Scrubs: an oral history – ‘There was a no-asshole policy on set’


Twenty years in the past at this time, Scrubs first skewered sitcom expectations by inviting viewers into a wild world that blended escapist humour with real cockle-warming coronary heart.

Set within the fictional Sacred Heart Hospital, Scrubs adopted medical beginner JD (Zach Braff) as he navigated the varied ups and downs of contemporary healthcare whereas continuously escaping into fantasy, desperately attempting to win the approval of his ruthless higher-up Dr Cox (John C McGinley) and dealing with near-constant torment from the hospital’s resident oddball janitor (Neil Flynn).

Beneath that goofy exterior, although, sequence creator and Ted Lasso mastermind Bill Lawrence created a present that underpinned the significance of group, the fragility of life, and the resilience of our healthcare professionals.

With the pandemic shining a much-needed mild on the latter, Scrubs has emerged as not solely a fan-favourite comedy however a charming and well timed reminder of how we’re all higher collectively.

To rejoice this key anniversary second, Scrubs solid members Sarah Chalke, John C McGinley, Judy Reyes and Neil Flynn take us again by the halls of Sacred Heart to debate the present’s creation, craziness and lasting legacy.

Hot off his Michael J Fox-fronted sitcom Spin City, Bill Lawrence begins work on a new medical comedy impressed by tales shared by his doctor-in-training faculty roommate. As the present gathers pace, his solid – and the wild, fantasy world their characters inhabit – begins to take form…

Sarah Chalke (Elliot Reid): My greatest buddy and I made a decision to maneuver to LA, and a couple of months in, I received the Scrubs audition. We didn’t know anyone, and by no means had plans, and eventually we had plans to go to a live performance. Normally I’d be like: “I’ve got an audition in the morning, I can’t go,” however I was like: “I’m not cancelling – we’re going to the concert.” I get dwelling at midnight and open this package deal and it’s the Scrubs script. I begin studying it and I’m like: “Oh no. Oh s***. This is so good. This is the best thing I’ve ever read,” and it’s midnight and my audition is within the morning.

John C McGinley (Dr Perry Cox): My major focus was to seek out a gig that might hold me in Los Angeles. I needed to be with my son Max, who was born with Down’s syndrome – and that was an unrealistic purpose. I was doing two, three, typically 4 films a yr on the highway and I couldn’t think about being away from him for prolonged intervals of time. That’s why I put the feelers out for all issues Los Angeles-based, and that’s when Bill’s script got here alongside.

Judy Reyes (Carla Espinosa): Carla was simply so sturdy, good, humorous and acquainted to me. I flew to LA to check for the studio, with Bill [Lawrence] and the casting administrators, with not less than three different ladies. There had been about 25 individuals in an workplace and I bear in mind someone advised me: “When you go in, take a moment and look at everybody before you begin.” I regarded across the room and there have been all these individuals me, so I simply stated: “No pressure…” They cracked up and I relaxed. When I was achieved, somebody walked me to the elevator and whispered: “I want you to know, you’ve got it” – then I received the decision from Bill. It nearly occurred earlier than I may take it in – however I was beside myself.

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Neil Flynn (Janitor): I’m undecided I learn the pilot script as a result of a lot of instances, in case you’re being thought of for a lead [role], you don’t see something however a few pages of the scenes you’re going to audition with – and the pages I received had been for Dr Cox, which John McGinley performed so effectively. As far as I do know, there weren’t auditions for the Janitor.

McGinley: I am going in to satisfy Billy Lawrence for the primary time. This is a man who’s had hit TV exhibits with Michael J Fox and was one of many unique writers on Friends; he was a large deal. I advised him I believed Dr Cox and Dr Kelso [Ken Jenkins] had been redundant – it was simply the one most suicidal factor you could possibly do. I don’t know why I did it. I suppose I needed to inform the reality, as a result of if we had been enjoying to win – which I was – we’d do that for a whereas. I stated Dr Cox and Dr Kelso are each authority figures. Cox has received to have some love someplace that he doesn’t wish to present or he’s confused about – and naturally that was Max. Max needed to be a part of Dr Cox. I knew Cox needed to turn out to be me, and me at the moment was outlined by Max. When these two met, that’s when Cox was solidified.

