Story of phenomenal rise of Ted Lasso from 4 minute NBC gimmick to Apple TV+ hit

ByPaurush Omar
Mar 16, 2023 07:00 PM IST

Here's the story of ‘Ted Lasso’, the show that was nominated for 20 Emmys last year; more than any other new comedy in television history

From a four-minute promotional video for the Premier League to a full-fledged streaming series, Ted Lasso has come a long way. The show, which stars Jason Sudeikis as the titular character, has become a household name in America, thanks to its unique blend of humor, heart, and sports.

The tale of "Ted Lasso" may sound improbable, but the series has become a phenomenon and changed the game in Hollywood
The tale of "Ted Lasso" may sound improbable, but the series has become a phenomenon and changed the game in Hollywood

But the journey from a short film to a 10-episode series wasn't an easy one. In fact, it began back in 2012, when NBC was unsure whether the U.S. audience understood enough about English soccer to justify the investment of $250 million on the broadcast rights to the Premier League.

That's when the character Ted Lasso was born, a gum-chewing, soft-drawling coach of American football, created to manage Tottenham Hotspur, one of England's most iconic teams. The hilarious four-minute, 41-second primer was so successful that the character became a cult figure overnight, inspiring social media parody accounts and earning Sudeikis a second season of short spots on NBC.

Although NBC retired Ted after that, Sudeikis never gave up on the character he created. Now, his faithfulness to his beloved character will be rewarded when Apple TV+ kicks off “Ted Lasso,” a series that Sudeikis helped create, produce, and write. According to Sudeikis, playing Ted was a delight because of his egoless character: “He’s Mr. Rogers meets John Wooden.”

The journey to turn Ted Lasso from NBC's promotions department into a full-fledged streaming series was not an easy task. The creative team traveled through two continents, won over the right producers, and added both heart and heft to a character that was gloriously lacking in both.

The show's origin story is just as fascinating. Ted Lasso was born in 2001 in the dressing room of a small, aging theater in Amsterdam, where Sudeikis and Brendan Hunt, who would later become Ted's trusty assistant coach, were performing with the improvisational comedy troupe Boom Chicago.

Hunt, who initially despised soccer and its archaic rules, was swept up in the sport's culture in Amsterdam. To cultivate that, Sudeikis bought a PlayStation so he and Hunt could play the soccer video game “FIFA” before and after every show. At the time, no American had managed a major team in Europe outside of a video game, leading Sudeikis and Hunt to wonder what the transition might look like if an NFL coach gave it a try.

The result was Ted Lasso, who comes to London and is troubled to learn soccer games can end in ties, there are no playoffs, and balls kicked over the goal posts are not worth three points. When NBC pitched the idea of a short film featuring Ted to its partners at the Premier League, it was initially dismissed as out of hand. However, Tottenham, the last team the network approached, loved the idea so much that it produced a 3 1/2-minute video of its own documenting the making of the NBC film. In a subtle act of revenge, it highlighted Americans' ignorance of the sport.

“The hesitancy that was felt by clubs before we actually shot the first one essentially went away as soon as they saw it,” Hunt said. “That has now worked as a real calling card for us because now the Premier League knows about Ted Lasso.”

In fact, Sudeikis said he's better-known in parts of Europe for his portrayal of the bungling soccer coach than for his mainstream film and TV roles, including “Saturday Night Live’s” Joe Biden.

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The biggest challenge in taking Ted from a concept to a 10-episode series wasn’t the reluctance of the English but the doubters in Hollywood. Taking on the challenge, Sudeikis and Lawrence, along with the rest of the creative team, worked hard to turn Ted Lasso into a full-fledged series that would appeal to a wider audience. They knew they had a good foundation to work with, but they also knew they had to add more depth to the character and create a compelling story arc to keep viewers engaged.

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