"The gospel according to Ted Lasso": Behind the scenes of the uplifting show that changed Hollywood
The show "Ted Lasso" was nominated for 20 Emmys last year-- more than any other new comedy in television history. It's a fish out of water story about an American football coach from Kansas, who moves to London, England to take charge of a professional soccer team, despite knowing nothing of the sport.
The tale of "Ted Lasso" may sound improbable, but the series has become a phenomenon and changed the game in Hollywood. So when production for the third season was about to begin, we went to London to meet as many members of the ensemble cast as we could, including Jason Sudeikis, Ted Lasso's mastermind and alter ego, to find out how the show scored.
Norah O'Donnell: Did you set out and say I want a character that's all about positivity and kindness and can transform people, bring out the best in people?
Jason Sudeikis: To play the character was intentional. To play someone that was kindhearted, that didn't swear-- be like Teflon towards people's negativity or-- or-- or sarcasm, 100% intentional.
Norah O'Donnell: --kindness and positivity can be transformative.
Jason Sudeikis: Yeah. And so can the opposite. But I mean, if you had to choose one at the-- at that point of writing it and wanting to play it, I'd much rather try to view the world, you know, as Ted Lasso.
Jason Sudeikis told us the comedy in "Ted Lasso" rolls onto the screen like a Trojan horse. Sometimes farcical, often profane, carrying with it homespun wisdom and warmth.
The show defied not just the dark times of the pandemic, but sometimes logic itself.
As coach of the fictional soccer team known as AFC Richmond, Sudeikis likes to say Ted Lasso is the best version of himself. One quality both character and actor share is curiosity.
Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso:I saw this quote by Walt Whitman, it was painted on the wall there and it said, "Be curious, not judgmental." I like that.
Walt Whitman never wrote or said, "be curious, not judgmental," yet it's become more than just a catchphrase.
Jason Sudeikis: My mom's parish-- in the South Side of Chicago, Christ the King, you know, had, like a bible study class.
Norah O'Donnell: And what was the bible study about?
Jason Sudeikis: Probably, like, be curious, not judgmental. The gospel according to Ted Lasso, something like that, maybe, I think. It mighta been something like that.
The show's success is even more extraordinary when you consider its origins.
Nearly 10 years ago, long before Ted Lasso became gospel, he began as an arrogant, in-curious commercial.
NBC sports needed a buzzy ad campaign to promote soccer's English Premier League in the U.S. So they called Sudeikis, who was finishing-up a ten-year run on "Saturday Night Live."
He said the job sounded like fun, especially when he was allowed to invite two old friends along for the ride.
Norah O'Donnell: So before you guys created "Ted Lasso," you were actually best friends.
Jason Sudeikis: I don't know, best, I mean--
Joe Kelly: Lotta people in our lives.
Brendan Hunt: Overstatement--
Jason Sudeikis: Yeah, I think we-- we got along well--
Joe Kelly: We're fine.
Jason Sudeikis: Yeah, yeah, yeah. (LAUGH)
Norah O'Donnell: How-- so how would you describe your relationship?
Jason Sudeikis: Best-- I think best friends I think. If I had to… (LAUGHTER)
"Ted Lasso" co-creators Joe Kelly and Brendan Hunt have known each other and Jason Sudeikis for more than 20 years.
After the commercials, the trio developed Ted Lasso into a more complete character who shed his arrogant swagger for humble curiosity.
In the show, Ted Lasso also deals with divorce and mental health challenges. All while bringing a feminine approach to a typically masculine job.
Bill Lawrence: If anybody claims that they thought this show or knew this show was gonna work, they're fibbing a little bit. No one was sure.
The three friends got a boost when veteran television producer Bill Lawrence joined the project.
Norah O'Donnell: What was in Jason's pitch that convinced you?
Bill Lawrence: He knew from the start that this was a guy that was putting out a-- optimistic face. And that would be one note if he wasn't also aware that that was covering up somebody that needed to learn about self-care and– being proactive in facing whatever demons they might have.
Brendan Hunt: It got moving once Bill was involved.
Norah O'Donnell: But Bill said this is not a soccer show.
Jason Sudeikis: Right.
Joe Kelly: Yeah.
Brendan Hunt: He basically-- pounded the-- the table and-- shouted at a very early—writer's room session, "This is not a soccer show. This is-- a workplace ensemble comedy." But that's kinda been a guiding principle, you know? It takes place in the soccer world, but it's not-- it's never about the soccer at all.
Jason Sudeikis: Yeah, the thing that I would say, in, like, the pitch meetings when Bill and I went out was like, "This show's as much about soccer as, like, Rocky is about boxing."
Norah O'Donnell: What happened when you shopped around "Ted Lasso" here in Hollywood? What was the reaction?
Jason Sudeikis: That-- (LAUGHTER) no.
Brendan Hunt: What-- what's the opposite of a bidding war?
Jason Sudeikis: It was like, er, "we'll take it"
Streaming service Apple TV+ decided to take on "Ted Lasso"—which is produced by Warner Bros.
Norah O'Donnell: Do you think you had more freedom because it was Apple?
Joe Kelly: We went into filming feeling like the underdogs that Richmond were. Like, we weren't coming on the heels of a bidding war. We weren't coming on the heels of, like, "Here we go with this monster show." And I felt like it helped the-- the process, the tone, the feeling, the vibe, everything.
The vibe behind the scenes seems to mirror the team seen on the show. We invited Brendan Hunt, who plays Coach Beard, and Toheeb Jimoh and Kola Bokinni, who portray soccer players on Ted Lasso, to a proper Saturday afternoon match.
Norah O'Donnell: So I was kinda surprised in talking to the writers that one of the things that you guys deal with on the show, are trying to dismantle, is toxic masculinity.