Reyes: [For a Latino actor, Carla] supplied a lot extra. Usually the position is a sufferer in a cop present or one thing like that – nothing constant when it comes to an identification, character or affect on the story and the individuals round her. This was simply so heavy with alternative – I liked it. I was laughing out loud [at the pilot script]. It was so good and fast and the writing was so good. It was not like something I’ve learn.

Flynn: I learn the a part of Dr Cox for Bill and he stated: “I’ll be honest with you, I’ve already picked the actor for this part but do you want to read this?” He handed me a couple of pages of a scene because the Janitor and I learn it. It took about 10 seconds and he stated, “Good. You want to play that?” I stated “Sure – I’ll take the job.” It was solely a one-time factor – a day of taking pictures – however I was glad to have it, and it was a significantly better deal than I first anticipated.

Zach Braff is directed on the set of ‘Scrubs’


With its cast assembled, Scrubs began production – with cast and crew taking over a decommissioned medical centre in north Hollywood and transforming it into the fictional Sacred Heart Hospital for eight seasons. It was a process that would foster lifelong friendships…

Chalke: Bill had the first table read at his house, with all the cast and writers, and it was one of those table reads that gave you goosebumps. I’ve by no means seen something fairly prefer it. Obviously, all of us had by no means seen any of the others play their elements and I was simply on the ground watching these different actors. I was like “Oh my God, I’m so lucky to be a part of this with these people.”

Reyes: [The chemistry] was immediate. I received right here and everyone was similar to they’d been collectively their complete life. Zach [Braff who played JD] and Donald [Faison who played Turk] had been immediately in love, and Sarah Chalke was the proper foil and addition to the friendship. Johnny C was intense in his personal manner, however he put it brilliantly into the character, and Bill was such a fixed aspect – there on a regular basis, guiding the imaginative and prescient of the present – and I was doing among the craziest s*** I’ve ever achieved in my profession, nonetheless to at the present time.

McGinley: After the pilot, when the present was picked up, Billy received everyone – the grips, make-up, hair, actors, drivers – collectively in what was the cafeteria [of the show’s hospital set] and articulated that there was a “no asshole” policy on set. All he meant was, it’s not that you need to come to work and stroll on pins and needles, however you do have to come back to work and be good. It set the tone. It wasn’t a Mr Tough Guy factor – it was simply placing it on the market that we’re going to be right here for lengthy hours, and also you’ve received to be good. Everybody is aware of what “You’ve got to be nice” means.

Flynn: There was a sense all alongside that we had been an ensemble, and nobody individual was extra vital than the present itself. Bill formally stated, as a policy, “This is a no-asshole situation. Do as you wish, but don’t be an asshole. That will not be tolerated.”

McGinley: It was emblematic of the perspective on set and in that ensemble. The ensemble gelled instantly – everyone knew it was actually good. Billy solid the residing hell out of that factor, and that fraternity-slash-sorority really feel? That occurred instantly.

Reyes: Every single individual – from lighting, background, hair and make-up – had an alternative to essentially be a part of creating the present, which is what made it a true ensemble, each in entrance of and behind the digicam.

Chalke: We had been doing 16, 17 hour days, and spent a lot of time all collectively – and nonetheless the entire crew would exit on a Friday night time after work and hang around. You know whenever you’re spending that a lot time collectively at work, after which hanging out afterwards, that it was enjoyable.

‘The chemistry was instant’: Sarah Chalke and Judy Reyes in ‘Scrubs’


Debuting on 2 October 2001, Scrubs invited audiences into JD’s world (and head) as he navigated the bizarre, fantastic and typically heartbreaking world of hospital life. Together with JD’s greatest bud Turk, their stuffed canine Rowdy and his close-knit hospital colleagues, the present set off on what would turn out to be a nine-season run…

Reyes: We had entry to the actual JD – Dr Jonathan Doris – who was the inspiration [for the show] and Bill Lawrence’s greatest buddy. Also my sister was a nursing pupil on the time, and my different sister is a social employee, so I had the chance to spend time in a hospital. It’s all about the kind of one that chooses to do the work that they do and the way they deal with the atmosphere. You must deal with the atmosphere a sure manner otherwise you’re simply not going to outlive and be good at your job. Seeing that was a lot of enjoyable – however I may by no means do it myself.

