Following last week's episode in the Bahamas, the show has put J.D. and Elliot (Sarah Chalke) in a pretty good place romantically — but the final three episodes won't be focused on their relationship, creator Bill Lawrence says. "I never thought that was what the show was about," he says.
In addition to talking about his acting debut last week, Lawrence discussed the progress of "Scrubs'" final season, the introduction of the new interns and the arguments his staff had over the J.D.-Elliot relationship.
Here are some highlights from our conversation. The interview skipped around a bit, so what you see below is organized by topic rather than just a straight Q-and-A. We'll start with the answer to the question posed in the headline:
J.D. and Elliot
Lawrence: We had this giant argument. … I never wanted those two to end up together. I've always said, from the beginning of the show, it's not a will-they-or-won't-they show. And it's partly network involvement — the second you put a single, attractive girl and a single, attractive guy on a show, all I heard for the first two years was "Put them together, have them do this, maybe there could be a kiss." That was the solution to everything. I said, Look, once a year they'll hook up because it will be funny and it'll be a disaster, but otherwise we're not doing it.
The problem is, Zach and Sarah had chemistry on the show, and even when we weren't writing about them … we'd find people were tracking it. Also, the problem was as we got to year four and five, when you're out of ideas one of the easiest things to do is write romantic comedy in the middle of a medical show. So we kept fighting back and forth … [and] the agreement we made was they can end up together, but it can't be what the show's about at the end. … There's a sweet moment in the finale about them, but the finale certainly doesn't hinge on, Is he going to run to the airport and stop her? Are they finally going to show their love to each other? I never thought that was what the show was about.
The final season
What's it been like watching the shows, having been done filming for a while?
Lawrence: It's very strange. I feel like the show is reaching — not reaching, but it's reached that time that even fans watch with such a critical eye. There's this weird tightrope; I don't think you can win. … If you're doing the exact same show you always did, then people are like, "Oh my god, it's time for this show to go away, it's the same old thing." But if you do too many new things, then people quickly write, "What happened to the old show I liked so much?"
The thing I was proud of this year — and I don't think the average TV viewer will give a s**t or should give a s**t — but we had a real limited budget and real limited time to shoot, and I still think a lot of it works. I didn't know if we were going to get to pull that off. … It made it challenging for me, to take a show that's essentially cheaper its eighth year, even with all the salary raises, than it was its fifth … I'm not sure it's the way you should make television, but the fact that a lot of the shows are still really high-quality, I ended up pretty psyched about it.
Did the introduction of the new interns work how you wanted it to?
Lawrence: It worked the way I expected it to. [At the start of the season], I said two things. One, I said we'll be lucky if even one or two of these people stick. And one definitely worked for me, Eliza Coupe [who plays the callous Denise]. She's really good. I think as she got stronger, the shows she was in got stronger. The other thing is, even though people will react as "Hey, they're trying to introduce these new characters to make the show go on," that was secondary to what we were really trying to do, which was if we bring a bunch of young people who are students and not just plot devices onto the show, we'll be able to write episodes with our characters as teachers rather than students, and we'll actually have new stories to tell. …
At the beginning of this year, it was like, I don't know how many more "J.D. learns a lesson about himself and about people" [stories] that I can write. On the other hand, J.D. teaching a kid a lesson that we didn't do [previously] because he's an older guy at least felt different enough to me that it wasn't like listening to the same song over and over.
How much grief you get for the words you put in your wife's mouth? [Christa Miller, Lawrence's wife of nine-plus years, plays Jordan on the show.]
Lawrence: Dude, that's such a sensitive question. … The only time I really get in trouble, to tell you the truth, is when I put actual things she's said into the character's mouth. And once she says it as the character, people on set laugh and she gets to realize how horrifying it is that she would've spoken that in real life. It makes her just absolutely venomous [laughs] and makes her want to kill me.
What's the ratio of lines you script for Neil Flynn [the Janitor] versus how much he ad-libs?
Lawrence: It changed as the show went on. … It went from all us, then evolved out of our laziness to all him in the middle. Then he actually said, You guys leave me hanging a little too much. … We came up with a thing where we'll write an arena, so we don't just leave it as "Neil makes up something funny," and we'll sit around with him right before we shoot and just ad-lib jokes and stuff. Then he takes it and runs with it.
The speeches he's made this year have just slayed me. Beating up a duck on the side of the road — that was one of my all-time favorites.
You just finished shooting the pilot for "Cougar Town," right?
Lawrence: Yeah. It's a single-camera comedy with Courteney [Cox], and it's not actually about what the title says. [Cox plays a newly single mom who re-enters the dating world.] But it's like a deal with the devil. I was with the guy I wrote it with [fellow "Scrubs" scribe Kevin Biegel], and we were like, If we title it this, it'll get attention both positive from people that still think that word's funny, and negative from people that realize that it's already been played. But nowadays, if you can get any attention at all, you're winning the battle.
How do you think it turned out?
Lawrence: I'm a cocky guy, man. I think it's good. … What we shot for, and I think we pulled off, was to make a chick show that a guy, whether he's a boyfriend or a husband, if he sits down and [his significant other] is watching it, he won't leave in disgust. Because I feel like that's what made shows like "Sex and the City" huge, and I was one of them — there are husbands and boyfriends all over that would pretend they were miserable, but there was something to make them laugh on those shows that they hooked in a little bit. I hope we pulled off the same thing.