By the time you read this, “Scrubs” will have completed its eight-season run. Or not. That’s kind of still being decided, actually. But for all practical purposes, the series has still come to some sort of a conclusion, since even the rumored continuation of the show – which is still under discussion by ABC – would almost certainly be a new permutation that might or might not resemble the existing series. As such, we decided we’d check in with “Scrubs” creator Bill Lawrence and chat with him not only about this season but, indeed, to offer a few random questions about the series as a whole. Mind you, it took for-freaking-EVER to finally get him on the phone, but we decided to let him slide. After all, the dude’s got a broken leg and he created the best blend of comedy, drama, and medicine this side of “M*A*S*H.” That kind of thing tends to earn you a little slack from TV critics.
Bill Lawrence: Hey, Will! How’re you doin’, man?
Premium Hollywood: I’m good, man. How are you doing?
BL: I’m good. Sorry to keep you waiting.
PH: Not a big deal. The beauty of working at home: I’m always busy. So how did you break your leg, and why didn’t it make it into the gossip rags?
BL: I know, right? I was just playing basketball. It’s kind of a drag.
PH: Recovery going all right?
BL: Yeah, I’m just doing rehab for a couple of months. I can’t tell you how boring having a broken bone as an adult is. (Laughs)
PH: Well, I dared to ask my Facebook friends for questions, and the predominant one seemed to be, more or less, “Why does my favorite show have to end?” But, then, at last report, it was still undecided if it actually was ending.
BL: Well, you know, we’ll see, right? Yeah, it’s definitely a “we’ll see.” It’s 50/50. But either way, Will, even if the show goes on past this, it won’t be the same show. And to me, the thing is, after nine years, there’s no way that we wouldn’t get repetitive next year, so even if it does go on, this’ll feel like the end of “Scrubs.” To me, it’s the end of “Scrubs” as we know it either way.
PH: So have you been happy with the show’s performance on ABC? I presume, at the very least, ABC has been happy with it.
BL: Yeah, they’ve gotta be, right? They essentially did me a solid and said, “You can finish the show this year,” and now we’re in talks about bringing it back. It’s very interesting, Will, because, y’know, sometimes you’ll read, “Ah, ‘Scrubs’ is going through the same thing it always goes through. ‘Is it over or is it not over?’” And it’s not the same thing, because on other years, we didn’t want to end, and at the end, we’re, like, “Aw, man, the show might not be over, we’re not doing good enough.” This was different. We all went and said, “This is it, let’s finish up the show!” (Laughs) And, now, at the end, ABC is nicely going, “Hey, we think we might want to keep going on. What do you guys think?” And that’s a completely different…I gotta be honest, that’s a completely different feeling.
PH: So how many meetings went into the decision on how you were going to handle the J.D. and Elliot decision at the end?
BL: To tell you the truth, we talked about it over and over, but mostly last year, when we got interrupted by the strike. I don’t even know if you’ve seen the episode yet, Will…
PH: I saw the first half last night, but I haven’t seen tonight’s grand finale.
BL: (Laughs) The one thing we came up with…everybody fought, and I didn’t want them to end up together, and everybody else did, and I acknowledged that, whether I liked it or not, there was a ton of chemistry between Zach and Sarah, and for a lot of the audience, there were huge stakes. And we had to come up with a compromise, and the compromise was that I said, “Look, most shows would do this in the very last episode, where J.D. and Elliot finally get together, but if we can have them be boyfriend and girlfriend right from the start, where they just start dating again and it’s not the storyline that dominates the year but is just something that’s happening in their life, then, yeah, they can have a great moment in the finale. But the finale isn’t about J.D. rushing to the airport to keep her from moving.” You know? (Laughs) “If we don’t do that, then I’m fine with it.” So that was the compromise: put ‘em together to make people happy, and yet the series doesn’t become about them. Hopefully, it made the people who thought it’d been played out too much happy as well. But the show’s not just about them. It’s an ensemble show.