Chalke: It was simply enjoyable each time you bought a new script. There’s no manner you could possibly guess what was going to be in there and the belongings you had been going to get to do. The character simply grew and altered a lot through the years.

Flynn: From the start, the half [of the Janitor] offered itself as an intimidating blue-collar labourer, and I’ve been round such males, so I knew I may play that. Then, because the character started showing in each episode, the scenes would get a little deeper – however it form of rapidly grew to become absurd. I requested Bill early on: “Let’s not make this guy dumb.” Here’s a man who’s smarter than his job, so in an effort to hold himself amused, he wreaks havoc on different individuals – JD specifically.

‘I don’t undergo fools’: John C McGinley in ‘Scrubs’


McGinley: I don’t undergo fools and Billy may write that. Cox is an infinitely, deeply broken individual, and what that allowed the writers to do was by no means make him redundant. To me, that was the reward of doing Dr Cox for 9 years. As you peel again the onion, it felt like there was an endless litany of damages and eccentricities that the writers had been bringing to me.

Chalke: You would typically get scripts or scenes proper earlier than you shot them, and typically they contained monologues that had been alleged to be delivered actually quick. That was one of many issues about Elliot’s character – she talks at a quicker tempo than a regular human. My complete life, my buddies would get collectively and speak so quick that no person understood what we had been saying, so I’ve at all times needed to focus on slowing down. When I learn that I was like, “OK, this I can do!”

Flynn: At one level, I stated: “In one of these scenes, one of these days, shouldn’t I be actually working?” Rarely was the Janitor doing something. I’m simply strolling by. Could I not less than have one thing in my hand? This man by no means works.

Reyes: What I liked about enjoying Carla is her energy. She owns her job, she’s devoted to it, she loves it, she’s good at it – and he or she’s no much less on the present, in that atmosphere and within the hospital, than some other physician. That’s one of many issues I noticed after I shadowed a nurse, and that energy and energy got here by in Carla. In the Latino context, it was very acquainted to me due to all the ladies within the atmosphere that I grew up in. She’s the form of one that, when she was six years previous, dreamed of being a nurse.

Flynn: Bill has stated that if the present had solely gone on for a yr or two, he would’ve revealed that the Janitor was a figment of JD’s creativeness, as a result of, up till that time, I by no means spoke to anyone else besides JD. It can be me representing his anxieties – subsequently, something was doable as a result of perhaps I wasn’t actual. When the present stayed on the air and I grew to become actual, it was enjoyable to work together with the opposite characters as effectively.

‘We’re going to be right here for lengthy hours and also you’ve received to be good’: Donald Faison and John C McGinley in ‘Scrubs’


As the series progressed, viewers got to escape into JD’s fantasy world because the present took its characters to some wild locations – from maniacal medical monologues and catchy musical episodes to relationships, deep friendships, and a seemingly unending mystique surrounding its resident janitor…

McGinley: I’d perhaps get a script on Saturday and spend all Sunday in my rehearsal area cramming the stuff into my cranium. A whole lot of the time, [Dr Cox’s monologues] had been lists, and after they didn’t make sense, attempting to string collectively these fully nonsensical lists that Billy would write was the stuff of insanity. I’d paint medical phrases on my partitions – it was insane –and since I was so aggressive, and Billy’s very aggressive, I was not going to let him get the higher of me. I was like: “Bring it, motherf*****!” Monday morning I’d get to the hospital and there’s new f****** pages put underneath my door, so all the pieces I’ve memorised on Sunday is gone. The actual kicker is that the brand new pages had been even higher, so I didn’t have a foot to face on.

Flynn: Bill had come to an improvised present I did earlier than we began taking pictures, and so he felt assured permitting me to improvise and ad-lib to supply various traces. Most of my scenes had been with Zach, and Zach was good at going together with that, in order that made it a lot of enjoyable. Instead of simply being a blue-collar man, the Janitor grew to become a very uncommon individual that simply occurred to have a blue-collar job.

