'Ted Lasso' Co-Creator Wasn't Sure Show's Optimism Would Work

TheWrap magazine: Bill Lawrence says he wanted something opposite of the “negative and hopeless” discourse in society

This story about “Ted Lasso” first appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.

The coronavirus pandemic affected us all in 2020 — but for mild feelings of depression, there’s no better prescription than Season 1 of Apple TV+’s uplifting comedy Ted Lasso, which was co-created by Bill Lawrence and Jason Sudeikis. (Lawrence is not a doctor, but he did create “Scrubs.”) We spoke with showrunner Lawrence about the role the series played in people’s lives last year — and about his own experiences as a viewer.

What role did TV play in your life during COVID?

For me, it’s been escapism, always. It’s lame to say I was raised by it, but man, I buried myself in it from a young age and really loved it. For me and my family, what was really fascinating (about watching TV in 2020) was it was never an individual activity. We went back and revisited old shows and watched new ones. But what was fascinating was the pairings. Like my youngest son and I were all about “WandaVision” and anything superhero-related. It’s the world he lives in. My wife and I did “Search Party” together, such a cynical and funny show.

The tricky thing always is finding those movies or TV shows that you all watch as a gang. And that ended up being a lot of revisiting old stuff.

Would “Ted Lasso” have had the same impact in 2019?

I’ll tell you why I think so, and hopefully it won’t sound self-aggrandizing. When we started coming up with what we were going to do with the show creatively, we were not in a quarantine and not dealing with a pandemic. But we had reached a point in time, the discourse on social media, when you overhear your kids talk — it was so pervasively cynical and edgy and negative and hopeless.

And really, in an era where people were seeming to actively take glee in not forgiving mistakes and in the downfall of others, I would be lying if I told you we were sure it would work. We weren’t. But what we did think was that it was going to be a positive and therapeutic gig for all of us. So I don’t think this is tied to the pandemic, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say it was definitely tied to the times, with your kids being as pessimistic as anybody in the world. It was a bummer.

We’re out of the Trump era and coming out of COVID. Are there conversations in the writers room about the potentially dwindling value of the show’s optimism?

The times always do shape the narrative. And one of the things that I find interesting but also refreshing, and it doesn’t bother me, is that people are without a doubt focusing on the optimistic and upbeat nature of both Ted and the show. It is supposed to be about forgiveness and empathy and looking forward and mentorship and stuff. And I understand why they would focus on those things. But I will tell you, in a fascinating way, we get many positive interactions from people who go, “I checked this show out because I was told people would be vomiting sunshine on me and making me feel better. And Ted’s in love with a woman that doesn’t want to be with him anymore. And she’s left him and is with his kid. And the other lead has been left alone in her 40s and thinks she’s going to be alone her whole life. And the other star guy is realizing that he can no longer do the one thing, playing soccer, that he’s always been good at. Where’s all the cheerful stuff?”

So I think it is, in a good way, about where you direct the spotlight. We can’t do spoilers — it’s so interesting, because Apple is a technology company, and they really are very secretive — but do you think that we took great pains to portray Ted’s character having a panic attack and then that’s just miraculously OK, because the other person said, “I’ll take you home?” Come on. So my point is, I think what will be interesting is to see how people receive what we’re doing (in Seasons 2 and 3), depending on how the times change. And what they focus on, because we’re sticking with the story that we mapped out.

Read more from the Race Begins issue here.


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