In the streaming era, sometimes it takes a little while for a show to catch on, and one of the shows that I’ve been hearing mentioned more and more over the past few months is Ted Lasso, the Apple TV+ sitcom starring Jason Sudeikis as an American football coach who moves to England to take a stab at leading a team playing the sport the rest of the world calls football.
Sudeikis originated the character of Ted Lasso in ads for NBC Sports, but as he explains below, the idea to make it a series really came alive when Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence came on board. I previously wrote about how he and Lawrence worked together on this project, but please below find my full interview with Sudeikis (lightly edited for clarity), in which he explains how the show made the leap from a speculative pilot based on the commercials to an enduring beacon of nice-ness — and why that matters right now more than ever.
Collider: I know the show came from the NBC promos, but I’m curious for you, what was the process from going there to working with Bill to create an actual TV show?
JASON SUDEIKIS: Yeah. Prior to meeting Bill, Brendan Hunt and Joe Kelly and I, the guys that I did the commercial with who are writer/producers on the show — Brendan being an actor on the show, he plays Coach Beard in the commercials and the TV program…. I had this idea that it could be more than just four minutes, and we tried to prove it to ourselves. We sat down one week and just tried to outline and flesh out an idea for a pilot script, a first script. And then that happened really quick. We were able to figure out that story. I would say 80 percent of what we came up with back in the spring and summer of 2015 is what you see on the show. We even outlined six to 10 episodes.
Then it was just sitting there for a while and life happened with Olivia [Wilde] and I having kids. And then Joe created a series with three other friends for Comedy Central called Detroiters. Brendan was working left and right. I remember saying to my manager, “Boy, it would be neat if someone that really knows what they’re doing would come on and shepherd this thing as a showrunner, as a creative, someone that really understands the medium of the situation comedy, of the half hour format.” And he was fun and playfully cynical, “That’s never going to happen. Why would anyone do that? If it’s not their idea why would they do that?”
Well, the universe said, you said it out loud, we’re going to make it happen. So Bill had an idea for a separate show that he and I were possibly going to do together. That’s when we met. That show wasn’t the perfect fit for us to work together, but he said at the end of that meeting, “If you ever have anything else let me know.” And I go, “Well, I do have this idea.” And he knew of the commercials. And then I told him how we were going to take it from the four-minute format to a half-hour. He really got behind that, which gave us the wind beneath our wings and made us feel like maybe we do have something here.
And then that process took a while. We went around and pitched it to a bunch of places. Apple really sparked to the tone that we were going for and understood what we were going for. And so we had to write a pilot, and then it was like, okay. We either pick up this pilot for 10 episodes or it goes away forever. They were dumb enough to pick it up for 10 episodes and cut to 2020, August 14th, it’ll be worldwide.
Yeah, it seems like Apple made good sense because it has this international reach.
SUDEIKIS: Yeah. And that’s one thing that we noticed from the commercials that I wouldn’t have been aware of.I mean, part of the reason I picked Joe and Brendan that we did is because we all had worked at a theater called Boom Chicago in Amsterdam. So we had spent many, many moons, many evenings and for different lengths of time over there. And one of the things that I gathered from my time working overseas was how similar we are as human beings. We all have our stereotypes or assumptions about one another, and some of those are just societaly just fun and correct, and some are awful and wrong obviously. But I really took that to heart that we all go through the same thing. If we cut, do we not bleed? A lot of people laughing at the same things. References obviously changed, but status is the same everywhere, class is… Everybody deals with that, living and dying.
I knew that Brendan and Joe would be the perfect guys to do those commercials with. It was out of an appreciation of the sport and not coming towards it with any cynicism, and the fact that, yeah, we wanted American football fans, UK football fans, soccer fans, to like the commercials and the show therefore equally as much and, as the Brits say, take the piss out of both parties so you can’t tell where our allegiances are. That wasn’t us being political. That was us being magnanimous.
I have a slight fascination with facial hair of all kinds, so I’m curious — how essential was the Ted Lasso mustache?
SUDEIKIS: It feels essential to me. It really does. I mean, it certainly did in the commercial because the commercial look we were going for was Mike Ditka. And we got rid of the short shorts. There’s little things that, for the purpose of the commercial, we ran right at it a little broader: He’s a little bit more dim. It’s edited at a more brisk pace. There’s no pathos necessarily.
Between the mustache and the shades, that really kicks it off for me. I mean, my joke has been that Audrey Hepburn used to say that she really would find a character through the wardrobe through some Givenchy outfit. And me, it’s facial hair and the aviators and the visor.
It’s funny because you eventually forget you have that. I’ve worn a mustache for a few different roles in my day. You eventually forget you have it, but you see people respond to you in different ways when you have different kinds of facial hair. I also know that it feels good on my face and familiar because my father all throughout the ’80s growing up he had a mustache. I was like, if my face is 50 percent his, which we can only assume through genetics it is, then that mustache doesn’t feel out of place on my face.
To wrap up, one of the things that’s really striking about the show is the fact that at its center is just a genuinely decent human being — which should not feel like a weird, rare thing in comedy necessarily, but yet is. What was important to you about that?
SUDEIKIS: I feel like it’s just what you want to play, what you want to spend your day doing. And look, this show I don’t think would exist without something like the British Office, and I know the British Office probably wouldn’t exist without something like Larry Sanders. But between the influence of people who are just frustrating and maybe a little more biting and sarcastic and angry and off-putting… I love a great number of those shows, but I just felt like it’d be nice to play someone [different] as a little bit of a challenge to myself. Someone who doesn’t swear. A show that doesn’t use snark as a currency. It was an exercise in trying to prove to myself that it’s possible to be a good person and still be interesting.
Because really, I think we’re at a time right now where a lot of us are seeing an example of the worst version of a man, someone who’s ignorant and arrogant, and having to deal with their foibles on a giant level. For me, ignorance is A-OK, but you pair arrogance… Excuse me, but you pair ignorance with curiosity and I think that brings with it a great deal of humility and empathy. And that’s who Ted is. He’s as ignorant as anyone that might be in charge of something, but he doesn’t think he has it all figured out. He has heroes and he has friends. He wants people to think highly of him, the same way he thinks of them.
There’ve been so many good anti-heroes both in comedy and drama, how would I be adding to the Michael Scotts and Don Drapers and Tony Sopranos? It would all feel derivative to me at this point. So yeah, we wanted to flip the script a little bit.
Ted Lasso Season 1 is streaming now on Apple TV+. It has been greenlit for a second and third season.