Exclusive interview with Sam Llyod and Philip McNiven of ‘Scrubs,’ ‘The Blanks’
Below is my interview with Sam Llyod and Philip McNiven. Sam played the sweaty lawyer without a backbone on the sitcom “Scrubs,” while Philip was seen as part of Ted’s a capella group called “The Worthless Peons.”
But “The Worthless Peons” are not just a band constructed for the camera. In real life, Sam and Phil are part of an actual a capella group called “The Blanks.” In this interview, Sam and Phil discuss their time on “Scrubs” as well as what you can expect to see from “The Blanks” when they come to a theater near you.
While J.D, Carla, and The Janitor are no longer featured on the sitcom “Scrubs,” it seems that the insecure, self-deprecating Ted Buckland has landed on his feat just fine. And so have his friends.
Known as both “Ted’s Band” and “The Worthless Peons” on “Scrubs,” the foursome who sang popular TV theme songs on-camera are indeed a legitimate band off-camera. Calling themselves “The Blanks,” Sam Lloyd (Ted Buckland), Philip McNiven, George Miserlis and Paul F. Perry are a light-hearted, hard-working group of guys who travel the country singing a cappella while keeping audiences laughing with their quick wit.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Sam and Philip, who opened up about their time on “Scrubs,” how they became an a cappella group, how their live show resembles a popular James Cameron flick, and what can be expected at their upcoming live show this Friday at The Wilbur Theatre in Boston.
MICHAEL LANGSTON MOORE: How did The Blanks come together and how did the group’s name originate?
Philip: Well, I came up with the name because my name is Phil and [the group name] was originally “Phil in The Blanks.” I came up with the entire concept of not just The Blanks but also Sam’s career and Sam being on “Scrubs.” And, truth be told, the entire concept of “Scrubs” itself. My middle name is “Scrubby,” so therefore I figured I’d give [“Scrubs" producer] Bill Lawrence the title.
Sam: I made the mistake of letting Phil take that question. I apologize.
George, Paul and I were out here [in Los Angeles]. George met Paul at Second City out here when they were in LA. That’s how we met Philip. George had a lead on a possible cruise ship job, and to us young lads at the time, we thought there would be nothing better than to have a gig on a cruise ship.
Philip: Sail the seven seas.
Sam: That’s right. And after I got onto “Scrubs” and sang at the “Scrubs” Christmas party, they said ‘That’s the most ridiculous thing I ever saw–we’re going to put it onto the show.’
With The Blanks being an a cappella group, what can the audience get out of seeing you live in person that they couldn’t get listening to your album?
Sam: Well, you can just ask everyone if they’ve seen “Avatar.” If they have, then they’ve got a great idea of what the show’s all about.
Philip: It’s a lot like “Avatar” in many ways.
Sam: It’s in 3D.
Philip: It’s absolutely in 3D!
Sam: [Laughs] Well, when we put the show together, we thought ‘How do we make this entertaining?’
Philip: We serve a lot of alcohol.
Sam: A lot of alcohol! We do all the songs from “Scrubs,” and a bunch more. But [the show] also has got a lot of comedy. It’s a little Marx Brothers meets Monty Python meet The Three Stooges. It’s pretty wacky. The music runs the gamut from famous operettas to TV theme songs to a pumpkin singing lead on a song.
As for the comedic bits in your show, are they freestyle or rehearsed? And is any news from current events thrown into the routine?
Philip: I’m thinking that if we say everything is super-rehearsed, but it appears to all be ad-libbed, that’s the most close to the truth.
Sam: The show actually has a plot. I don’t want to give anything away, but major things happen during the show.
Do you ever encounter fans of “Scrubs” who are surprised to learn that The Worthless Peons are a real-life group called The Blanks?
Sam: Yes, all the time. People are usually shocked in fact.
Philip: We once had a [fan of “Scrubs”] on the plane, and we were all sitting in the same row. The fan did a double take and went ‘Wait a minute. Did this happen by accident or did you mean to fly together?’
Sam: That’s true. We then proceeded to rehearse the show next to him. He had so much fun that he brought his parents to the show.
It’s usually a shock. A lot of people don’t think we’re singing [on “Scrubs”], they think we’re lip-synching. I get people who come up to me and say, ‘Okay man, I need you to settle a bet. Is that you singing or somebody else?‘ His girlfriend has insisted that we were dubbed, so when we say we were [actually singing on the show], he leaped off the bar and ran to his girlfriend and said, ‘In your face!’ They never talked to each other again.
Philip: The deal was that you got to take her home and she lost the bet.
Sam: That’s right. So everyone was happy.
Philip: Not her.
Sam, how did you go about landing the role of Ted Buckland on “Scrubs?”
Sam: Basically, my agent sent me in on it. I walked in the door and they said, “My God this guy is pathetic.” And I had the job. I didn’t even have to open my mouth.
That’s the short story but the long story is that I actually had worked with Bill Lawrence a few times over the years. He wrote the part in mind for me, which is also kind of sad as well. I’m actually kind of lucky because if it had really been an open call, Philip would’ve gotten the role.
Philip: I’m actually a much more classically trained, and I have to say proficient actor than Sam.
Sam: I was actually just thinking more along the pathetic lines.
Philip, you’ve also done some acting, as you’ve been in “CSI” and “News Radio” among other shows.
Philip: At one point I was Professor Wonder Bread. I was king of all American white breads.
Sam: All hail the king.
Philip: Yep. I was in many, many households as housewives made their kids healthy sandwiches with Bologna and processed cheese.
Basically, it was either hitch my wagon to Sam’s rising star or try to have my own career. I took the easy way out and thought I’d ride his coattails.
