Ted Lasso

Professional football (soccer) arrived on TVs around the world with the sound of 25,000 Crystal Palace fans singing The Dave Clark Five’s “Glad All Over” when their team wins a home match at Selhurst Park, which doubles as the stadium for Ted Lasso’s fictional U.K. Premier League club, AFC Richmond.

Music Cue: “God Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols
Streaming on Apple TV+, the freshman platform which launched by offering a free year of viewing for anyone with a new Apple device, Ted Lasso was poised to find a fast home in the hearts of soccer fans. But it found a wider audience thanks to its heartwarming and comedic story, centered on a title character who exudes kindness and optimism – along with his favorite condiment turned popular catch phrase, ‘barbecue sauce.’

This was also the type of story that was needed by captive audiences amid the pandemic. Originally conceived in 2013 as NBC Sports promos that introduced Premier League matches to an American audience, Jason Sudeikis stars as affable Lasso, an American football coach hired to coach a Premier League soccer team – and therefore entering the world of a high-profile sport he’d known nothing about before taking the job. In fleshing out the series with co-star Brendan Hunt (Ted Lasso’s Coach Beard), and fellow Saturday ight Live writers’ room alum Joe Kelly, Sudeikis began crafting Lasso’s world. “I focused on why someone would take this job, what else could be going on beneath the surface of someone so seemingly happy-go-lucky, and how to simplify Ted’s innocence, ignorance and intelligence,” relates Sudeikis.

Enter co-creator Bill Lawrence.
Music Cue: “Superman” by Lazlo Bane
“This is my fifth show working with Bill,” says editor Melissa Brown McCoy (Undateable, Whiskey Cavalier), who traded off episodes with fellow editor A.J. Catoline. “He’s a master at getting each scene to its best comedic potential,” she notes. “There’s a great line in episode 5 where we had a hard time landing a joke without it feeling cheesy. Looking through dailies, we found [AFC  Richmond’s director of communications Leslie Higgins, played by Jeremy Swift] making a funny ‘meow’ sound after describing his cat. His delivery was so natural, while lifting his hand like a paw, that Bill suggested using that to get a laugh before Higgins landed his last poignant line. We found a take of Coach Beard laughing at Higgins so it became a meaningful ice breaker before laying down hard truths. Adding that bit of comedy before the heartfelt line saved the day. That’s the genius of Bill.”

Bill knows how to pick the right arrows from the editorial quiver to move a scene along,” offers Catoline. “Sometimes it’s writing clever ADR to join one line of dialogue with a line later in the scene, which can be seamlessly hidden in a wide shot or a cutaway, getting us to a joke quicker or moving on to the next beat of emotion. Our challenge was to enjoy Ted’s quirks. Outwardly he may seem like a barbecue-loving country bumpkin, but he’s also very intuitive, kind and predominantly optimistic. Bill was explicit that we protect him in the performance, balancing takes to ensure he didn’t seem overly broad and goofy, while showing that there’s also a sophisticated, message-driven side of Ted.”

“From the jump, Bill understood the big picture story we were trying to tell,” shares Sudeikis of Lawrence, who also created Scrubs, Spin City and Cougar Town. “Put the 10 best episodes of Scrubs up against any TV show in history and it would hold its own. As viewers, we cared about those characters. We cared about their relationships. There was enough specificity to them that we felt like we knew them, but there was also enough space within them to interject ourselves, our friends, family and co-workers who we saw in them. Bill’s use of music in Scrubs was another of the many reasons I felt he’d be a great partner for this project. Music really helps grease the wheels for tonal shifts, and we tried to make each choice intentional from a thematic, macro-level.”

Music Cue: “Sweet Georgia Brown” by Brother Bones

Sudeikis describes the pilot as the ‘overture’ for the season. “The show’s called Ted Lasso, but it’s a team vibe. The best teams always have more than a few folks to cheer for, to care about.” While Brown McCoy and Catoline traded off episodes, they also tag-teamed character arcs with deeply meaningful touchstones being dropped into filming. Following a sports montage, the pilot opens on a close shot of AFC Richmond owner Rebecca, played by Hannah Waddingham, staring at the camera.

