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Have complete confidence in each decision you make. If you’re wrong, have complete confidence in the next one. You could stop reading here and have all the advice you need from one of the most talented, inventive writers and producers in the TV business today. But that would be a mistake, because Bill Lawrence, as you might suspect of one of the most prolific creators of network sitcoms, tells a great story. Many great stories, actually. He was one of the youngest writers ever hired for Friends on its first season, and created Spin City at the ripe old age of 26. He went on to write, create and/or produce Scrubs, Cougar Town and Undateable – the show NBC said wasn’t “a good fit with our brand” and subsequently went on to renew for three seasons running (that one’s a particularly good story).
As early as high school, Lawrence had visions of being a standup comedian until he figured out other people were better at delivering his material than he was. Though he says he’ll always be a comic at heart, he had too many ideas and too much confidence not to take his “spec script scam” out to Hollywood, where he quickly progressed from writing shows to running them to producing them, working with some of the best mentors in the business along the way.
But here’s the thing about Bill, who at this point is a pretty successful guy with a nice pool and his own busy production company. Like any true and restless creative, he can’t resist a challenge or pushing on walls – in case of Undateable, the fourth wall. When NBC’s marketing commitment for the show seemed more likely to doom than promote it, Lawrence launched a grass-roots, whistle-stop bus tour that included throwing himself (a “below-mediocre comic”) into standup shows with a lineup of some of the best comedians in the business. Cue the flop sweat. After experimenting with a live broadcast of Undateable, which involves on-the-fly live script changes and re-directing of actors during commercial breaks, he decided to do the whole third season that way, essentially creating a live scripted comedy-variety show hybrid. Ideas that would have most execs downing Costco-size doses of Pepto-Bismol just don’t seem to faze him; in fact, in a sort of meta way, he seems to make navigating the business sound like a sitcom itself.
So tune in as Lawrence discusses what it takes to succeed as a TV writer, the inner workings of pitching, producing and marketing shows in the shifting TV landscape, and two shows he and George Clooney decided would never work: Friends and ER. Like he said, just have confidence in the next decision…