PH: So was there any point during the run of the series where you considered giving them both a definitive romantic happy ending, just not with each other? Or would the “will they, won’t they” always have been there?
BL: You know, to tell you the truth, when the show started, Will, we had two attractive single leads, and so the network was, like, “Put ‘em together! Maybe they won’t fall in love, but they’ll still kiss!” Which, y’know, I think that’s good instincts to attach viewers, but for me, I didn’t want to do that. I was, like, “I want this to be about medicine.” I just wanted it to be about medicine and about character dynamics, about learning to cope and stuff. So the initial thing was…look, this is how it really worked in my real life when I was younger: when you work with someone who’s also single and who’s very attractive, you hook up once a year, and it’s usually a disaster. And we did a couple of times, thinking that that was all we would do, but as a result, they kind of had chemistry and it was funny and a treat to write romantic comedy. And then when I realized we were doing it too much, we tried to destroy it forever. (Laughs) But I think that, because the actors are good, there’s always a subtext or a tension or a feeling like, “Are those two ever going to get back together?” So I was fine doing it this year, but I find that often, when shows get…not trapped in it, but when they service that “will they or won’t they” storyline, no matter what the show used to be about, that’s what it becomes about. Like, “Friends” was, to me, an ensemble show about this gang of people trying to survive in their twenties and early thirties in New York, but by the nature of the storytelling, at the end, it had to be about, “Will Ross and Rachel end up together?” “Moonlighting” was a detective show, and once those guys hooked up…well, you know, you get caught in it. And I didn’t want to get caught in that. And hopefully we didn’t.
PH: Obviously, you had a lot of sentimentality running through this season, so much so that some fans felt that you were almost trying too hard. Was it a tightrope walk to go back to basics while still trying to maintain the “it’s coming to an end” feeling?
BL: Not really. To tell you the truth, Will, after nine years, it’s physically impossible to do an episode of “Scrubs” that makes everybody happy. And, by the way, I’m fine with that. I actually go on ABC.com and blogs and answer questions and stuff, and one of my favorite ones…you and I have talked before about how I thought the show got a little broad in Seasons 6 and 7, and this year, there’s been a lot of nice people saying, “Hey, it’s great, it feels like the show has returned to its real dramatic roots.” But then this one guy got on there and said, “Hey, I started watching this show at the end of the 5th year, and the 6th and 7th seasons were my favorite. What happened to the ostriches wearing hats? What happened to the Blue Man Group attacking JD?” So for every person who’s happy with something we’re doing, someone else thinks it’s too sentimental or that it’s too stoner-ific or that it’s not dramatic enough. To me, knowing that you can’t please everybody, we were just doing something that we felt good about.
PH: Taking the 6th and 7th season as you mentioned, do you recall any particular “jump the shark” moment for you, where you saw it and thought, “Oh, man, we’ve really got to tighten this up”?
BL: Oh, yeah, we always talk about it, and there are two of them. One was where Zach Braff was hiding in Turk’s backpack or knapsack, and it wasn’t a fantasy, even though he squished himself up to the size of a bowling ball. And another was when the janitor flew Zach Braff like a flag on top of the flagpole, and it wasn’t a fantasy. It was, like, okay, once the rules of physics no longer apply…? We kind of lost our bearings a little bit.
PH: That sounds like Matt Groening. I understand that he’s had a problem with certain “Simpsons” episode that felt unreal, because at its heart, the series was always supposed to be at least more or less rooted in reality.
BL: Well, you know, what happened to us was that some of those moments would make us laugh, but it became really impossible to switch gears and make people give a crap about the story you were telling. Because you can’t say, “Hey, this guy can fit inside a backpack like magic,” but at the end, you’re supposed to care if he can save this patient’s life or not. It just doesn’t work.
PH: Talking about people making comments online, are you and Joel Keller from TV Squad going to do one of those Celebrity Boxing Matches?
