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Bill Lawrence: The TV Squad Interview (Scrubs 2.0 edition)

by Joel Keller, posted Aug 20th 2009 11:18AM
Bill Lawrence at the TCA 09 session for Cougar TownOn the last day of the TCA press tour, as the stars of ABC were yukking it up at a crowded party at the Langham Huntington in Pasadena, Bill Lawrence and I were out in the courtyard talking about what the new season of Scrubs -- or as I'm calling it, Scrubs 2.0 -- is going to look like.

Essentially, it's going to be like a medical version of The Paper Chase, with Turk and Cox being the professors. We'll be following the lives of young medical students who will shuttle back and forth between classes and their rotations at the "new" Sacred Heart, which is being rebuilt on the med school's campus. While in the hospital, they'll run into a lot of the characters from Scrubs 1.0, including J.D., as Zach Braff is scheduled to be in the first six episodes.

It all sounds a bit confusing, so I'll let Bill lay it out for you folks. An edited transcript is after the jump. The full transcript can be found here. And I'll be getting on the phone with Bill to talk Cougar Town sometime next week, so stay tuned. Oh, and at the end of the interview, we talk about the role Bill's wife, Christa Miller, had on Scrubs that didn't involve any acting.

Well let's start with the obvious. You've been thinking about doing another season of Scrubs for like a year now.


When'd you talk to me about that? About a year ago?

We're the only people who shot the shit about it. I thought there was a chance it would happen. I just saw the landscape, you know.

How did that whole thing develop? I mean, beyond the fact that you and Steve (McPherson of ABC) talked about it?
This was the first time that there was absolutely no work at it. I mean, in the years past, I wanted to keep it going, so I actively like was trying anything I could. I can cut the budget, we can do this... This year, I said, it's over. I did a finale. Steve liked the numbers, he liked the compatibility with Better Off Ted because he likes, he wants to try that show again. He thinks they both skew male and the only shows that have 18-34 year old men watching ABC, and called up and said, 'If you can do Scrubs for this cheap, I want to go again.'

"For this cheap" means what?
Means that Scrubs, in its ninth year, especially with new, young actors who, besides being young are going to be inexpensive, will be a less costly show than any of their new shows. The production value will be the same, because what drove up the price is, by the eighth year...

Everybody's making eighth year money.

Especially Zach.
Yeah. I know.

You rebuilt the hospital set? So you're no longer at the defunct hospital in the Valley?
Had to for the new concept of the show. Steve wants to keep it called Scrubs as a brand name. I wanted to change it to Scrubs Med, because I said, 'It can't be the same show.' You can't do 'JD's left his wallet and he comes back.' Otherwise people that liked the show will think I'm a whore.

So I said, when I pitched it to him, 'It's gonna be like Paper Chase as a comedy.' So he built a huge auditorium med school set. We picked Culver Studios because that studio looks like a UVA. It looks like a med school. And then the premise of the show is that they move the Scrubs hospital onto campus, you know, rebuilt it, and there's a building there that looks like a hospital. Fifty percent of the show will be in the med school, but they have immersive programs now. They let the 21-year-old med students in with the patients in most hospitals in the country.

We actually always fudged it the other way. Scrubs was always a teaching hospital. We didn't want to do the teaching scenes, so we'd occasionally have a classroom and we'd fudge it. So now, it's like John McGinley's like John Houseman. The opening scene is in a giant auditorium and he's telling a bunch of 21 year olds that he sees them all as tiny assassins that wander the halls of the hospital.

Is it going to be actually Sacred Heart, or is it going to be another thing that looks like...?
It's Sacred Heart, but what we fudged is, most teaching hospitals...I don't know where you're from but, UCLA for instance, it's on campus. And what we said is, that hospital's such a piece of shit that when they decided to rebuild it, they rebuilt it on campus. But it'll still have the Sacred Heart logos.

The shows we've been writing, when they go to the hospital, insinuate that everybody's still there. And that's why, one episode, when they go there, you'll see Sarah (Chalke). One episode, you'll see Judy Reyes. One episode, you'll see Ken Jenkins. Multiple episodes. You'll see the Todd, Ted. The med students are operating mostly with John McGinley, Eliza Coupe, and Donald Faison and Zach.

