Bill Lawrence on Why This Ted Lasso Is So Nice, How They Decided Which Jokes to Recycle

“Scrubs” creator admits he was “half expecting to see a GEICO caveman” in Jason Sudeikis’ pitch to adapt viral videos

Last Updated: August 14, 2020 @ 8:35 AM

Jason Sudeikis’ football coach-turned-fútbol coach in the Apple TV+ sitcom ‘Ted Lasso’ is back on the field — er, pitch — but this time the clueless American is a little different. No, he’s still got his ‘stache and a bearded assistant coach, but this Lasso is really nice.

That’s by design, co-creator Bill Lawrence (“Scrubs,” “Spin City”) told TheWrap ahead of the series premiere. And the reason for the personality shift is bigger than the beautiful game itself is in Europe.

“The perception of what Americans are abroad right now is– it’s a bummer when you hear it firsthand,” Lawrence, who had previously shot another series in Prague, said. “It’s literally overweight idiots with guns on their back. That’s not from me, it’s from other people. So we started to really obsess with what’s the version of the clueless American — when we’re doing some fish-out-of-water stuff and shooting overseas — that we want to show? What we came up with, way too much subtext, is in social media, politics, public discourse right now, there’s this weird combination in our country of ignorance and arrogance.”

We’re looking at you, current online contingent of never-maskers, as one example.

The Ted Lasso in the online shorts (and in the high-cut blue shorts) did more yelling and “had a little bit more edge in his voice,” as Lawrence put it, than Apple’s does. In “Ted Lasso” the series, you’ll have to wait until the end of the Season 1 finale to even hear nice-guy-Ted utter a curse word. (It’s an impactful one, and a good callback to a classic in the sports genre.)

“We said, if we’re still going to have Ted be a clueless guy about soccer, he can’t be ignorance with arrogance, he has to be ignorance with curiosity,” Lawrence said. “And that kind of just really translated into being an openhearted, openminded nice guy.”

So Lawrence, Sudeikis, Joe Kelly and Brendan Hunt purposefully created the person who they “wish was the representative American” beyond our borders.

Having devoured all 10 episodes, this writer will take Ambassador Lasso any day.

But why did the guys think the 7-year-old, sub-5-minute sketch would work as a full TV series, even if they turned Lasso from a caricature into a (well-rounded) character? The original videos, which enjoyed a certain level of viral success among sports fans, were really just marketing material for NBC Sports’ soccer coverage.

For starters, turning a viral sports skit into a sitcom worked for “Brockmire.”

“It’s case by case,” Lawrence said of adapting sketch characters for longer-form storytelling. “I was half expecting to see a GEICO caveman in this pitch,” he admitted.

The pitching worked both ways between Sudeikis and Lawrence. Lawrence had been pitching other concepts for streaming to Sudeikis, but Jason — and his international fans — couldn’t let Lasso go.

In our interview, Lawrence recalled Sudeikis saying: “I gotta tell you something, man. The weirdest thing in my career is– football/soccer is so big overseas, every time I step foot out of America, I’m more recognized as Ted Lasso than as any movie, any sketch, anything I’ve ever done.”

“And I had seen those [YouTube videos] and in my head, I thought, ‘Nah, that’s an ‘SNL’ sketch man, that’s not a TV show,'” Lawrence told us.

But Sudeikis, who is also the show’s head writer, pressed on.

Lawrence recounted Sudeikis proposing: “What if we completely made the guy three dimensional and had some emotional pathos in his life.” Sudeikis didn’t want this iteration of Lasso to be dumb, he wanted him to be “dumb like a fox.”

In another sly move, the “Ted Lasso” gang didn’t automatically reuse all of the jokes from the few shorts — though Lawrence would have liked to transfer a couple more on top of the few he got to reshoot.

“We as a writing staff pushed for more in there, just because I thought so many of them were clever,” Lawrence said. “But Jason was, in a cool way, he knew he was doing something new. And so what you say, literally, was policed by Mr. Sudeikis. That was the full amount of what he would allow us to take.”

Below Mr. Sudeikis on the call sheet, “Ted Lasso” also stars Hannah Waddingham, Brendan Hunt, Jeremy Swift, Juno Temple, Brett Goldstein, Phil Dunster and Nick Mohammed.

Lawrence’s Doozer Productions produces “Ted Lasso” in association with Warner Bros. Television and Universal Television. In addition to the co-creators, Jeff Ingold is an executive producer and Liza Katzer is co-executive producer.

Ted Lasso” premiered its first three episodes today on Apple TV+. New episodes will debut weekly every Friday.