BL: (Laughs) No, no, I love Joel. I just gave him a nice shout-out on my blog. I just think it’s tough, man, because I love TV, I’m a student of television, and I’ve seen shows go on too long. In a lot of ways, to tell you the truth, I felt like our show would’ve been great ending in its seventh year if we had actually gotten to do the whole season. I thought the eighth year…I thought we did a good job, and “Scrubs” as we know it is ending just in time. And I think that a lot of people will write…in fact, I’ve got one on my screen right now. There’s a link to one of these blog sites where it was giving a good review to the episode and saying how much they enjoyed the show this year, and then saying, “Please don’t go into Year 9, it’s gonna stink, it’s gonna cheapen this, I don’t want the show to stay on past its welcome,” and all that stuff. It drives me crazy! Two things. One, no one ever focuses on the fact that television is a business. Right? No writers ever seem to take the time…well, I think Alan Sepinwall did in one review…to say, “Hey, in an industry where there used to be fifty comedies and there’s now probably only eight live-action comedies, and in a horrible economy, 105 friends of Bill Lawrence’s work on the show ‘Scrubs,’ and he’s supposed to pass on doing a ninth year so that they have a ninth year of employment because he’s worried about some legacy or because somebody thinks it’s going to cheapen the finale.” To me, that’s not real life. For me, I always go, “Legacy shmegacy.” I’m really proud of the show, I’ll continue to be proud of the show, but I love all of those people, and if there’s a way they can continue to have a job for another year…? It’s not, like, “Hey, they’ll either work on ‘Scrubs’ or something else.” The landscape out there, as I’m sure you know, Will, is bleak. They’ll work on ‘Scrubs,’ or they’re gonna work hand to mouth, trying to do commercials or find jobs here and there. So that’s number one. But number two is that I keep trying to put the word out that, look, ‘Scrubs’ has to end, it’s getting repetitive, but we’ll try to do a new version of the show going forward.
People say, “Yeah, they tried to do that with ‘M*A*S*H,’ it was called ‘AfterM*A*S*H.’” I’m, like, “Yeah, they tried to do it with ‘Cheers,’ it was called ‘Frasier.’” “Yeah, but there’s fifty more versions of ‘AfterM*A*S*H’ than there are ‘Frasier.’” And my answer to that is, “Right, there’s fifty shitty failed pilots and failed TV shows for every good one.” You know? That’s the reality of all TV. So I always say that, right now, if I had to bet money on which show has a better chance of being good, a new version of “Scrubs” in which I reconceive the show, hopefully have some cast members that people really like, but a different story and maybe even a different place and a different style of storytelling, or do I think that some random show that hasn’t ever been on before has a better chance of succeeding and being good? I’m cocky, man. I would always bet on myself. (Laughs) I think that, if we do it, we’ll do it well. And if we don’t…? Hey, man, I’ve failed. TV’s about failure. “Scrubs” and “Spin City” and “Clone High,” which was canceled, aren’t the only three shows I’ve ever made. I’ve got a lot of failures in my wake. I think one of the weirdest comments I got, Will, was somebody on the message board who, when I said, “It’s gonna be like anew show,” said, “Well, then don’t call it ‘Scrubs’!” I’m, like, “What does it matter to you?” (Laughs) “So, like, you’re okay with it if it’s not called ‘Scrubs’ but, like, ‘Doctors’?” “Yeah!” Well, that’s just idiotic. The reason they call it “Scrubs” is because, hopefully, people like yourself will tune in and check it out and see if it’s any good. For me, the show ends tomorrow night, regardless. Moving forward, it’ll be a new show.
PH: By the way, you mentioned “Clone High,” and I meant to tell you that Andy Dick praised his time working on the show when I interviewed him recently.
BL: Oh, that’s very cool. I loved that show, man. Once you’ve been doing this long enough, you have a couple of things in your past, you have failures that you feel failed rightfully so, and you have some failures that you’re, like, “That was wrong.” TV has so many elements out of your control, be it marketing, timeslots, promotion, luck of the draw…or the Indian government, like “Clone High.” And that was a show that should’ve had a better shot. Oddly enough, there’s still…the few times I go in public and speak, I would say that people really respond to “Scrubs,” but then they don’t automatically go to “Spin City” after that. A lot of people come up and have me sign “Clone High” DVDs.