While The Blanks are an a cappella group, have you ever considered using instruments during your on stage performances?
Philip: What do you play, Mike?
MLM: I don’t play anything, but I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there who do.
Philip. Oh. I thought you were offering.
Sam: [Laughs] Actually, when we started out, we were not a cappella. We had piano accompaniment. We basically started singing a cappella because we didn’t want to pay for somebody or try to get another person in to rehearse because getting four people together was tough enough. So we kind of did it out of necessity.
When we do our shows, we do a couple numbers with a ukelele. We do the version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that we did on “Scrubs” for that one episode. And then we have this unbelievable rock medley that we do with a ukelele. You wouldn’t think that a ukelele would lend itself to a rock medley, but man!
Philip: Does it ever!
Sam: We just rip it down!
Philip: We’re trying to give a cappella a little more of a bad boy image. It’s been a little too lilly and pristine.
Can you talk about how you worked with Bill Lawrence to incorporate The Worthless Peons’ singing scenes into the show?
Sam: Yeah, sure. Usually what happens is that they write a draft of the script and they [writers and producers] might have an idea for the theme. With the episode “My Way Home,” it was kind of nice because we knew what they were thinking. Often, they will say, ‘Okay guys, we’re gonna do a show with some cartoon themes next week, but we don’t know which show we’re going to do until the [music] rights get cleared.’ And that doesn’t usually happen until Friday and we start shooting on Monday.
Very often Paul, who arranges all of our stuff, will be up literally all night making an arrangement. When he finishes it, he would call each of our phones and either leave our parts on the answering machine or voicemail. Then, I’ll pull up my little mini recorder to the phone and record it, rehearse it. And then we get together, usually the next day or night, and try to learn it and sing it all together. And then we have to do it on Monday. So, that’s often what the process is like. It can be a little crazy.
Usually the most input we would have is they’d say, ‘Okay, we’re doing TV theme songs. What was your favorite theme song? What would you like to do?’ And we would put in our two cents. That’s how we ended up doing the “Six Million Dollar Man” theme and a couple other things. Usually it’s decided by the theme and writing of the show, but the details aren’t filled in until just before we start shooting.
Phil, you talked about the image of a cappella being rather “lilly.” Because of that, have The Blanks ever encountered a situation where you’ve been heckled on stage?
Sam: Do you know how cool a cappella is when it’s sung by four middle-aged guys? People are so happy to see us! We never get any heckling. We get cheers. We get ‘Will you marry me?’
Philip: We get underwear thrown on the stage in front of us.
Sam: That’s right. Underwear wrapped around hotel keys! That’s the life we lead, man!
Philip: Admittingly, they’re like men’s large and not that clean.
We did once get into a brawl with Rockapella. We were walking down the street and they were there and there was almost an “a cappella-off.” But that was about the only time that we had a brush with violence.
What kind of music do you guys like to listen to? What inspires you?
Sam: We’re basically all music fans.
Philip: Yeah, we love all sorts of music. Especially the Boston music.
Sam: Yeah, Boston music. Oh man! Boston music is great. Of course, that’s the theme of our show…Boston.
Philip: Can’t wait to get that chowder!
If the show “Scrubs” became a more “Ted-centric” show, what kind of fantasies do you think Ted would have?
Sam: Oh, well, there would be plenty of fantasies. Mostly about Ted and Carla. Ted and Elliot. And, Ted and Carla and Elliot.
And Nurse Aloma [Wright, who played Nurse Laverne Roberts]. But, mostly Ted and Carla and Elliot.
I might get tired after two seasons of that, but I don’t think so. I don’t know if the Peons would be around much, but probably the same amount as they were on the show.
Philip: We’d be around you all the time, but we’d be really hot chicks!
Sam: Yeah, in my fantasies, you guys would turn into Carla and Elliot. Philip would be Carla and George and Paul would be two Elliot’s. See, we just got three more seasons out of [“Scrubs”]!
What are the ultimate goals for The Blanks as a musical group?
Sam: I think we know what we’re really hoping happens, and it’s something that brought us together to begin with. We want to get on a cruise ship.
Philip: A cruise ship! Now you’re talking!
Sam: It couldn’t get any better than that. That’s the life for us.
What kind of advice would you give to people trying to break into either the music or television industry?
Sam: First have a group. Then get on a TV show. Then bring your group onto the TV show. And the rest takes care of itself. That’s all you have to do.
Really, there’s no secret. If it’s something you have to do, you do it. And if you keep at it, you’ll probably get there.
Philip: I’ll be honest, when I was in high school, I really wanted to go to Harvard. The reason was that I wanted to sing in those Harvard glee clubs–I thought that was the best. I applied and they rejected me. But I still have that dream of singing. I really am trying to pursue what I like to do.
Sam: Then you became bitter and it became a vendetta.
There is no secret. It’s just dedication and [receiving] some breaks. That’s really it.
Philip: And you don’t have to go to Harvard to do what we do.
Sam: You show ‘em, Philip. Now we’ve lost the whole Harvard audience!
For anyone who’s interested in seeing The Blanks perform on February 12th at The Wilbur Theatre in Boston, are tickets still available?
Sam: I would think there were tickets available. Run out and get them. It’s gonna be a lot of fun. Our show is ridiculous, but it’s very entertaining. Even though it’s a little late, the kids will get a kick out of it as well. It’s a gas. Run out and get tickets. We’ll be there.
**I originally interviewed Sam and Phil in February of 2010 for my Boston TV Examiner column**
© 2010, Michael Langston Moore. All rights reserved.
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