Chalke: There can be so many enjoyable challenges. One time, my line was “I told you so” and Bill was like: “You know what? Do what you want. Do an I-told-you-so song and dance” – so I received to do this. There was this sense that you could possibly attempt something and fall flat on your face, and if one thing doesn’t work, that’s wonderful. I believe that’s the place there’s an alternative for a present to come back collectively and for a comedy to work.

Elliot does the ‘I told you so’ dance on Scrubs

Flynn: People say “I heard you made up all of your lines?” and that’s ridiculous. I might improve the scenes I was in, among the time – however I didn’t make up all my traces. The writers had been excellent and gave me loads of good traces.

McGinley: Our dressing rooms had been on the third flooring of this four-storey hospital the place, up to now, individuals had been handled, lived and died – and you could possibly really feel it. I was so obsessive about getting Billy’s phrases into my head that I employed an acoustic agency and soundproofed my dressing room, as a result of I didn’t wish to hear anyone or something. I simply needed this quiet place the place I may go – and the pages would slide underneath my door, nearly like in a film. I’d have a look at them, and naturally it was Dr Cox, and naturally it was a web page and a half of single-spaced s***. So I had this insane asylum of a soundproofed room – however it labored.

Chalke: We got a lot of freedom to try to do all of our personal stunts. There’s plenty of scenes the place JD is flying out of body, and [Zach] was doing that on his personal and falling onto a stunt pad with a stunt coordinator there. We received to do a lot of our personal pratfalls, which was tremendous enjoyable.

Flynn: I was advised about [the episode where JD sees the Janitor while watching The Fugitive] earlier than we shot it and I believed: “This is crazy. What do you mean? That makes my character me.” I believed it was very unusual. I don’t know if that’s been achieved on a TV present earlier than or since – to really present a clip of the actor enjoying a completely different position? Then once more, as a result of the Janitor was the best way he was, certain – he was in a film. It didn’t make any sense in any respect –however OK, yeah. He was an actor for a whereas.

I felt just like the fandom was greater [in the UK] earlier than it was large within the States … I believe the humour simply translated so effectively

Sarah Chalke

McGinley: The luxurious of the musical episode was that we had a week to rehearse and file all these songs. Most of the solid had achieved musicals, and I believe that’s why Billy felt fairly good about doing it. It’s a very bold episode. The girl from Avenue Q who got here in to play the affected person was wonderful. She had essentially the most unbelievable voice, and Zach is nice at that stuff. Donald is miraculous, Kenny [Jenkins] is incredible, Judy was crushing it – that was a kind of issues the place all the pieces that would’ve gone proper, went proper. Usually it’s the antithesis.

Reyes: Bill got here to me and mentioned a storyline about Carla turning into a nurse practitioner and it actually bothered me. I was like “Why? She’s a nurse – that’s the point of who she is, and just because she’s a nurse doesn’t make any doctor better than her. She’s really good at it.” He completely received it, which I so appreciated. We even touched upon that concept in one in every of my favorite episodes, the place JD picks up on it. We had been touching on the reality of the way it works, and the issues ladies and nurses typically must confront with docs.

Flynn: I believed we dealt with [revealing the Janitor’s real name] effectively – and I say “we” as a result of for that final scene the place I say his identify, we hammered it out collectively – me and the writers. Yeah, he says his identify is “Glenn Matthews”, however instantly after another person says “Hey, Johnny” and I say “Hey, what’s up”, so it seems that he’s fairly probably mendacity. Towards the top, I believed it will prove that he labored for the CIA or one thing – which is completely doable. I may’ve ended the final episode by leaping into a helicopter and disappearing into the sky. People would say, “I guess that makes sense” – as a result of nothing is sensible.

‘The Janitor became a very unusual person that just happened to have a blue-collar job’: Neil Flynn in ‘Scrubs’


There were also moments of genuine friendship and unexpected heart – plus guest appearances from stars including Ryan Reynolds, Elizabeth Banks, Brendan Frasier, Heather Graham and more…

Chalke: Zach and Donald’s best-friendship in actual life and on the present is the most effective instance of [the writers being inspired by off-screen chemistry]. It was so candy and funky to observe as a result of they really are greatest buddies in actual life, and all that stuff received written in. Donald and I had a handshake that we saved including to – it was about three-and-a-half minutes lengthy. Bill noticed us do it sooner or later and stated: “OK, we’re putting that in the show.” If the writers requested what you probably did that weekend, you’d inform them a story and examine it within the subsequent episode. You needed to be cautious what you shared.