PH: Which reminds me: did you ever get that copy of the “Clone High” set off to the William & Mary Library?
BL: Oh, no, I haven’t yet. You’re right, I need to. I’m an idiot. I should’ve.
PH: Well, I just happened to remember it coming up in discussion that night. So, look, I read somewhere that, early in the pilot process, they actually tried to put a laugh track onto “Scrubs.”
BL: Yeah, in the pilot process, we got caught up in it early in the year when they were trying to promote it, because back then, single camera comedy just wasn’t happening. And I just noticed that, in all of our promos, there’d be loud, raucous laughter at the jokes. I’m, like, “What the hell’s that?” And they’re all, “It works!” But then they tried putting laughter on one of the episodes, and… (Sighs) You know, it’s so weird to me that, back then, that was an issue that needed to be talked about. Now, imagine someone trying to do that to a single camera comedy. People would be, like, “You’re insane!”
PH: So was the decision made by the network, or did you have to fight for it?
BL: Um, they wanted to try it on an episode and see how people responded, but NBC was really cool about it, because when I said, “Let’s not do it,” they agreed.
PH: When the Season 8 DVD set comes out, will we actually get to see Todd’s banana hammock?
BL: (Laughs) Yeah, without a doubt, man. If you want to, it’ll be there in all its glory on the extras.
PH: So was that really a make-or-break with ABC, that you couldn’t show it?
BL: Yes. Honest to God. Here’s the funny part, though. I think these decisions are arbitrary, but I think the woman and her department that makes them are pretty responsible and good, and Disney’s a different company, but this one was funny because I said, “Look, you realize this outfit has been on TV a hundred times. It’s in syndication!” And she’s, like, “Really?” “Yeah!” “Well, you know, it just doesn’t work for us. I’m sorry. It’s a line I have to draw.” So I say, “Oooooookay.” And then in TV Guide the next week, their picture was of Todd, in a full banana-hammock shot.
BL: So I’m, like, “Okay, I guess that’s offensive.”
PH: When you first teamed Zach and Donald Faison together, did you have any idea they’d have that kind of chemistry?
BL: Yeah, it was part of the initial pilot. I don’t know if you even remember that, but…we didn’t have the word “bromance” back then, but I was always going to write those guys as such best friends that they were almost a couple. And even before the show, one of the things that we were shooting for was two guys that are so close that even the women in their lives feel occasionally threatened. ‘Cause I just don’t think that, at the time, people had portrayed guys’ friendships that way, and it was something I’d always wanted to do.
PH: How come your wife was never a formal regular on the show?
BL: (Uncertainly) For real?
BL: The real answer for that has two levels. (Laughs) One, because of the show’s budget. Because my wife is an expensive actress, it would’ve jumped through the roof. And the way we figured it out as a couple…we’re a married couple, so every dollar the show’s seen is a dollar our family has seen. And the other reason is that, from the start of “Scrubs” ‘til now, we’ve had three children. And Krista, in a cool way, was able to, through me, be a mom and work part-time, and the difference…even though she was on the show more than anyone other than the regulars, the difference between having to work every day and every week as a mom, with babies and three kids, versus having to work three days two out of every three weeks…? That’s a huge difference. And we were very lucky that we could do that. It’s also very cool because they treated her like a regular.
PH: Oh, I’m sure. I think most people perceive her as one, anyway, even though she wasn’t one. So who was your favorite of the new interns?
BL: I really responded to Eliza Coupe (Denise) and Sonal Shah (Sunny), both for different reasons. I thought they were both just really…I thought Eliza was just a really good comedic actor, and she immediately got the lead in a new ABC pilot, so I think that she’s going to have a fantastic career, if not be a regular on “Scrubs” if it goes forward anymore. And I think Sonal was great, too. They were both initially written as one-line characters, but as we fleshed them out, they became more interesting.
PH: Did you get a pretty good response from the fans about the webisodes?
