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Ted Lasso's Bill Lawrence Is Atop the TV Mountain at Last

It's been a long time coming for the man who previously brought us Scrubs and Cougar Town.
  • Let's hear it for Ted Lasso co-creator and showrunner Bill Lawrence. (Photos: Apple TV+, CBS)
    Let's hear it for Ted Lasso co-creator and showrunner Bill Lawrence. (Photos: Apple TV+, CBS)

    The second season of Ted Lasso has been a real ride, and not just for what's been happening out on the pitch for AFC Richmond. After unexpectedly becoming the feel-good comedy hit of the pandemic with its first season — giving Apple TV+ one of its first real victories — Ted returned for its second season in July, just ten days after it earned a whopping 20 Primetime Emmy nominations to lead all comedy series.

    The series went on to experience a bit of a backlash midway through its second season, subject to criticism for its (some would say overly) sunny optimism, and endless debates among critics and Twitter pundits alike over whether there was enough conflict in the show. This is the kind of thing that happens when a TV show finds itself in the position of being the standard bearer for its genre, a notion that was cemented after Lasso took home the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy, as well as trophies for stars Jason Sudeikis, Hannah Waddingham, and Brett Goldstein. It's an unusual position for series co-creator and showrunner Bill Lawrence, whose nearly 30-year career in the business has finally landed him on the top of the mountain. This feels like something that should be given more notice.

    It makes some sense that Lawrence isn't being given quite as much shine for Ted Lasso's success. Jason Sudeikis, as the title character, is the face of the show, and since he's also a creator/executive producer, having created the character in 2013 for a series of NBC soccer ads, it's been easy to just default to Sudeikis when doling out praise for the show. Ted Lasso isn't seen as the Bill Lawrence show like some of his previous efforts have been, and despite having his own production company, Lawrence isn't seen as one of the great prolific producers of TV comedy, not like Greg Daniels, Michael Schur or Chuck Lorre. Still, his success with Ted Lasso has been a long time coming.

    After writing on shows like Boy Meets World, The Nanny, and Friends, Lawrence's big step up came when he co-created Spin City for ABC in 1996. You'd be forgiven for not thinking of Spin City as a Bill Lawrence show, though, considering his co-creator was Gary David Goldberg, who created Family Ties, and the show starred Michael J. Fox, who was ON Family Ties. Lawrence left Spin City in 2001 to create Scrubs, the first show that felt authorially his. It's also the show of his that most temperamentally resembles Ted Lasso. While Ted fits in with a very 2021 vibe of comedies going for good feelings and comfort viewing that lights up the takes, Scrubs was a very goofy show that, due to its hospital setting, regularly dipped into the melancholy and even tragedy that fit its surroundings. Zach Braff's JD didn't have the requisite dad vibe of Sudeikis's Ted Lasso for Scrubs to ever feel particularly comforting, but it played with genre and tone just the same.

    Lawrence's post-Scrubs series, Cougar Town, was more purely silly and doesn't really resemble Ted Lasso at all, but the fact that Lawrence was able to get to six seasons and 102 episodes across two networks was triumph enough given how much bad buzz accompanied the show over its title. Cougar Town found its audience by constantly surpassing expectations, but that triumph was hard won.

    Which is why Ted Lasso riding such a charmed highway to industry darling feels so much like just rewards for Bill Lawrence. Scrubs — which spanned an era on NBC that encompassed both Friends and The Office — was a good network sitcom in an era of GREAT network sitcoms. Cougar Town was at best an enthusiastic cult fave. So that moment when Bill Lawrence accepted Ted Lasso's Emmy Award, in front of the entire industry, was in a small way a victory for Scrubs and Cougar Town and Spin City and Clone High. And withTed Lasso closing out its second season as the talk of the town yet again, at least some of that talk should be focused on its showrunner, and his deeply interesting TV career.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Ted Lasso, Apple TV+, Cougar Town, Scrubs, Spin City, Bill Lawrence, Jason Sudeikis