Reyes: [On Carla’s relationship with Turk] I completely adore Donald. He’s the kind of individual the place we simply felt like we’d recognized one another ceaselessly. One of the primary scenes we had was a kissing scene. I kissed him for actual and he fully busted me about it – “You put your tongue in my mouth!” I was like: “Oh my God. Just for that, I’m never going to kiss you for real again.” The undeniable fact that he teased the s*** out of me for it was even higher. We may do something round one another and that’s precisely the way it grew. We had been at all times goofing round – and goofing round an excessive amount of, the place I needed to roll my eyes and be like, “Alright!” It felt pure to inject that into the character.

McGinley: I had Max on my shoulder each second of daily on that set – and any time I discovered a second for his voice to be felt, that was my reality. It was a model new, actually scary interval of my life, and I was OK sharing that concern in entrance of the lens. Sometimes males compartmentalise or manifest concern or push it away. That resonated for me in a large manner in how I was coping with the concern of “What is special needs? What is Down’s syndrome?” I wasn’t concerned about hiding that. I was residing in a nice deal of concern. That was a very fragile time, in order that’s what I dropped at work with me daily.

Chalke: For me, [the show’s emotional depth] was cemented within the fourth episode, “My Old Lady”, the place they offer us the stat that one out of each three sufferers admitted to the hospital will die right here – after which Turk, JD and Elliot all lose their sufferers. It set us up for what sort of present it was going to be, and I believe Bill received some blowback. I believe the community thought that was an excessive amount of and too unhappy for a comedy. Bill stated: “No, I think it’s important because it’s going to set the tone for what the show is.” That’s the unbelievable reward of Bill and all his writers: they take you to the purpose the place you’re falling out of your chair laughing, and the subsequent minute you’re dropped at tears. A hospital is a neat setting for that.

The solid of ‘Scrubs’ – plus creator Bill Lawrence (second from proper) – reunite on the 2018 Vulture Festival


Running for eight seasons on NBC, Scrubs transitioned to ABC with a lowered common solid and a handful of recent recruits for its ninth and closing sequence, earlier than coming to a shut in March 2010. However its legacy, and the best way it’s liked by followers, stays sturdy…

Chalke: One of the massive moments was after we did press within the UK, as a result of I felt just like the fandom was greater there earlier than it was large within the States. I bear in mind we had a a lot completely different expertise strolling within the streets there than we did right here. I believe the humour simply translated so effectively.

McGinley: I am going to Ireland yearly with my brothers and I received a sense of it. We went to Dublin one yr and it was like being Ringo, John or Paul – it was nice. I had achieved 50, 60 films by then, and appeared in Academy award-winning movies, they usually had been nothing like this. It was loopy.

Reyes: People can relate to it in so many various methods – notably through the pandemic. So many issues that we touched upon fully resonate with everybody. I believe that’s what the fantasies give approach to – they offer us the liberty to enter everyone’s head, not simply JD’s.

Flynn: I was in San Francisco as soon as, at a deli, and a younger man behind me stated: “I’m having a surreal moment. I was sick last week and stayed in bed and watched the entire series of Scrubs. Now you’re standing here with me and I feel like I know you.” That form of factor can occur, the place a present has some relevance to somebody’s life – or simply their week – and means one thing to them. That means one thing to me, and it’s good to be a a part of one thing like that.

Chalke: People actually have reached out to tell us after they had been going by a arduous time, and what a distinction Scrubs made to them. We have individuals reaching out saying “This is why I became a doctor” – really saving individuals’s lives as a substitute of us simply pretending to. It seems like such an honour.

McGinley: If you’re fortunate, each as soon as in a whilst you get to be a part of one thing that’s actually good. There had been instances on Scrubs the place, though you’re grinding this factor out, working 15-hour days and doing 24 episodes a yr, you bought to be a part of one thing nice – and that sticks, that will get on you. There’s empowerment there. If you get to be a part of one thing that resonates, that’s a large deal – and Scrubs resonated.

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