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Ted Lasso’s Evolution From NBC Sports Ad Buffoon to Lovable Sitcom Hero

Created by Sudeikis with fellow Saturday Night Live writer Joe Kelly and actor Brendan Hunt, this version of Ted Lasso was a dolt with zero self-awareness. In the 2014 follow-up ad, he’s a buffoon whose naive idiocy and childlike excitement wrecks live TV broadcasts. The comedy comes from the combination of unshakeable self-belief, ineptitude, and certain failure. 

Not that Ted let failure get him down. Despite having lasted only six hours at “The Spurs”, he cherished his time in England and decorated his US apartment with an English theme (including an Easter Egg appearance of an LP by renowned English punk band Ian Rubbish and the Bizzaros, whose lead singer bears a striking resemblance to SNL’s Fred Armisen.)

While the NBC Sports ads laid out the basic premise of what would become Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso, major changes were made. The series dropped its Christopher Guest/The Office mockumentary format, and Ted’s character was remoulded from sure-to-fail cretin to might-just-work optimist. In the ads, Ted’s ignorance and Homer Simpson-ish larking about irritated the people around him. In the show, his ray-of-sunshine kindness lifts them up. The ads asked viewers to laugh at a yokel getting it wrong without knowing how hopeless he is. The show asks viewers to root for a kinder way of doing things.

The idea to work Ted Lasso up from skit character to sitcom lead was suggested in 2015 by Jason Sudeikis’ then-partner, actor-director Olivia Wilde. Sudeikis, Kelly, and Hunt wrote a pilot and series outline, before bringing on producer Bill Lawrence (ScrubsCougar Town), who emphasised the need to give the character vulnerability.

Though played for laughs, there was a glimpse of vulnerability in the 2013 NBC Sports ad. Lasso’s upbeat definition of his new club nickname – ‘wanker’ – plays over a montage of him training with the team. “I think it just means ‘great’ like, nice guy, kind heart, someone that listens, someone that’ll push ya!” he says. A clip of him standing solo on the pitch, clearly not popular, plays as he continues. “A wanker is someone that doesn’t mind being alone, likes to sit with his thoughts.” It’s a briefly poignant hint of things to come.

In the TV series, Ted’s vulnerability comes from the breakdown of his marriage. At the start of the show, it’s revealed that he took the job thousands of miles from home to give his wife the space she asked for. Watching him cope with his pain while devoting every effort to supporting the players of fictional team AFC Richmond and their various woes, makes Ted a sympathetic, inspirational lead. It’s not only the players Ted nurtures, but also team owner Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), who’s recently out of a controlling marriage to a man who takes pleasure in undermining and humiliating her. 

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