Ted Lasso's perfect intro
A masterclass in character writing from the Apple TV comedy
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Today, we’re talking about the Apple TV show Ted Lasso.
Also this week:
Ryan Reynolds ~$170m payday
10+ examples of GPT-4 in use
Wild memes (including the highest-margin product ever)
The 3rd season of Apple TV's comedy Ted Lasso started on Wednesday.
While Season 1 was an all-timer, Season 2 was a bit of a letdown.
Either way, if you want to see great character writing, rewatch the pilot episode of Ted Lasso (the show’s first episode). It is a masterclass in the storytelling rule of “show, don’t tell”.
The technique traditionally refers to creative writing, in which a reader experiences a story through actions and feelings rather than through an author's exposition and descriptions. The phrase “show, don’t tell” is a riff on this quote from Russian playwright Anton Checkhov: "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass”.
In 2013, Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk wrote a very clear explainer on the technique:
From this point forward – at least for the next half year – you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.
[…] Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them. Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.
[…] You can’t write: “Kenny wondered if Monica didn’t like him going out at night…”
Instead, you’ll have to Un-pack that to something like: “The mornings after Kenny had stayed out, beyond the last bus, until he’d had to bum a ride or pay for a cab and got home to find Monica faking sleep, faking because she never slept that quiet, those mornings, she’d only put her own cup of coffee in the microwave. Never his.”
“Show, don’t tell” is just as important on screen as it is in writing. Why? Because screen projects start as a script. We’ve all seen bad films and TV shows with forced dialogue to move a story along or ridiculous exposition to fill logic gaps in the plot.
The Ted Lasso pilot does a great job of “show, don’t tell”. It makes the protagonist Ted Lasso — an American college football coach played by Jason Sudeikis, who is hired to coach a failing European football club — genuinely likeable from the jump (and it takes only 157-seconds of screen time).
I did a Twitter thread on this exact topic in July 2021 and it went viral enough to give me three firsts:
Apple TV’s Twitter account shared the thread
The analysis reached the top of Twitter’s trending Entertainment Topic
I got such a rush of dopamine that I passed out for 17 seconds
Even cooler: one of the show’s creators — Brandon Hunt (who plays Coach Beard) — said of the thread that “everything we do on the show is intentional, and the intentionality is…intentional.” (I’ll take it)
With that long-winded preamble, here is a breakdown of how Ted Lasso’s writing team makes a great impression for its lead character (spoiler alert: none, as this is the first few minutes of the entire show and it has been out for 3 years).
From the get go, the Ted Lasso writing team effectively employs the classic storytelling technique "show, don't tell" and it happens in 6 quick frames:
1 - We first see Lasso at the 3:51 mark of the pilot. When we do, it is a still photo of him featured on ESPN's SportCenter show. Importantly, Lasso has a huge goofy-ass smile photo that instantly pulls you in. You spend a full 28-seconds with the still smiling image as Scott Van Pelt speaks.
2 - The first action we see Lasso do is a 16-second dance clip with the college football team he coaches. He's clearly a fun dude and, crucially, his players love him. At this point, it has only been 44 seconds and we haven't heard Lasso speak...but we're all thinking "this guy is dope."
3 - Next, we meet Lasso in real life on an airplane. The 1st test of his character is someone interrupting him while he is reading. The POV is of his book being obstructed. Think about how pissed you'd be. Lasso happily engages the guy obstructing him and agrees to a photo selfie (or as the fan calls it: an “US-ie”).
Lasso passes the 1st test.
4 - The Us-ie guy quickly puts Lasso to his 2nd test. How? By telling Lasso that he is nuts for taking the European football coaching job. Lasso takes the trolling in stride.
Lasso passes the 2nd test.
5 - The next interaction Lasso has is with his assistant, Coach Beard. It's a friendly, inside-jokey conversation which is capped off by an exploding fist-pound. Lasso is officially the chillest dude ever.
6 - Finally, we wrap up our first 157 seconds with Lasso by finding out he's a family man. He looks at a photo of his wife and kid...and smiles. What a guy! That entire Lasso intro (from Lasso on ESPN to the photo takes place from 3:51 to 6:28 of the episode). That's it!
With so much Hollywood content, a TV pilot has to quickly capture the viewers’ attention. Ted Lasso's writers make the main character very like-able in only 157 seconds.
I know many people think Lasso’s character lays on the nice-ness a bit too thick. But the show dropped at a very cynical moment: in August 2020. And it was much-needed to have a “nice” lead character, especially with anti-heroes dominating the prior two decades (I was shocked at how much I liked Season 1 Ted Lasso as my comedy instinct is geared towards roasting and shit-talking).
Interestingly, Sudeikis played another version of Lasso as part of NBC sports promos in the early-2010s (related to NBC’s acquisition of broadcast rights for the Premier League). And it was a much meaner version of the character. In the lead-up to Ted Lasso’s first season, Apple CEO Tim Cook was very involved in content decisions for Apple TV. It’s not clear if he gave editorial notes for Ted Lasso, but Cook apparently told Apple TV’s producer: “don’t be so mean.”
