably get married and have kids. I think it turns people off unless you're domesticated. It turns people off of all sitcoms it seems.

So yes, we have hired a bunch of new young people that have to go through the same shit and they're different and they're funny, and, you know, they have to go through the same type of shit that these people went through long ago. And what's interesting is to be able to tell some of the same stories with our older characters on the other side of them now, which is interesting.

JK: These characters then are not going to be like faceless interns then?

BL: They aren't, man. Each one of them is, you know, we took a ton of time creating the characters. We took a ton of time casting them. I think we cast three actors that if they do not continue to move forward on this show are all people that are going to pop. I mean it was really weird to me. One of the girls we cast, Eliza Coupe, you know, the week after we cast her the Hollywood Reporter came out and it had her listed as the It girl of this year's pilot season on the cover, because she was the star of some Lily Tomlin HBO pilot that never went.

JK: Well, I'm looking forward to seeing Aziz Ansari.

BL: By the way, that guy is so fucking funny, man. I'm telling you right now that that guy, he is like gold. If you like Human Giant he is -- and he fits in here because with Neil Flynn and Zach Braff and, you know, people that just 50 percent of the time make up their own material and are riffing on what we have, he's been hilarious.

JK: I interviewed Human Giant before their second season came out and all three guys are funny, but Aziz is the one who kind of like just always tried coming up with a good line even during the interview.

BL: And he really works that way, man. I mean he works great on the show.

Next: Bill talks about ditching relationship and baby stories, writing the series like it used to be, and one more story about NBC...


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