BL: You know, it was very weird, because at first, people were, like, “Whoa, this isn’t ‘Scrubs,’” because it wasn’t shot in the same style and it wasn’t with a lot of our regular characters. But I think once people vibed on what we were trying to do, which was shoot a lot of extra material really cheap…nobody got paid for that stuff…and once the regular actors made appearances, and we were all riffing, they started to really enjoy it.
PH: That young director who helmed those, he’s got a lot of potential. (Writer’s note: The talented gentleman working behind the camera for the webisodes also has a day gig…as Bill’s assistant.)
BL: Eren Celeboglu! (Laughs) I know, right? He’s good, man! He’s a real director now. He got hired outside of us, too, a couple of times, which is cool, ‘cause I think he’s on his way to be legit. Totally serious, Will.
PH: Yeah, he and I talk on Facebook. Sometimes, we’re not even talking about you.
BL: (Laughs) Nice.
PH: So how comfortable or uncomfortable were you making your appearance on the show? And whose idea was it?
BL: You know what? I’ll tell you: on the show, I’ve always joked around that acting is easy, and it’s not easy. When we went to the Bahamas, Will, we didn’t have the money in our budget to take any day players or guest cast who were only going to have one scene, so the plan was to get there and just find some island local that we could cast. The island only has about 350 people, so there’s not a big acting community there… (Laughs) …but we were going to have him say, “You guys are gonna get married now,” or whatever. Have him do one line. There’s only one line in the script, even. But then I decided that I would do it, and then I indulged myself and rolled the camera and ad-libbed a bunch. Originally, it was just gonna be that one scene, and then when we got back, we decided to turn it into an hour-long episode, so I had to shoot that other scene, in the bar, which was atrocious. I found a couple of things out: I’m not as funny as I think I am, and I’m an incredibly mediocre actor. But I had a blast. I’ll tell you something that I didn’t tell anybody else, though. Even though it’s completely wrong, because I’ve already played a character, I put myself in a speaking cameo in the finale.
BL: Yes. So I will say that I am now officially one only two actors to play two characters on “Scrubs.” In the history of the show. The other one being the Janitor’s wife, Lady. She also played a doctor way back in the first year.
PH: Dude, I can totally see your ego from here.
BL: (Laughs) Yeah, right?
PH: Was there anybody you wanted to get back for the finale but couldn’t because of scheduling reasons?
BL: Brendan Fraser. I would’ve loved for him to be there, but he wasn’t able to pull it off. He was on a movie.
PH: Dr. Cox actually developed quite a lot this season with his new responsibilities, which I didn’t really expect. His scenes where he bonded with Dr. Kelso were really great.
BL: I gotta tell ya, man, everybody’s, like, “Ah, you don’t have anything new to do,” but you’ve hit on one of my favorite things of the year, which was getting to a place where those guys…we’d always do this character work, and we always thought that Ken Jenkins’ character, Dr. Kelso, with his sense of humor and his cynicism, was the type of guy who, if he didn’t have the job that he has, which forces him to be an asshole, he and Dr. Cox could be friends. So when we got to this year and we were trying to think of new things to do, we were, like, “Well, Kelso doesn’t have the job anymore, so let’s make him and Cox reluctant friends.” I like their scenes together. I could watch those guys sit and talk forever.
PH: Was there a character that never took off that you really wish had?
BL: In the history of the show…? Gosh. I don’t know. I mean, I think one of the things that we were most proud of was that we rarely brought characters in just to service other people. And I’ll also tell you that, sometimes, characters that people had the biggest issues with are the ones that I liked the most. A lot of fans were, like, “Elizabeth Banks comes in, and she’s just a horrible bitch when she lies about having a miscarriage,” and all this other stuff, and I liked that she was crazy and mixed-up on different levels. I think she’s a funny comedienne, and I think she killed on our show. So I don’t think I’m let down. I think I’m more disappointed about people that I thought I was going to get on the show by now that I never did.
PH: Well, I know about John Cusack…
PH: …but was there anyone else who you really wanted but never managed?