However we got the “nicer” Ted Lasso, Season 1 of the show was incredible. Hopefully, Season 3 can redeem what was a rather blah Season 2. That would be nice.
Links and memes
Ryan Reynolds ~$170m payday: T-Mobile acquired the parent firm of Mint Mobile for $1.35B, and here’s why I think Ryan Reynolds made $170m on the deal:
Reynold bought a stake in Mint Mobile in 2019 and is believed to own ~25% of the cellular provider. At the time, Reynolds had really broken through in Hollywood and made $60m+ just with his first two Deadpool films (2016, 2018).
So, How much did Reynolds initially invest in Mint Mobile?
Well, Ka'ena Corp owns Mint Mobile (pre-paid), Ultra Mobile (wireless international) and Plum Mobile (wholesale). Across all the services, there's an estimated 2m subscribers. Four years ago, I’m guessing the subscriber base was half the current number (1 million). If Mint was responsible for half of that user base, it had 500k subscribers when Reynolds invested. Around the time, another mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) called Boost Mobile sold to Dish for $1.4B (it had 9m subscribers, assigning a value of $155 per sub).
At that same subscriber multiple level, Mint would be worth $78m. Did Reynolds kick in 25% of that valuation (~$20m)? I'm guessing he paid half in cash ($10m) and earned the rest of the equity as a pitchman. If we keep the assumption that Mint is worth at least half of the $1.35B deal, then Reynolds' stake from the T-Mobile deal is $169m. Add it all up and he notched a 17x return after four years of pitchmann-ing. Not bad!
Reynolds famously ran this playbook with Aviation Gin. He took a minority stake in 2018 and became the pitchman for the alcoholic beverage. Two years later, Diaego bought Aviation Gin for $610m. As he told an ad conference last year: “I used some of that sweet Deadpool money to buy Aviation Gin, and I needed to market that. Inadvertently, we became a marketing company and we were having the time of our lives.”
And don’t forget, Reynolds bought a lower-tier Welsh Football team called Wrexham FC and is in the running to purchase the NHL’s Ottawa Senators. His media magic will work wonders for both. In sum: the Vancouver legend has cracked the playbook for turning celebrity into equity.
GPT-4 has arrived…and it is nuts. OpenAI — the AI research organization — released the latest large language model (LLM). It’s nuts. You should read the release blog but I’ll flag two things: 1) GPT-4 is able to handle 25,000 words in a single prompt query; and 2) it is multi-modal, meaning GPT-4 can take text or an image as input and give text as output (eg. look at how GPT-4 explains why the meme below is funny).
Here are some other baller links:
GPT-4 use cases: My mini-explainer can’t do GPT-4 justice...I have to "show, don’t tell" you...so check these 10+ examples of GPT-4 in action (Twitter Thread)
Wanna try GPT-4? My AI-powered research app Bearly AI just integrated GPT-4 and you can give it a whirl. (Bearly AI)
Netflix is dominating sports…without owning any live-sports rights. How? It keeps cranking out amazing docu-series like Drive To Survive (F1), Full Swing (golf), Break Point (tennis) and an upcoming show called Quarterbacks which mic’d up NFL superstar Patrick Mahomes for an entire season. (Joe Pompliano’s Huddle Up)
Singapore Airlines spends $500m a year on food for its flights. That’s good for 50,000 in-flight meals per day, which is a fascinating cooking operation. (YouTube)
What technology is GPT-4 comparable to? Nathan at Divinations shows the parallels between large language models (LLMs) and CPUs, as a way to see which businesses will benefit most from this AI wave. (Every)
Taylor Swift: Rex Woodbury breaks down the business genius of Taylor Swift and how you can apply the lessons to your startup. (Digital Native)
A sneaky smart ad campaign: A DTC cereal brand called Surreal found people with famous names (Serena Williams, Michael Jordan) and paid them to say they “love” the product, resulting in ads with copy like “Michael Jordan loves Surreal”. (Twitter)
…and here some fire tweets:
Massive shoutout to Vietnamese actor Ke Huy Quan — aka Short Round from Indiana Jones — for winning Best Supporting Actor for his role in “Everything Everywhere All at Once”:
Last week, I wrote about the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) bank run. Ultimately, the FDIC/Fed/Treasury protected SVB depositors.
However, the past week has seen contagion spread across global banks. TLDR: the world’s biggest banks hold long-dated bonds that — if sold today — would result in $600B+ of losses due to the rapidly rising interest rate environment.
Credit Suisse was just saved by Switzerland’s Central Bank (which provided $50B+ of support) and First Republic Bank in the US was backstopped by the country’s biggest banks ($30B+ of support). The Fed may inject another $2 trillion to stabilize the banking sector.
Loved the Ted Lasso breakdown. Attention to detail in storytelling (visual or writing or non-verbal acting and all that) is such a fun topic to learn about.
Kind of like the color themes on Breaking Bad, or the themes of human civilization emergence on Deadwood, or the per-episode themes on Mad Men. Love trying to understand how the machine works, even if you can also just watch it and have a good experience without going deeper.
Great article, so many “lessons” to take away, thank you.