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Ted Lasso has always been an underdog story.
The comedy based on a series of 2013 NBC Sports promotional videos was shopped to and passed over by at least three outlets before Apple placed a wager in late 2019 and picked up the fish-out-of-water comedy as part of its prelaunch buying spree.
Few thought the series, in which Jason Sudeikis — in his first TV regular role since a 10-season run on Saturday Night Live — reprised his NBC Sports persona, would work. But Apple, which was about to enter the streaming wars and was building a slate of scripted originals from scratch, bought in based on Sudeikis and showrunner Bill Lawrence’s three-season pitch.
Now, even without traditional viewership data, Ted Lasso has become a breakout hit for Apple, creating a problem for the tech giant and producers Warner Bros. TV and Universal TV: Will the Emmy-winning comedy end its run as planned with season three?
“I’d love the show to keep going,” Lawrence told TV’s Top 5 on Friday after the season two finale. “But it’s going to only keep going as long as [Sudeikis] feels like it’s a cool thing for him, not only to do creatively and professionally, but personally. People forget, he is a dude with two kids, and he is a great dad, and upping your life to London for half the year is tricky.”
In the streaming era, only the “biggest” scripted shows — think Stranger Things and The Handmaid’s Tale — tend to survive beyond season two. Few Netflix scripted originals make it to season three, and it’s increasingly harder for those to make it to season four or beyond (see Orange Is the New Black, Grace and Frankie). That’s largely because the cost of producing them skyrockets in season four as showrunner and talent deals escalate. With broadcast, renegotiations used to happen later in a show’s cycle — after the initial six-season talent deals expire — and those used to include ownership points that mean rich fees from syndication and international sales. With streaming, as Netflix and other platforms hold on to global rights, the aftermarket for those lucrative international deals has also evaporated.
That’s part of the reason it makes sense for Sudeikis and Lawrence to have pitched and created a three-season plan for Ted Lasso. Storylines like Nate’s (Nick Mohammed) transformation from season one to two were all mapped out at an early stage. “[W]hen we started, we plotted out everybody’s beginning, middle and end of a three-season arc. This story is going to be over next year, regardless, even if the show finds another story to tell and goes on,” Lawrence told TV’s Top 5.
But the flip side, now that Ted Lasso is hit — the series also snapped Glee‘s record as the most-nominated rookie comedy — is that the three-season pitch that helped to secure a series order creates an uncertain future. Will Emmy winner Sudeikis — fresh off of a new deal that will pay him $1 million an episode of the series — return for a potential fourth season? Can Ted Lasso continue on without Ted Lasso? Apple and Warners, naturally, want the show to run well beyond season three as hits are increasingly hard to come by in the peak TV era that features north of 500 scripted originals.
“I don’t know; I hope,” says broadcast veteran Lawrence, who concedes that the idea of ending a hit show after only 34 episodes seems foreign. “That would be like a month into season two. I like all these characters, and I’d certainly entertain continuing to live on with [the character of Ted Lasso]. But it’s [Jason’s] character.”
Still, while Sudeikis mulls the future — Lawrence says his Emmy-winning star (who also serves as the show’s head writer) will make a decision on the show’s future in a “timely manner” — the cast and writers on the series all recently renegotiated their deals to secure sizable pay increases that came with an option to continue Ted Lasso beyond season three. In the interim, Lawrence — who is also in the middle of renegotiating his deal with lead studio Warner Bros. TV — is fighting the urge to think about the future of Ted Lasso, including potential spinoffs.
“I don’t think anything is closed off, but out of just respect, we’re going to wait,” he says when asked about potential spinoffs. “None of us is worried about Jason figuring out what he wants to do. And when he does, then we’ll start talking about all that stuff.”
For much more from Lawrence — including details on the season two finale and what’s next — listen below to the full interview from Friday’s TV’s Top 5 (starting at the 37:26 mark). Subscribe to TV’s Top 5 for weekly episodes featuring showrunner and talent interviews, deep dives into the industry’s biggest stories and reviews of the latest shows.
TV’s Top 5 co-host Daniel Fienberg contributed reporting to this story.
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