“She’s the first character we meet; Jason and director Tom Marshall were intentional in framing this shot,” Catoline explains. “She opens the story suffering emotionally but looking outwardly put together. The season ends with an identical match-frame close shot, an emotional inverse to the opening, with her feeling healed inside, but a comedic mess on the outside.” This was a nod to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

“We opened on Rebecca to show she was as imperative to the story as Ted, much like the lesser-known Robert Redford was to Paul Newman at that time.” Brown McCoy explains, “Jason had a clear vision for each episode and the season as a whole. At times he’d reference a scene from a movie or show when giving notes and, after watching it, I’d have that lightbulb moment. They were always very smart comparisons, which especially resonated with me in the context of a male-dominated sports world where female relationships were given equal space.

I relished editing such strong female characters.” With the freedoms of a streaming platform, editorial could track character arcs as a season whole. “No episode was locked early on so we could adjust if something in the later episodes sparked an idea for a previous one,” adds Brown McCoy.

“A.J. and I had a few episodes built up while everyone was still filming in London, so as we started on producers’ cuts, we also knew the quality of what was to come, which really benefited consistency and tone. The number of cues planted in early episodes that played out later was really satisfying.”

While centered around soccer, there were very few moments on the field. Most all game play was shot in the last days of
production,” Catoline says, explaining that editorial worked with supervising producer Kip Kroeger and post house DigitalFilm Tree to create previs of these sequences. “We needed to know how those scenes were going to fit into the cut, as well as have something to share with the network for context and narrative purposes,” explains Kroeger. “[Previs] also provided an important roadmap for production while filming at night, in London’s freezing November rain. DigitalFilm Tree’s previs team built a virtual stadium and executed game play of the matches all the way down to camera angles we’d want to cover in each beat.”

Remembers Brown McCoy, “When we got all the footage back it was a great joy putting it together again because I felt like I already knew the scenes so well. They shot everything in slow motion, so I had a lot of fun playing with speed ramps for all the big moments of the game.”

Music Cue: “Award Tour” by A Tribe Called Quest

Another important element is music, which Catoline describes as “another character” in the series. “It’s a show about dealing with our own personal and emotional challenges, so music helps to cue the pacing of jokes, anchoring us back in comedy.” At a time when most of us are isolated from loved ones and the hope of new relationships, Ted Lasso invites us into the familiarity of old friends and the freshness of potential. Abundant pop culture references are peppered throughout a collection of tracks fashioned to emote far more from a scene than what’s on screen.

Brown McCoy, who doubles as a veritable jukebox, elaborates on the heart behind music cues, which ranged from “God Save the Queen” to “Sweet Georgia Brown.” “It’s always the goal to find a song that works so well that viewers feel they need to hear it again. I lived for that with my favorite TV shows growing up. When a scene made me feel a certain way, listening to that music connected me back to that feeling.”

“There was a very intentional music cue, “Opus 26” by Dustin O’Halloran, at the end of the pilot,” reveals Brown McCoy. “There was a note in the script asking us to play the song while reading the end. When I listened to the song, a melancholy piano piece, I knew this show was going to straddle the line between comedy and pathos, making it important to get the tone of the comedy right early so we’d be on board with Ted when we lift the curtain.

“It’s during this beautifully heart-breaking one-sided phone conversation between Ted and his wife where we get a hint of why he’s taken this job so far out of his comfort zone,” she continues. “I went back and re-read the beginning of the pilot with the knowledge that once we got to the end of the episode, we were going to drop an emotional hammer. The comedic elements had to be authentic to the characters; we never went for the joke at their expense. We could then lean into the more serious moments because it was always about being true to the character. You believe it, even though it might not be what you were expecting when you first clicked on the episode.”

MUSIC CUE: “Opus 26” by Dustin O’Halloran

Ted Lasso, both the Coach and the show, were well hyped but underestimated. The satisfaction of watching an underdog win never gets old, but has rarely been more needed. It’s in the breaths we take, and the breaths we have taken away, that a part of ourselves is given over to others. Sharing air has never seemed more difficult, nor more important, than it is today. It’s in our communal moments, grounded by common stories, that we remain tethered to one another. If Ted Lasso is our current tie that binds, I think we’re going to be okay. Barbecue sauce.

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