Inside the Mind of SCRUBS and COUGAR TOWN Creator Bill Lawrence (Part I)


If laughter is indeed the best medicine, Bill Lawrence may in fact be America’s answer to the heath-care crisis. Since bursting onto the scene as the co-creator of SPIN CITY and his little medical-drama-series-that-could follow-up known as SCRUBS, Lawrence has been consistently delivering three CC’s of laughter — and as an added bonus, enough music recommendations to fill up two iPods — to this TV Addict for the better part of two decades now. Which is why, it was such a thrill to be given the opportunity to talk with the showrunner in an all-too-brief interview yesterday.

But before we get to the SCRUBS goodies — complete with Lawrence’s defence of an overcrowded hospital Medical School which we’re saving for Tuesday — we thought, in honour of tonight’s brand new episode of COUGAR TOWN, we’d share Lawrence’s take on everything from Travis’ sexuality (We hope you’re happy @rural_juror) to Tiger Woods.

As COUGAR TOWN has evolved into more of an ensemble, I’ve really started to dig the series. Particularly the episode a few weeks back where Travis pretended to be gay to torture Grayson. But here’s the thing, myself (along with more than a few fans) were already sort of under the impression that Travis was in fact gay. Was there ever any talk in the writer’s room about going in that direction?
Bill Lawrence: [Laughs] First of all thanks for saying the nice stuff. I feel like we’ve gotten a real chance to find the show, especially as the show has become less the journey of one woman week-in-and-week-out struggling to survive being forty and single and more of an ensemble show about a dysfunctional family, which is essentially what it is at its core, I think we’ve gotten more successful with it. But No… Dan’s [Byrd] character, we always thought of him as a straight guy on this particular show. If we didn’t, it would have been a series of talks with the actor just to tell him, “Hey, I know we never talked about this when you got the part… but…”

Over the years many of your actors, including SCRUBS stars Donald Fiason and Dave Franco who I recently had the opportunity to interview have mentioned that one of the reasons they enjoy working with you so much is your “No Douchebag Policy!” Without naming any names of course, what inspired you to create such a welcome (and rare among Hollywood circles) philosophy?
When you start working on television shows I always had this philosophy of you do what you have to to get to do what you want to do. Which means you’ll work as hard as you can, deal with any situation to hopefully get to an opportunity where you get to create your own shows and make your own rules. Anyone that’s worked in Hollywood for more than a few years has at least fifty stories about some horrible human being — and not just actors — that they had to work for and cater to. It can be anybody from an executive producer to a film director, to an actor, to anybody that has power and doesn’t behave down very well. One thing that got burned into my head from personal experience is I am not going to ever work with or promote the careers of people that act shitty to people who are beneath them on the totem poll.

Which in truth, is not only one of the reasons I gravitate to your shows, but why I’m more inclined to give you a second, third and fourth look. I like love the idea of supporting people who seem like genuinely decent human beings.
It also by the way helps creatively. I did it just out of not wanting to work with assholes anymore. And the cool thing, in television specifically which is so much about chemistry is that if you put a cast together of good people that are friendly and get along with each other, like on SPIN CITY or other people’s shows like FRIENDS or HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER where you can tell that the folks like each other, it shows through and audiences pick up on it when they watch. And when they don’t, they can see it too. I really believe that.

I can’t help but notice that golf has played a fairly substantial role in COUGAR TOWN. With the recent “Tiger Woods” incident, any thoughts to boosting ratings by jumping on the bandwagon with a ripped-from-the-headlines gag?
I’ll tell you the toughest thing with single-camera comedy, especially around the headlines is that any joke we write now won’t be on television for two months. So it’s really hard on a week-to-week comedy show to do in the moment stuff so I don’t think we’re going to go at it too much. Plus, you can’t beat reality with that, it’s getting crazy!

I just thought golf clubs, SVU’s, relationships, the jokes practically write themselves!
It’s getting insane, hey, if we can think of a timeless gag after its past for a second I’ll probably go for it, but to try and make headline grabbing jokes, it’s kind of tough.

And finally, when you’re not running two shows and have a little free time in your life, any thought to doing something for the internet where you can retain absolute creative control?
I would do it in a heartbeat. I tried once before, I gave it a real shot with NOBODY’s WATCHING and I get great amounts of pleasure that you can still go on YouTube and see some of the internet stuff we did and there is still the occasional person who thinks those guys were just putting up videos on their own. That said, let me give you my cynical vision of the television business. The television business is clinging to the side of a cliff and holding on with one hand. The old way of doing business which was to put a show on network TV, sell advertising and then try to get to syndication is still the best way to monetize creative stuff and until somebody figures out how to make money on the internet it is more something you do for fun on the side. The problem is that TV is always the last to the game and usually the industry only picks up on trends about a year after the trend has died. The only one who has come close to figuring out a way after working his ass off the internet is Joss Whedon. But he had to write a f*cking musical and sell songs on iTunes. Otherwise your engaged in a hobby, but I would love to figure out a way to do it.

Well I for one look forward to that day. Continued success with both COUGAR TOWN and SCRUBS.
Daniel thanks for giving a sh*t about all these TV shows, I really appreciate it.

COUGAR TOWN airs Wednesday nights at 9:30PM on ABC (CityTV in Canada)

  • Tim G. (@rural_juror)

    I’m happy. :P

  • Ace

    “One thing that got burned into my head from personal experience is I am not going to ever work with or promote the careers of people that act shitty to people who are beneath them on the totem poll.”

    What an awesome quote. Before I left law school one of my professors gave us advise on how to treat those around us (since attorneys are notorios for being jerks…). “Always be polite to your assistant, they control your time. And everyone knows that time equals money…and sleep. And always be kind to people below you, you never know if they will soon be above you.”

  • Nick

    What a great guy.

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  • Liza

    Congrates…….. Bill Lawrence for Scrubs.