BL: (Hesitates) Well, I’ll tell you a poignant story. There was an episode that was supposed to…John Ritter was supposed to start on another great episode of his on the Monday morning after he passed away. He passed away on Saturday night. And I always remember that, because that guy was a part of our show family and an icon for me and for Zach. I always remember that episode, too, because…well, we ended up doing a version of the episode, where Tom Cavanaugh came in and took over the role, doing it as Zach’s brother rather than his father. But for whatever reason, that always stick out to me, because it makes me remember when John passed away.
PH: He and Zach are about as perfect a father/son casting as you can get.
BL: I gotta tell ya, by the way, that I love – and always will – the John Ritter / Tom Cavanagh / Zach Braff trio as a father and two brothers.
PH: It’s pretty amazing. You don’t really get that close that often.
BL: I mean, really, if you put pictures of them next to each other, you can actually believe it.
PH: And Tom’s back for the finale, right?
BL: Oh, yeah. Tom is…here’s the kind of guy Tom is: he was doing his own show at the time, and as you’ll see tonight, he has all of one line, but he flew in to do it.
PH: Speaking of tonight, are you going to watch it?
BL: You know, the only reason for me to watch it tonight would be to work myself into a nostalgic depression. But I’ll go online afterwards and see what people think.
PH: Did anyone take anything from the set after filming the finale?
BL: Yes. Zach Braff stole Rowdy.
PH: Awesome. Just a couple more for you, more out of curiosity than anything. “Kings” and “Harper’s Island” both got kicked to the Saturday night death slot after only a couple of airings. If “Scrubs” premiered today, do you think it would suffer the same fate?
BL: If it was premiering? I don’t know. I think…no. I’m gonna say no, and I’ll tell you why: because “Scrubs” was designed to be insulated against stuff like that. I’ll tell you how. At the beginning, “Scrubs” was reviewed very well, so that helped us. People were going to believe in it and give it a chance. But it was designed to be a show that was so reasonably priced that, if it grabbed any toehold at all, it was going to be given a chance to breathe and survive. And “Kings,” I saw that, and that’s a high-production-value, expensive show. I think nowadays in the modern landscape, if you spend money that way, it had better catch hold fast.
PH: What do you think of NBC giving Jay Leno the 10 PM timeslot and wiping out all of that programming?
BL: Well, I’m sad for scripted television, y’know, but I understand the economic pain they’re in. We’ll just see if it works. I think that…to tell you the truth, the thing that’s interesting is that I think it’s a great short-term decision, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens long-term, because what I think still runs the TV business, at least for now, is getting shows that are so popular that they have a life after the series. Not only do they bring people to your network, but they have a syndication life, which pays for a ton of stuff. So even if that saves money short-term by eliminating that much scripted television, you’re eliminating that many more chances at having a “Sopranos” or a “Lost” or some show that’s going to live on into the future.
PH: Is there any music that you’ve been introduced to on “Scrubs” that’s among your favorites now?
BL: I gotta tell ya, one of the best things about “Scrubs” is that, once we decided that indie music was going to be a big part of it, it forced me, as an old man, to stay on top of music. So I’ve never put something on the show that I don’t listen to in my own life. I really like the stuff.
PH: And, lastly, how is it that nobody has leaked the Janitor’s name onto Wikipedia yet? Because I know there are copies of the final episode on DVD out there.
BL: Yeah, ‘cause I gave out copies when I was at William and Mary. But they’ve been really respectful.
PH: That’s amazing. By the way, I totally could’ve knocked one of those kids down and taken his DVD of the final episode. But I didn’t.
BL: (Laughs) Ah, you’re a nice man.
PH: I just figured, “Ah, I’ll be surprised like everybody else.”
BL: Look, thank you so much for your support over the years, man. And, y’know, if the show does keep going, then we’ll talk about it before it goes on, okay?
PH: Cool. And, otherwise, I’ll be out at the TCA tour in July, so maybe we’ll be talking about “Cougar Town” then.
BL: Fingers crossed! All right, see ya, Will!