So it's been rebuilt to look the same?
Well, it's like when they go build a new hospital, it's a bit of an overhaul.

So if it's a 50-50 split between school and hospital, will we see the hospital less?
It's going to be the same type of story. The difference, if you remember the old Scrubs, we would be, outside of the hospital, we'd be in JD and Turk's apartment, you know, and a bar. And now, outside the hospital, we'll be in classrooms. Still has the life and death stakes, and these kids, but it's a little more college-y and a little bit younger. To be honest, man, the show's gonna succeed or fail based on the casting of three new people and if they can carry it.

I just read that you're still doing the casting right now?
Yeah. Well, we found a bunch of people we like. We're gonna test them for the network in a week and a half (Note: One cast member was announced earlier this week, and the remaining two were announced today).

Where are you culling these people from? Are they from like improv groups or UCB, that kind of thing?
Oh, you know me, man, I like people that have comic chops. But Eliza Coupe is the only one I signed on from last year as a regular. I think she's hyper-talented. We gave her a one-note character and she made it actually funny. So we'll flesh her out. Otherwise, there's going to be a new young lady with a voice over and she's either going to be funny and talented and great, or the show's gonna crater.

So you're actually going to have the focus be on that person and be like the new JD with the voiceovers?
Yeah. She's going to narrate it a little bit, yeah.

Are you nervous though? I mean, obviously people like me, who love the show, are going to be taking a close look. You called me out on your blog when I wrote that the show should die.
I know, but that was awesome. And I knew you wouldn't care.

Oh no, no. And I left a comment there.
That was fun. Oh yeah, yeah, I saw it, I saw it.

I understand all the reasons why you'd want go do another season. But are you nervous that this won't work?
What I can tell you is, the diciest thing that I've said so far, which is true: I don't stand to make a dime from this year of Scrubs. Because what's really interesting is, Scrubs' ratings went down year after year after year. It's eight years old. The syndication value is not one package. So they sell it year to year.

What I can honestly say to you, and it's not bullshit, was if this was a show that I didn't know or like, or give a shit about the crew, in a boom time of Hollywood that everybody's like 'Oh no, we're just going to go on to a different job,' I woulda gone like 'oh, come on, it's over.' But everybody's like 'let's work, let's work, let's work.'

In the syndication package, will this be sold as season nine?
They're gonna try and sell it as Scrubs. That's why Steve's making us stick with the title. You know, I don't know how they're going to sell it, because people are going to go, 'Is Zach in it? Is Sarah in it?' It'll depend on how it does.

So besides McGinley, Faison, Coupe and the three young actors, we'll see the others occasionally, including Zach Braff?
Well Zach is (going to be there), because this is a Steve McPherson move... I would've gone and started from scratch. I love Zach. Steve went and made Zach commit to the first 6 episodes minimum, right out of the gate, you know, just as a transition thing.

Do you think that's going to be problematic?
I think that the problem is creative. Because the burden we're looking at is, is it a new show if Zach's still there? And we think we've found an angle to it, but you'll have to tell me if it works or not. When I say swinging for the fences... when you see it, it's obvious that someone else is the lead, but Zach's still a presence.

Also, the ending was pretty final.
Well yeah, but one of the things that we do...we were able to lock down back-story (for JD). He doesn't work in the hospital. OK, so the thing we did, remember he was teaching... he was going to a hospital 45 minutes away? We just did that he needs teaching accreditation. And Zach's teaching a basic anatomy class. So he works at the college. But those are his friends. The fact that he's over there gives him an excuse to go over and say hey, and do all that shit, but he doesn't work there anymore.

Beyond the first six, are we going to see him after that, or that's it?
You know, it's tough. Depending on how the show goes, I would think like it would be good for him to move forward. But you know how network TV works. If it's working, they're gonna (try to get him back).

