Chatting COUGARTOWN and SCRUBS with Bill Lawrence

Bill Lawrence has a whole lot to celebrate these days.  His new show, COUGARTOWN, is a hit, with Golden Globe nominations and a full season, and ratings that are really impressive for a brand new series.  His old show doesn’t seem to ever want to go away – SCRUBS is in its 9th season, and it doesn’t seem to have an end in sight.

Bill and I had a chance to chat about what’s coming up for both shows, and what he loves about them!

Hey Amrie, how you doing?

Good how are you?
I’m very well, that’s a cool name.

I just want to talk first about Cougar Town.  Congrats on the success you’re having with it!
Thank you.  I’m the luckiest guy on earth.

I love the show and its one of those shows that every episode I’m like, I love it a little bit more and more and by the Thanksgiving episode I’m just completely smitten.
Amrie, you made my morning.  Honestly I never want to say things that make me sound like I’m high on myself, which I swear I’m not and if you knew me you’d know, I secretly hate myself but I really like the show more every week.  I feel like we’ve changed it, you know,   I think Courtney got people into the show because of who she is and she has been so cool about letting us evolve it into you know from a show about one women’s quest to her into the center of a dysfunctional family who is all trying to just get by and I like it so much more this way.  It’s really making me happy.

That’s a big question that I had.  Even from the beginning to now it definitely has evolved.  Every member of the cast you find something funny.  Even if they have one little line.  It’s a great cast.
Thank you.  It’s  been a staple of my career, is getting lucky enough that really talented people really elevate material and then when people say nice things I take credit for it, even though I have nothing to do with it.  It’s really an awesome kind of angle of self promotion.

Is there a pairing or a grouping of the cast that kind of surprised you that you’d like to see maybe more of?
You know what, I have different, we all have different favorites.  I remain personally a huge fan of Courtney and Dan Byrd, who plays her son.  You know mostly because Kevin and I, the writer who I created with this, we both kind of drew on personal experiences and my parents, I’m 41 my dad is 61.  You know so my parents were super young when I was that age and I just remember, just moments like that with my mom, you know that were so painful and awkward and looking back you know were weird because we spoke like adults because we were almost contemporaries, you know like right now I have a 3-year old baby and if I were my parents I’d have a 21 year old kid, that’s very fucked up.

What can we kind of expect that’s coming up for the rest of the year for the show?
Well, one of the things I really like is you know I hope in a way , it sounds like it’s a crutch but I have always , which have been a problem with other shows in the past, I like shows to get messy between the characters.  As using SCRUBS for an example since it’s the last thing I did, you know when the network was pushing me to go “hey will they or won’t they” with JD and Elliot, much like Ross and Rachel on Friends.  My response was I don’t know, every time when I’ve seen two people that were single and attractive in a job that they got along with each other they hadn’t waited three or four years to get together.  They ultimately go out, have a couple of drinks and hook up when they shouldn’t and it’s a disaster, you know what I mean.  And by they way that doesn’t mean that they’ll never get together.  That just means that that is how you know how things usually start so I would say that things are going to get messy between the characters we have.  You know where this year is moving forward pretty soon.

For a comedy do you set out to write how the end of the season will go and write towards that or is it something that kinda of writes on an episode to episode basis?
I don’t think you can do it in the beginning of a year, especially with a new show because I can tell you right now that there are so many things about characters that we didn’t know about them when we started this, you know because you find the actors are good and you find, like you said, in pairings.  But at this point when you hit the half-way point you kinda know where you are driving to and you at this point we kinda of know where we are going.

I want to switch gears and jump to SCRUBS.  Welcome back to TV with SCRUBS still going.  SCRUBS —
— still asking questions about that show. It has been on for nine years and it just cracks me up every time anybody is nice enough to just give a shit.

I think it’s funny that you guys have finally found the right network.  You know it took a while but you finally found it.
You know what though, I always worry that I sound like a complainer if nine years ago someone said nine years from now you will still be talking to people on the phone about SCRUBS, even though you’ll get switched around a lot, we take it.  I would like a giant puff of smoke.  I would have been signing that piece of paper so quickly, you know.  I couldn’t ask for anything more, this is a great gig.

I think it’s funny, dramas they can kinda of change their cast and change their setting a little bit and don’t get as much flack as a show like after 8 seasons you have new cast members.  You have a different setting.  But it still…
By the way if you could be in my head, I can never say anything like that because I don’t want to sound petty, but I’m like come on,.  People are going “oh my god” he is still doing SCRUBS but now it’s every year.  I am like they are still doing Law and Order! The case is over.  At the half way point they figure out who did it and try to get them.  You know.  I don’t see people writing shit like this shows been on for 72 years….

9000 channels a day… I used to watch it.  I liked it.   If this show does succeed or fail I don’t .. for me SCRUBS is over after 8 years.. You know.  I wrote the finale, that was the series finale, not the season finale and when the network was nice enough to call and say you want to do another year?  I was like I don’t know.  I don’t think I can just have JD go back in the hospital and say he forgot his wallet because I feel like…and as long as you  still collect some variation of SCRUBS you can change the setting and change everything else and it is like the opportunity you don’t get in his landscape to go why don’t you try to do a new show and instead of going through the pilot process we will put it on TV and you can do 13 episodes of it and 105 people that you have been working with for some of the for 15 years now get to have a job for another year, even though there is like 8 or 9 live action comedies on TV, that would have been crazy not to do it.  So, it’s going to succeed or fail based on whether or not people start to like these new characters.  I think the burden you know, with the show still being called SCRUBS, is I follow the traffic on line, I see people going “all these new characters are so one note”.  You know?  If it were a new titled show and a brand new show, I don’t think it would be under the same scrutiny and I look back at the first year of SCRUBS, after five episodes I think you knew who JD was but you’d go OH Dr. Cox is an angry guy who cares more than he admits, Turk is a jock, Eliott is neurotic.  They were all one-note.  It takes awhile to flesh people out.

Aside from setting and a little bit of the tone, what sets this apart from old Scrubs and what makes it just like what we are used to.
Well look, I was trying to get the best of both worlds here obviously.  I want the familiarity of characters and I like the tonality of kinda of hopefully having a bridge between goofy silly comedy and you know moments of emotional depth.  What is different to me is 1.  Character wise the old familiar faces aren’t there to learn things anymore.  They are there to teach I think they are funny doing it, and I think it also helps ease them, which at this point I think they need; I can’t really have Zach and Sarah learning lessons, or Donald Faison learning lessons in their mid 30’s.  I think they are past it.  Then the other thing is med school you know the thing that always struck me and I think it is already coming through, is that is not where SCRUBS started.  It started with people a few years into med school that were already interns.  The thing that always struck me about med school when we went and visited and actually did dumb research was that they were just kids that are like three months removed from being in a fraternity and sorority parties and they are still behaving that way.  It is still at its core about who is sleeping with who and whether this person likes me and whether or not I am smart enough for this class and so I like, you know, I think it would be harder for me to just come back and say “Hey”… now there is a new crop of interns and we will start the same show over again.

Check back in a week or so for a follow up interview that delves further into COUGARTOWN’s changes from the beginning until now, and what SCRUBS has in store for some of our favorites going through the rest of the season.