Zach Braff, Donald Faison Hope Their 'Scrubs' Podcast Is a Way to Honor the Medical Community

'Friends With Zach + Donald,' which launched this week, features the two former co-stars rewatching episodes of the cult comedy.
ABC/Photofest

For nine seasons, Zach Braff and Donald Faison portrayed young doctors and devoted best friends J.D. and Turk, respectively, on the NBC-turned-ABC medical comedy Scrubs. And like the inseparable fictional duo, the duo quickly became close, maintaining their tight friendship a decade after the cult favorite went off the air.

Now, the duo are reuniting for a new venture, the iHeartRadio podcast, Fake Doctors, Real Friends With Zach + Donald, as they look back on an episode of Scrubs each week. (New episodes drop Tuesdays and will also feature the pair reflecting on their friendship.)

"I just wanted it to be like he and I, generally, sound when we talk on the phone, FaceTime or text each other," Faison tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We don't talk about Scrubs when we do all of that, but we're genuinely checking in on each other."

Below, Faison and Braff talk with The Hollywood Reporter about the early reaction to their "love letter" of a podcast, how their production plans changed as the coronavirus crisis rapidly shut down the country, and when their first Scrubs colleague might pop up on their podcast.

What made the timing right to revisit the show via a podcast?

Faison: Our fans have been asking about it for a really long time. Ever since the show ended, people wanted more. Even after season nine, the hardcore fans were still like, "Is there any way we could get a Scrubs movie?" They've revived a bunch of shows, but we were like, "You know, our schedules aren't really going to ever allow for us to do that anytime soon." A friend of mine approached me about doing a rewatch show with him and it didn't work out. But we continued down the path of trying to do it. We had been talking about it for so long and didn't think it was a possibility, really.

Braff: Especially because we're both doing different things. And Donald's been on a show that shoots in New Jersey [ABC's Emergence], and I've been traveling around. We were both really intrigued by doing it, but we wanted to see what logistics of trying to do it, knowing we might be in different countries, all over the world. The Office Ladies [Angela Kinsey and Jenna Fischer] are doing an amazing job [with their The Office rewatch podcast]. They both pretty much committed to staying in Los Angeles while they do it. Whereas Donald and I had to figure out how to do it. Then we found iHeart, and they were perfect partner.

We were all gearing up to record in a studio at iHeart, our very first [episode], and then this insanity happened. So then we had to hit pause and go well, "Should we still do it? How do we do it?" We thought, "Well, we were going to do it anyway, it could be good to distract people, make people laugh, particularly because the show was such a love letter to hospitals and the medical community." In the back of our minds, we thought maybe this would be a chance to give them some love and honor them. So we just started doing it. iHeart helped us figure out how to do it from our homes. Donald literally records in his closet, so he can hide from kids, and I did it in my office.

On the first podcast, there was the discussion of doing it via Zoom. How was it incorporating technology you may not have been as fluent in even a couple of months ago, and how did it influence the production of the first episode?

Braff: iHeart gave us professional [recording devices], coincidentally, also called a Zoom. [In addition to the video conference] they use a professional mic with a Zoom recorder. We record it and then upload the good recording to them and they cut it all together. But I have to say, my experience with Skype and FaceTime, it always seems to cut out. I have to say that it's been good; it doesn't feel like there's much of a delay and [with Zoom's video capability] we can really just kind of look at each other so we're not really, like, overlapping.

You are leaning into the fan-interaction element via the email you've set up so fans can send in questions. Will you be stockpiling a gaggle of episodes at once or are you truly going to try and produce an episode a week to allow for fans to react to the show in more real time?

Braff: We're going to do one or two a week. I want it to be fresh. Ideally, I didn't really want to bank them, because then you're getting tired and there's not that new energy. We discussed this before the world changed, maybe doing like three in a day or something. I think it's good that we're not. Ultimately, it's about two friends kind of catching up and we're telling stories about the show we made together. But there's a really good energy, I think, if we haven't spoken in a few days, and we're excited to chat.

Faison: Yeah, it's like when you go on vacation with your best friend. When you guys see each other on vacation, the first couple of days, you're are like, "This is the best vacation ever! I can't believe we're doing this!" And then by like day four or five, it's like, "Maybe I'll see you tomorrow for breakfast." [Laughs.]

Braff: Oh, that's why you do that to me? Basically, you're telling me that when we go on vacation together, you get sick of me.

Faison: After a while, you get sick of me, too.

Braff: Never.

Since the podcast is also diving into your real-life friendship, what ground rules have you established about what stories are OK to reveal?

Braff: I think we both have a good sense of something that would be too personal. And, of course, it's not live, so we can say, "Can you edit that one sentence out? I don't want to talk about that." There have been a few times I have already said, "Can I tell that story?" But we're pretty forthcoming. I think we plan to be super honest, and not just about the show, but about our own lives. We're putting ourselves out there.

Faison: But if it ain't about us, we're not going to put it on the show.

You mentioned the Office Ladies podcast and there are a few that are doing deep dives into comedies. Was there any other podcast that inspired anything here, whether it was tone, format, etc.? 

