Bill Lawrence: Waiting To See What Happens Post-’Scrubs’

by | May 7, 2009 at 8:51 AM | Interviews, TV News

Having spent the last frenetic eight years calling all the shots as the showrunner on “Scrubs,” these are tedious days for Bill Lawrence, largely spent waiting for good news.

“Right now, it’s just a bunch of phone calls,” he says, “waiting around to see what happens next.”

The pilot he’s working on, “Cougar Town” starring Courteney Cox, is one of several comedies ABC execs are currently mulling over for series greenlight. Lawrence will know if the show will make the fall schedule in a couple of weeks.

Watch the ‘Scrubs’ finale, part 1.

Also up in the air is the fate of “Scrubs,” which culminated its eighth season with a two-part finale.

A couple of things are certain: Zach Braff, who for eight years has played the whimsical hospital show’s narrative center of gravity, Dr. J.D. Dorian, is leaving, at least as a series regular. And Lawrence will no longer be showrunner.

Beyond that, Lawrence – who established himself as a key network comedy operative a decade ago on “Spin City” – doesn’t know if ABC will opt to continue on with “Scrubs,” or what form the series will take should the network elect to go forward with it.

Watch the ‘Scrubs’ finale, part 2.

Fancast caught up with the 40-year-old Ridgefield, Conn. native Wednesday, as he was kicking around the “Cougar Town” production office, waiting for the phone to ring.

So what’s your gut feeling on “Scrub’s” future? Is ABC going to pick it up? I think it’s 50-50, a coin flip. Regardless, I still say that “Scrubs” as we know ends tonight. If the show goes forward, it will have to do so the way “Frasier” went forward for “Cheers.” I’m a student of television, and I didn’t like “Happy Days” with Richie gone. If “Scrubs” comes back next year, it will be a completely different show, from cast to plot execution to even format. It could be in a different location, it could be set three years into the future, it could be almost anything. I will of course be part of that, at least in the re-conception.

So you’ll still be involved. Will Zach still be around too on any level? If “Scrubs” comes back, Zack will be part of it in limited fashion, and some of the regulars will be the regulars from the show as it exists right now. And there will be a bunch of new characters, too. Also, the many writers who have worked on the show over the years, many of whom don’t have gigs right now because there just aren’t that many comedy-writing jobs around these days, will also be a part of it.

A number of critics and fans have asked you to end the show here – to go out on a high note. What do you say to them? Yeah, a lot of nice people have said, “Please don’t do season nine.” All I can say to them is that good shows don’t come around that often. For every good TV show, there’s 50 others that suck.

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Why at this point, given that the ratings aren’t spectacular, would ABC opt to bring “Scrubs” back? Well, for one, ABC owns “Scrubs,” so they make money on every episode, because it’s now syndicated. For another, from early on, we built the show around an economic model that’s still more reasonably priced than a lot of first-year comedies. Thirdly, even though our ratings aren’t gangbusters, most of ABC’s comedies appeal mainly to women. Our show still appeals to men 18-34. And finally, our audience’s socio-economic makeup appeals to advertisers and sells well. Our audience has a lot of smarty-pants people with dough, and that’s how TV works these days.

So what was it like shooting that last episode? Was it emotional? Or not, since the show might return in some form? It would have been much simpler if we could have said, “ ‘Scrubs’ is ending tonight, and there will be a new show next year to take its place called ‘Doctors’ or even ‘Scrubs: The Next Generation.’ ”

Did you guys do anything special to commemorate the occasion? On the season DVD, there will be this really fun extra feature. Instead of me or the actors doing commentary, we have me, my wife, the guy who played The Todd (Robert Maschio) and the guy who played The Ted (Sam Lloyd) getting all nostalgic. They filmed us at the House of ues drinking and watching the (final) show.

Did you take any mementoes from the set? No, but Zach Braff stole Rowdy, the dead stuffed dog. I’m not sure why he did that.

What moments and episodes from the last eight years of “Scrubs” do you most appreciate? I always liked the dramatic moments most, like when Brendan Fraser’s character died, or whenever John C. McGinley’s character killed patients. For me, these moments were announcements that this wasn’t going to be a normal comedy. I also liked the musical moments. I’m a musical nerd.

See ‘Scrubs’ photo gallery.

Are you going to miss Zach Braff? Oh yeah. I feel like I watched Zack Braff grow up, from when I hired him as a waiter to now, where he’s this movie star and director. I feel like I have a mentor/big-brother relationship with him.

For its first seven years, your show, which is produced within ABC’s corporate family, was on NBC, where it was often viewed as a bit of a stepchild. What was it like to, in some sense, come home to the Alphabet network this year? It was a great year. It felt like an unexpected gift. ABC let us finish what we started, and they were always very supportive.

What was the most challenging aspect of producing “Scrubs”? TV work gets very frustrating when you’re basing everything on ratings. You can do some of your best work you’ve ever done, then the ratings come in and they’re three-tenths of a point lower than they were before, and you feel like you failed. Rising and falling emotionally with that stuff is so silly. I wish I hadn’t done that during the first few seasons of the show.

Now, you had already worked with Courtney Cox as a guest star on “Scrubs” earlier in the season, and now you might be embarking on a brand new series with her. What’s she like to work with? She’s a cool chick. You can divide the people at her level of stardom into two groups: There are those who disappoint you because fame has corrupted them, and there are those who are exactly who you hoped they’d be. Courtney is the latter.

There seems to be a lot of fascination with cougars these days. What is it about older women hooking up with younger men that appeals to people? It’s a zeitgeisty topic without a shadow of a doubt. It’s funny, for a while, every guy my age would have a buddy who was 40 and dating a 23-year-old. But if you were a 40-year-old women dating a man who was 23, everybody would say, “What the hell are you doing?” I think that’s changed, and people are interested in exploring that. But really, I think what people expect from “Cougar Town” and what we deliver will be quite a bit different. We just chose it because it was a catchy title. This show won’t have a lot of women like (“Sex and the City’s”) Samantha hitting on younger guys. What it is is a play on words on what it really means in a modern landscape to be a 40-year-old single women.

So what do you think? Will ABC pick this show up? I feel confident because I think the show is really good. But we don’t know for sure – the (network executives) intentionally play things close to the vest, for good reason. I think we did a good job, though. It’s funny, and I think people will respond to it positively.