Short Questions/Long Answers with Scrubs Creator Bill Lawrence

If you watched the Season 9 premiere of Scrubs last Tuesday, you may have noticed some big changes. Sacred Heart Hospital is leveled to the ground. The Janitor is gone. New faces are everywhere. And J.D. (Zach Braff), Turk (Donald Faison), and Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley) are ... professors? What's up with that? We spoke to Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence (who also came up with Spin City and Cougar Town) to get some answers about the new season. How did Season 9 of Scrubs come about?
Bill Lawrence: Season 8 was the end of Scrubs and it still is, in my head. That's how I'm fine with all this stuff. That was without a doubt a series finale and we all thought the show was over.

You know, I've always followed the fan base and anybody that has been interested in Scrubs. [They say] "Why would they keep going? Why didn"t they just let the show end?" If any of those people actually did this for a living, I'd [ask] the same questions, because Scrubs was over.

I have a good track record and I still bat less than thirty percent. I've filmed four pilots and wrote another nine that never even got on television. So, after eight years, we ended Scrubs and one of the heads of ABC said, "Hey, if you want to keep going and keep—not the actors, because they would all find work, they’re so talented—a crew of a hundred people still working for a year, you can do it."

And when I said, "Well, I don't know, I feel like the show is over. Can I change the show completely?" he's like, "Yeah, you can do whatever you want." If a network president, in this landscape [where] there are only six or seven comedies on the air, says, "Hey, you can essentially do a new pilot and put it on television for thirteen episodes and hopefully people will like it and it'll keep going forward. Do you want that opportunity?", you'd be an insane person to say no.

Really, the only thing that bothered me is that the new show, because of business reasons, still had to be called Scrubs. I think if I was allowed to just call it "Med School", then people would go, "Hey, he’s trying to do a spinoff. Wonder if it will work." So, I didn't really win that fight. I understand it, you know, for business reasons.

How did you come up with the idea for the medical school?
We pitched around a bunch of different ideas and one of the things that we really liked was our old kids, who used to be learning lessons every week, in the role of teaching. And we liked it the few times we'd done it in the past because it automatically ages characters a bit and makes them seem like they've grown up. That's one of the inherent problems with continuing the old Scrubs: There aren't a lot more lessons that Zach [Braff] and Donald [Faison] and Sarah [Chalke] could learn because they're in their thirties and it seems weird.

Medical shows, by nature, if they aren't procedurals, work best when you're dealing with young people entering into that world. We didn't want to just retreat to the same story, so [we thought], "What if we went back even earlier to when the kids are in school and stuff?" You know, a couple of months ago, they were still at frat parties and sorority parties and hooking up and stuff. That's what struck me most about med school when we visited in the past, that they look so young and that they're people that are really just in their fifth year of college.

Will the show continue after this ninth season?
If the show keeps going, it'll be because people get used to these new young characters [and] they'll invest in them. People can see that it's a slightly different show and it's a little more about the relationships between students and whether or not they even have what it takes to become a doctor, than it is about being thrown to the wolves.

So the success or failure of this incarnation [is similar to] Law and Order or ER, or some other show that changes cast every few years. If people respond to the new actors, there'll be new stories to tell. And, if they don't, it would have been my fault and we'll move on.

How would you describe your sense of humor?
Sometimes I think my sense of humor is more offbeat and surreal than it was in the Spin City days. I started my career mostly from multi-camera sitcoms, which is a "set up and joke" [style of humor].

All I can do is cross my fingers and hope that we write stuff that makes my friends laugh. Because the worst thing on earth is when your own social circle thinks that your stuff isn’t funny.

Scrubs airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.

Like on Facebook