LOS ANGELES — Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence is glad to reminisce about the plucky sitcom that survived years of time slot upheaval and a transplant from one network to another.
At this point, however, the discussion is akin to talking in the past tense about a hospital patient who is still working through the Jell-O course. In other words, Scrubs isn't a goner yet.
ABC might yet decide to give the show, or some incarnation of it, a spot on the network's 2009-10 schedule to be announced later this month. After all, ABC did rescue Scrubs after NBC dropped it last year, and the sitcom is produced by ABC Studios.
So Lawrence devised an hourlong season-closer, at 8 p.m. Wednesday, that also could serve as the show's final curtain.
Never miss a local story.
It's an approach built around the departures of series star Zach Braff and Lawrence himself from the world of Sacred Heart Hospital.
"It's my last year and Zach's last year, so the finale is exactly what we would have written as a series finale. And if it goes forward, it's still what we would have written as Zach's finale," Lawrence said.
A key question: What happens with erratic lovebirds J.D. (Braff) and Elliot (Sarah Chalke)?
Lawrence can imagine a ninth season for Scrubs, even if it loses cast members to other projects. After all, the show was first pitched as a comic version of ER, able to accommodate new faces as the years passed.
There's been talk that some of the actors, including Braff, may return on occasion if the show is renewed. As for Lawrence, his Cougar Town pilot starring Courteney Cox is under consideration by ABC.
But, he said, "I don't think there can ever be a show called Scrubs that I wouldn't at least check in on."
It's been a memorable and instructive ride, especially the bumpy bit across the NBC schedule. Those scheduling shifts made it unlikely the comedy could achieve big ratings gain, a reality that Lawrence says he came to embrace.
"What was liberating about it was you stop trying to write things for everyone and make the people laugh who already liked the show — and, believe it or not, it's a lot easier to do," he said.
Lawrence and his staff made the most of the show's cult status, reaching out to die-hard fans with Webisodes, regular "Ask Scrubs" videos in which cast members responded to audience questions and online Q&A sessions.
Those viewers understood and supported Scrubs even when its original network didn't, selling it in early promotional spots as zany and goofy when Lawrence was trying for something with comedic depth.
He recalled a first-season script, an exploration of death, in which each of three young doctors loses a patient. NBC executives tried to talk him out of it.
"I got phone calls: 'Couldn't just one die? Or if two have to die, could one be a really mean person, like a racist?'" he recalled.
The episode remained intact, received Emmy nominations and helped cement the show's following.
"It made me have a respect for the audience," Lawrence said.