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This spring, “Scrubs” creator Bill Lawrence faced the prospect of his first fall season without a show on the air since before “Spin City” launched in 1996. Then ABC picked up “Cougar Town,” his racy single-cam comedy starring Courteney Cox, and he came up with an idea to reboot “Scrubs” for a ninth season by adding cast members and changing the setting to a school. “Cougar Town” launches Wednesday night.
The Hollywood Reporter: With a couple weeks of premieres out of the gate, how are you feeling about your shows’ chances this season?
Bill Lawrence: I’m optimistic because it seems people are actually checking out shows this season, whereas last year it felt like audiences were gone for good. Best-case scenario: All of them work, including mine. Second-best case: At least somebody’s show works and gets a toehold, which would be good for comedy writers.
THR: “Cougar Town” is debuting in a two-hour block of new comedies. Is this the best way to attract an audience?
Lawrence: Network television executives cling to old models like somebody hanging off a cliff. The old rule is all about your lead-in and your lead-out. I don’t think people watch TV that way anymore. People are going to check out shows regardless of where they are. The thing I always cling to — and “Arrested Development” is the exception that proves the rule — is I can’t put my finger on a really funny, well-executed comedy that’s failed during the past several years. Good shows seem to survive.
THR: What do you think the fan reaction to the new “Scrubs” is going to be?
Lawrence: I’ve worked with the same 110 people every season, and I asked them if they wanted to keep going. They said, “Hell yeah.” Nobody was excited to hit the pavement in this climate. There’s a risk of people hating it. It will feel like a different show. If it doesn’t work, it won’t suck in a lame, fizzle-out way; it will suck in a grand they-never-should-have-tried-it-that way. I know the odds are stacked against it.
THR: And “Cougar Town”?
Lawrence: With “Cougar Town,” I’m happy with the product. There’s so many factors out of your control about whether it will work or not. When I was a little kid, I was obsessed when it came to sports. I would stand outside staring at the sky hoping for the rain to stop. My dad would say, “You can’t worry about the weather.”
THR: Wouldn’t you prefer it if ABC gave you the Chuck Lorre treatment and paired “Cougar Town” and “Scrubs” for a Bill Lawrence hour?
Lawrence: Chuck Lorre. Man, that guy’s figured it out. He’s crushing it, and it’s so weird other networks aren’t rushing to make more multicamera shows. Only on the coasts do we think it’s a tired medium. You have all these kids growing up watching “Wizards of Waverly Place” and “Hannah Montana” — these are huge shows and classic multicamera.
THR: There was some reworking of “Cougar Town.” Was that partly for risque content?
Lawrence: We didn’t get fleeced on its risque nature. What I did would be rated at worst PG-13. You have these shows on cable like “True Blood” where it’s gratuitous violence and possessed-by-the-devil orgies, so it seems unfair to get pegged for something that’s so tame by comparison. The pilot was supposed to be in the voice of a 40-year-old woman, and (at first) it sounded like me writing for JD and Turk (on “Scrubs”). Nowadays, 9,000 people have written about your show before you have a finished product.
THR: After the fallout over “Scrubs” moving from NBC to ABC, would you develop a show for NBC again?
Lawrence: Man, I’d do a show with anybody. We cling to the past when talking about this person not getting along with NBC, then stuff changes in like two weeks. Looking back on NBC, now that I’m away from it, it’s like, “I bitched and moaned about a network that kept my show on for seven years?” Seems ludicrous. Not sure if anybody there would want to work with me. I only got two more bridges to burn.
THR: You have a pretty stressful job. Why do you continue to look boyish?
Lawrence: Incredibly long bangs. If you push up my hair, it looks like Kevin Spacey in “The Usual Suspects.” I could get a bald-guy haircut and look like a 50-year-old man in half an hour.
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