Radio & TV Talk

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A few minutes with Zach Braff ('Scrubs' and new 'Alex, Inc.')

Posted Saturday, February 3, 2018 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Zach Braff knows how to bring the awkward in a purely funny way. It's how he helped turn the medical comedy "Scrubs" into a hit despite umpteenth schedule changes.

After an eight-year break, he's now back as a regular on network TV, bringing the awkward funny to ABC's "Alex, Inc.," a family comedy that fits in well with "Black-ish," "Fresh Off the Boat," "The Goldberts," "The Middle" and "Modern Family."

He came to Atlanta this weekend to receive a Spotlight Award from SCAD's aTVFest and promote his new show, which debuts Wednesday, March 28 after "The Goldbergs."

Braff's newest sitcom is based on Alex Blumberg's podcast "Start Up." Alex Schuman (Braff) plays a successful New York based radio journalist who decides to ditch his career and start his own podcast. He isn't sure exactly what subject to address so he goes meta and decided to chronicle his own struggles as an entrepreneur on his podcast.

"He knows nothing about starting a business," Braff said. "You can insert any business or idea or aspiration. We'll see his fumbling and his successes and failures."

Braff doesn't deny the fumbling, bumbling aspect of his acting that charms audiences. In terms of awkward, "I think I am in real life. It's method acting!... What makes me laugh is putting myself in situations where I'm in over my head."

"Alex, Inc." is "not as silly as 'Scrubs,' " he noted. "We don't have crazy, surreal fantasies. It's just now I have two kids." It also isn't as risqué as "Scrubs." But physical humor? Sure. "The occasional person will get hit in the head with something," he said. "I'm a sucker for person's getting hit in the head."

As a mid-season replacement, "Alex Inc" only gets ten episodes. But Braff is fine with that. He was so deeply involved in the show as lead actor, creator and for four episodes, director, that ten was more than enough. He and co-creator Matt Tarses (also of "Scrubs') had to scramble to ensure everything went smoothly, juggling writing, shooting and post-production multiple episodes at the same time.

"It was the hardest thing I've ever done," Braff admits. "I never felt so exhausted on set before."

While fictional, they use some actual touchstones from Blumberg's life. For example, Blumberg one time pitched potential billionaire investor Chris Sacca so poorly, Sacca had to offer him his own version of the same pitch in far more coherent fashion. So Braff convinced Sacca to play himself and essentially re-enact the scene.

Blumberg also has a mixed-race relationship. (His wife is Persian.) Braff recruited Tiya Sircar, who is very funny in notable roles in "Master of None" and "The Good Place."  Her character is supportive of his new venture - to a point.

And she's skeptical when he brings in his broke second cousin Eddie, played by Michael Imperioli ("The Sopranos"), as a business partner.

"He's the ultimate straight man," Braff said. I'm the goof. Hes' very funny."

The TV world has changed since "Scrubs" debuted nearly 17 years ago. Syndication is no longer king. Shows live on in other ways. For a time, "Scrubs," for instance, was on Netflix. And overnight ratings are only semi-meaningful given DVRs and on-demand streaming options. Plus, a medium hit like "Scrubs" drew bigger audiences than virtually anything that airs today.

So whether "Alex, Inc." succeeds will largely fall on whether families who enjoy ABC comedies will latch on to his show as well.

Oh, and Zach, I hope you got your award back!

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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.