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How ‘Ted Lasso’ went from a viral NBC Sports promo to everyone’s feel-good favorite to Emmy darling

Jason Sudeikis accepts the award for outstanding lead actor in a comedy series for “Ted Lasso” during the Emmys on Sept. 19. (Television Academy/AP) (AP)
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“Ted Lasso,” the beloved Apple TV Plus series about a plucky American football coach tapped to helm a different kind of football team across the pond, had a championship showing at the Emmy Awards on Sunday night. The show’s freshman season won several major awards including best comedy series and best lead comedy actor, which went to star Jason Sudeikis.

“Ted Lasso” was nominated for a whopping 20 awards going into Sunday night’s ceremony but didn’t pull off the historic sweep that found “Schitt’s Creek” winning all seven major on-air comedy awards at last year’s Emmys. (The Television Academy also really liked “Hacks,” the critically acclaimed HBO series starring Jean Smart. It was Smart who took home the Emmy for best actress in a comedy, and “Hacks” also picked up this year’s comedy writing and directing awards.) But Hannah Waddingham, who plays the owner of the team Lasso takes on, won best supporting actress in a comedy, and Brett Goldstein, who plays potty-mouthed footballer Roy Kent, won the trophy for best supporting actor.

The accolades are fitting for “Ted Lasso,” itself an underdog of sorts, having become a fan (and critic) favorite after debuting to little fanfare on Apple TV Plus last year. The series arrived on the platform seven years after Sudeikis first debuted the character — in a series of NBC Sports promos.

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Here’s everything you need to know about “Ted Lasso’s” journey to becoming an Emmy darling.

‘An American coach in London’

In 2013, NBC Sports tapped Sudeikis, fresh off a 10-year run on “Saturday Night Live,” to help the network promote its stateside coverage of England’s Premier League. The concept revolved around an American football coach hired to run an elite soccer, er, football team despite not knowing the basic rules of the game.

“Football is football no matter where you play it,” Sudeikis said in a news conference scene in the promo, which the New York Times noted had “been viewed nearly three million times on YouTube” ahead of the network’s coverage debut. That was around the same time that Eli and Peyton Manning garnered “two million views within 24 hours,” as reported by the Wall Street Journal, for an American football-themed rap video.

A year later, Lasso was out of a job — at least in the Premier League — as NBC Sports rolled out a promo featuring the charming coach recounting his experience in London and sharing footage of his new gig: the St. Catherine’s Fighting Owls (“Whooo? The fighting owls”), an all-girl Little League team.

‘Ted Lasso,’ the TV show

Sudeikis teamed up with “Scrubs” creator Bill Lawrence to create “Ted Lasso” the series, which landed on Apple TV Plus nine months after the streaming service’s debut and — eventually — became the platform’s first real hit. In the series, Lasso coaches a team called AFC Richmond but his knowledge of soccer is as limited as it was in those NBC promos. At a news conference in the series pilot, Lasso mistakenly refers to the game’s “quarters” before a journalist reminds him that there are halves in soccer.

The show found early fans through the same type of word-of-mouth-following “Schitt’s Creek” enjoyed in its early Pop TV days, but it wasn’t until this year that the series lost its underdog status. The sweet show’s profile only grew amid widespread isolation and grief during the pandemic, and Sudeikis took home the best actor trophy at the Golden Globes in March. (And as it turns out, soccer players like the show, too.) Now in its second season, “Ted Lasso” has already been renewed for a third.

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The 2021 Primetime Emmy Awards were held on Sept. 19 in Los Angeles. Shows like "Ted Lasso" and "The Crown" were among the night's biggest winners. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

The nicest comedy

If you’ve heard nothing else about Ted Lasso, you’ve heard that he is super nice. Critics have both praised and debated the show’s earnest brand of humor, but there’s no denying its influence: The show won a Peabody Award last year for “offering the perfect counter to the enduring prevalence of toxic masculinity, both on-screen and off, in a moment when the nation truly needs inspiring models of kindness.”

And yes, he really is that nice — at least according to Lawrence.

“Ted Lasso is one of those people that we’ve all met that, because of the time we live in, your initial reaction is that there’s no way this guy or girl is this sincere and this optimistic, this nice of a human being,” Lawrence told TV Insider last year. “And then you start to be mad at yourself because as he or she grows on you, and you realize ‘Oh my gosh, this is real.’ ”

‘Ted Lasso’ at the Emmys

While Ted Lasso didn’t triumph in all of the comedy categories, its record-breaking number of nominations led to several first-time wins — including Sudeikis’s — continuing the underdog theme. “Jason, you changed my life with this,” Waddingham told the actor during her acceptance speech, which also featured a plea for more of her fellow West End musical theater colleagues to get on-screen roles. Goldstein, another first-time winner who competed against three of his co-stars in the supporting actor category, channeled his character and cursed up a storm despite a reported directive to avoid swearing.

The complete list of 2021 Emmy Award winners

When the show’s best comedy win was announced, Lawrence and Sudeikis took the stage with an elated cast and crew. “The biggest thank you from this group is to the people who watch,” Lawrence said.

All told, “Ted Lasso” took home seven Emmys, including three awarded at the Creative Arts Emmys last weekend. But as the character’s verified Twitter account reminded us Sunday, there are more important things than trophies. “Winning is fun,” the AFC Richmond coach tweeted, “but if you find a family along the way, you can’t lose.”


An earlier version of this article misstated how many of Brett Goldstein's "Ted Lasso" co-stars were nominated for the supporting-actor Emmy. This version has been corrected.

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