Toheeb Jimoh: 100%. Yeah, I think-- settin' the show in-- in like, a boy's locker room, in a football locker room is—
Kola Bokinni: Was easy. Was easy—
Toheeb Jimoh: It's the perfect place to, like, try and tackle that. I think that comes from like just like, a culture of, like-- you know, it's very competitive. Like, it's like-- like, boys being around other boys, and, like, everyone is pretending to be, like, this version of, like, what they think, like, a man is-- or a young man is.
Kola Bokinni: You get-- you get different versions of people in it, you know? The person that you are behind closed doors is not the person that you are in-- in real life.
Before he took on "Ted Lasso," in real life, Jason Sudeikis hailed from Kansas, just like the coach he now plays. There, he was a college theater star, but just as comfortable playing point guard on the basketball team.
He says Richmond is partly based on his old team that also happened to be called the Greyhounds.
He pointed out on the set…
Jason Sudeikis: …De Maat, named after Martin De Maat an improv teacher from Second City
…Ted Lasso's writers named members of the team after friends, family members, and former mentors.
Jason Sudeikis: Saskia Maas is one of the owners of Boom Chicago where Brendan, Joe and I all worked in Amsterdam
Norah O'Donnell: It's hard sometimes for one word to capture so many things, but for a lot of people, this is the iconic "Ted Lasso?"
Jason Sudeikis: Yeah--
Norah O'Donnell: "Believe."
Jason Sudeikis: I know.
Norah O'Donnell: Believe in yourself? Believe in the people around you?
Jason Sudeikis: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Believe in the-- in the process.
One of the show's breakout stars, Brett Goldstein, believed he could play Roy Kent…
The gruff, washed-up tough guy, with a heart of gold.
Trouble was, Goldstein was hired to write, not act.
Brett Goldstein: While we were writing it, about somewhere around episode five I started to think, I think Roy Kent is living inside me.
Norah O'Donnell: How did Brett Goldstein go from writer to star?
Jason Sudeikis: Just flat-out show biz gumption, you know-- he just felt a connection to the character. And so he-- he did-- taped himself-- sent it to Bill saying, "Hey, if this is good, you know, great. If it's not, we never need to talk about this again." (LAUGH)
Brendan Hunt: They're like, "Brett turned in a Roy video." "Oh, did he? (LAUGHTER) Fire it up." And immediately was like, "Brett's Roy." It was immediate.
Joe Kelly: Roy's very gruff, very angry and it's always jarring when you call Brett and he answers the phone, "Hello? (LAUGHTER) How are you? How are you, dear friend?" He's the sweetest most gentle man.
Brett Goldstein: He's a cauldron of emotion that he doesn't want anyone to know about, who has been raised-- in a culture of almost toxic masculinity, to be a [expletive] wall. And he has all these feelings and these emotions, but he cannot express them all. And he has to keep them pent up, which is why he talks like he talks because he's holding it all in. It's like a cork.
Norah O'Donnell: A cork—
Brett Goldstein: If he pulled it out he'd cry and sing and, you know, fly off.
Hannah Waddingham, who spent much of the last 20 years performing musical theater in London's West End, plays team owner Rebecca Welton.
Norah O'Donnell: Why do you think the show resonated with so many people? And does it have something to do with the pandemic?
Hannah Waddingham: I think it does and it doesn't. People associate it with the pandemic time, of course, because it was a massive hug. And it was a way of everyone blocking it out.
Norah O'Donnell: The show was a massive hug.
Hannah Waddingham: Yes.
Norah O'Donnell: A hug to what?
Hannah Waddingham: To people. To humanity. It's-- it's-- I think it's what everybody needed at the time. They needed a hug and a reminder to be kind to each other. A reminder to include each other. A reminder to check in with each other, even if you think someone's got their stuff together, they haven't.
Hannah Waddingham: I also think that had the pandemic not happened, it would have done exactly the same thing because there's something about our show that reminds everyone that you don't have to be cutting to be funny. You can be warm, and funny, and kind, and giving, and supportive, and accepting, and funny.
Norah O'Donnell: And that's what makes Ted Lasso distinct.
Hannah Waddingham: Yes. (LAUGHTER)
Nats— Thank you!
At last year's Emmys, Waddingham, Goldstein, and Sudeikis all took home trophies for acting and the show won outstanding comedy series.
The Richmond Greyhounds may be a make-believe team, but Richmond the town is 100% real.
Norah O'Donnell: This is the real version of the set.
Brendan Hunt: Yeah. You kinda can't fake Richmond, really, you know?
The day we were there, so were fans of the show, including a young woman who had traveled from Germany and had just gotten a tattoo in honor of Ted Lasso. And it read "be curious, not judgmental."
Norah O'Donnell: I mean, this is pretty special, being out here?
Jason Sudeikis: Yes.
We also took a walk on the field where the Richmond Greyhounds shoot most of their soccer scenes.
Norah O'Donnell: I mean, it's kinda great. Your pitch is right near the studio?
Jason Sudeikis: I know. It's something else. Happy accident.
In typical Midwestern fashion, Jason Sudeikis was not entirely comfortable explaining the show's success, nor taking credit for it.
Norah O'Donnell: What do you think the-- legacy of "Ted Lasso" is, decades from now?
Jason Sudeikis: I don't know. I hope, I hope, folks keep watching it. A decent chance it'll pay for my kids' college. (LAUGH) Unless I-- unless I blow it all. But--
Norah O'Donnell: You don't think it's already done that?
Jason Sudeikis: You don't think I've already blown it? (LAUGHTER)
Produced by Keith Sharman. Associate producer, Kate Morris. Broadcast associates, Olivia Rinaldi and Eliza Costas. Edited by Sean Kelly.
for more features.