How about Sarah? She's just going to be in and out?
Here's the issue, Sarah and Judy both want to do episodes, and we're trying to make it work financially. They're both preggers in real life. So they have short windows too.

Besides Coupe as Denise/Jo, any other interns from last year are coming back?
I like that kid Sonal (who played Sunny), she'll float through the same way that Ted and Todd float through.

So what would you tell a fan like me, who is saying that Scrubs should have ended after the eighth season, to encourage him to tune into this new version?
I would say you should check it out because, in my mind, and this is a fight I'm still fighting, it's a new show. Hopefully with some characters and elements that, if you liked Scrubs, you would like this new show. If it goes my way, and we'll see if I win this battle, when it, the credits at the beginning, when it says "Scrubs," you know, at the end, it'll then flash again and it'll say "Med School."

So I would say look, if it seems like it's just Scrubs again, that's cheap. But if it seems like a new show, then maybe we have a chance.

Does it help that you got McGinley back in?
It does for me. You know, I just like look, I liked it. McGinley and Donald Faison are like actors emeritus on this show. They became what Kelso was originally. Donald becomes Dr. Cox, Dr. Cox becomes Dr. Kelso, you know, in this world.

It's like somebody said 'Hey, would you like to do a new TV show pilot, and here's the kicker, you get thirteen episodes guaranteed, and you don't have to do a ton of exposition because there's gonna be three characters on it that people really like. You just have to introduce the three new ones.'

And we'll see a little bit more nuances to Turk and Cox?

Yeah. TV gets stretched thin at the five year point, and we went eight years. You know, when you have (characters) that are full, but everybody knows every aspect of them So one of two things is gonna happen. Either they've gotta be more rounded out and have more elements to them, or they've gotta be essentially support characters to a brand new team. And I think there'll be a combination of both.

Are you hoping that this goes on a couple more years? You're going to be more involved with Cougar Town than with this show, right?
I am. But it's like my drug habit. The writers rooms are in the same building, like 20 feet from each other, and those guys are like 'Hey Bill, come on over.' I'm writing the first one like it's a pilot, you know. And I can't turn my back on it man. I love it too much.

What is the network expecting from this show? Is it the same numbers that Scrubs got last year, or less, or...?
I think if it did the same that it did last year at a cheaper price, then he would be super happy. I think what Steve's really hoping is to have a companion piece to give Better Off Ted a chance with what he thinks his audience is.

How long do you have Donald and John?
One year deals. Yep.

What have they told you about like what might happen?
I think that those guys are seeing this as a bonus year. And we'll all see how the experience is.

What would you have done with Janitor if Neil Flynn came back?
Shoot, I would've had to redefine him and make him a little fuller, you know, and have him turn on somebody. I just love working with the guy so much.

We still don't know what his name is, do we?
No. (laughs)

Yeah, I thought that was great, because that's exactly what the Janitor would do.
Yeah, of course, man. You can't answer after all those years, you know?

Yeah, I think it's great. So let me ask you a couple questions about Christa (Miller), the music supervisor...
Sure. And then I gotta bust in before she leaves.

So how come, first of all, I didn't know Christa was a DJ. I mean, DJ, like a scratching records DJ...
I know. (chuckles)

Don't Scrubs have an official music supervisor?
No. Never did.

So Christa's basically the uncredited music supervisor?
Used to be that yeah, we picked the songs, and I would be like, 'I like that song,' but then everybody realized that I only like what Christa tells me to like, so it always started going through her. I think from now on, it's going to be official.

Oh she's actually going to be credited as the music...for both shows?
Ah, probably. I don't know how much music we'll use on Cougar Town, but we'll see.

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Is Neil Flynn coming back? That bastion of truth, Wikipedia, says he is!

August 20 2009 at 5:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to jim's comment
Joel Keller

Only for an episode. He's committed to doing "The Middle" with Patricia Heaton.

August 20 2009 at 5:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Gracias Hermano, from Pointer and Thumb/Pinky

August 20 2009 at 6:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A medical version of The Paper Chase?

It's supposed to be a comedy, right?

August 20 2009 at 1:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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