Braff: I love the conversational aspects of Dax Shepard's Armchair Expert. Of course, I'm a lifelong Howard Stern fan. Donald and I both reference the way Howard banters with all his friends. To me, the real thing we were going for — or at least I can say for myself — was a DVD commentary. They kind of phased [those] out now that everything is on Apple TV and whatever, but I used to love DVD commentary. I used to love doing them for my films, I used to love listening to them. So I think that in my mind — I'll let Donald speak for himself — it was like, let's do like a DVD commentary. But as opposed to DVD commentary where you're really just watching the movie live, we're not going to watch it live. So that'll give us more time to kind of just digress and ramble on about something. So it's somewhere between a DVD commentary and a radio show where a bunch of friends are sitting around talking.

Faison: I don't listen to that many podcasts. I've been on a couple and the few that I've been on have been awesome. I just love conversation. If we can talk about Scrubs, but then also other things that are going on, that's way more intriguing to me than just talking about a show that we did. We just talked for, like, two hours. And then we cut it down.

Braff: We're trying to aim so that [the finished episodes are] roughly an hour.

Faison: [Zach] talked about DVD commentaries, and my favorite ones were the ones where it was a bunch of them in the room and, yeah, they referenced the movie, but they also talked about other things.

Braff: When you're watching it live, you feel like you have to stay [linear]. We watch the [episode] before and take notes on things we want to discuss. So then it's not like you're trying to keep up with the show, because you can go ramble on forever and then come back to it.

The podcasts episodes are being produced in chronological order. How much are you already preparing for the bigger episodes and trying to navigate when it's best to bring in outside guests?

Braff: Well, the first guest we're having is Bill Lawrence, our overlord, creator and friend. And we picked him for [season one's "My Old Lady"], because it's a really seminal episode for a lot of people. It was the first one with a lot of emotion. And I think a lot of Scrubs fans say it's one of their favorites, because it really showed, early on, what the show was going to be: It was going to be a comedy that could be very silly at times, but it was also going to have a lot of heart, emotion, and show the struggles of the doctors dealing with deaths. That episode is about three young doctors losing their first patient.

We chose to have Bill on for that episode, as the first guest, because we want him to talk us through the thinking behind the whole tone of the show that was so genius-ly in his brain. We talked about hopefully getting Brendan Fraser, we're going reach out to him, because he had some episodes [in seasons one and three] that were people's favorites. And, of course, it goes without saying, [we want] all our co-stars [to come on]. We have to strategically pick like, "Oh, this one's a really good episode for Sarah Chalke." We're going to have to start planning all that out. But we know that we're doing episode three with Bill.

Faison: Also, we wanted to start the show off where it's just us, so that people understand that this is a show that's not just about Scrubs; it's also about our friendship and stuff like that. When [television] shows go, the first two episodes usually are the castmembers, crew, writers and directors finding their footing. We just thought, not only because ["My Old Lady"] was a big show for us, but also this is a big [moment for the podcast]. Number three is a big show. We feel like we're understanding what our show is about right now. And so it only makes sense to bring Bill in and have him turn it up a notch.

Early in the COVID-19 crisis, a clip from Scrubs about how diseases can be spread went viral. Does it still surprise you how frequently the show gets referenced in modern pop culture, a decade after it ended?

Faison: I will say out of all the hospital shows that have come on, we've had quite a few doctors [say that] Scrubs is the most like real-life. Bill, when making the show, wanted to make sure that this was the closest thing to real-life that you could get on television. And I think that's why something like that pops up.

Braff: Bill always said that he wanted to make it a love letter to the medical profession. Much to our surprise, the American Medical Association, has said that of all medical shows, Scrubs was the most accurate. Bill's thinking was, "I'm going to be super silly at times and we're going to do these crazy fantasies, but in order to keep it grounded, I want the medicine to be completely accurate." And Donald and I always get messages on social media from doctors and nurses, and they often have said that, bizarrely, that this, of all the shows, ours is the most accurate.

It's still early, but in the first day of the podcast's release, what have you learned so far from the fan reaction?

Braff:I don't normally read all the comments on my social media, because that can be a disaster, but I woke up this morning and it was just glowing love. I wasn't expecting it. There's so much. The overall sense of it is, "Oh, wow, I need a laugh right now. Thank you. Thanks for the distraction and thanks for the memories." It's so warm. And then the iHeart boss called us and said that we're already number seven on the Apple chart. So apparently that's good for day one.

Faison: Our core fans asked for this. And this is really a love letter to them and it's a love letter to all the people on the front line right now. We were lucky enough to play fake doctors, and really show the lighter side of working in the hospital. It's crazy that it comes at this time, but it's for our fans and all the people out there that are fighting the good fight right now. The fact that people enjoyed it means a lot to me. I was not expecting that. You make a project — and granted, we're only one episode in — because we have love for each other and we like talking to each other. Even if nobody listened, it's therapeutic also for us right now to talk to each other.

Braff: We knew our parents would listen.

Faison: My brothers would definitely pay attention. But other than that, to wake up and to get such great reaction is awesome.

Braff: My mom really liked it.

Faison: Your mom is a core fan, too.

Braff: I know, but I wasn't figuring my mom would actually listen. I just thought she'd be like, "Oh, that's interesting." And she's like, "I loved it. I knew some of those anecdotes, but I really enjoyed it. And Donald was so funny." I was like, "Donald? What about me?"

Now that you've committed to rewatching the show — and given that the 20th anniversary is a year away — is there any room for a revival?

Braff: I think we all daydream about it one day. That's really in Bill Lawrence's hands. I don't think there's anybody, if it was the right project, and Bill wrote it, that wouldn't say yes. We all have such love for the show, and for the fans.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.