How to Make Your Audience Love a Character in 157 Seconds
Want to write a memorable character your audience will love? Just take a look at Ted Lasso.
We all know that choosing to watch a new TV show is a bit of a risk.
Will it be worth the time invested? What if the characters are awful? What if it all goes down the tubes after three episodes?
All valid concerns.
The TV writer’s job is to introduce skeptical audiences to a whole new world full of interesting characters. Each and every pilot episode has a nearly insurmountable number of challenges to overcome — establish the world, introduce the major and minor characters, set up the plot and conflict, convey theme, and so on and so on.
The pilot of Ted Lasso tackled this Herculean task with ease, as fan Trung Phan pointed out in a Twitter thread that details exactly how the writers make viewers love the main character in less than three minutes.
Phan’s breakdown of how audiences first meet the charming Coach Lasso is spot on, highlighting how, with just a handful of storytelling concepts, the writers make us love Ted in 157 seconds flat.
1/ Ted Lasso is amazing.
I re-watched the pilot episode w/ my Hollywood screenwriter friend.
He explained to me frame-by-frame how quickly the writers make us love Lasso...
...incredibly, it only takes 157 seconds.
Thread 👇👇👇 pic.twitter.com/ZWmpKAV0vS
— Trung Phan 🇨🇦 (@TrungTPhan) December 3, 2020
First, let’s consider how we initially see Coach Ted Lasso — not in person, but in a giant smiling headshot during a SportsCenter segment. As Scott Van Pelt details Ted’s move across the pond, it’s basically impossible to look at anything except Ted’s giant smiling face. And it’s delightful. We like him before we’ve even seen him in person.
During the same segment, we see Ted dancing with his players in a locker room. It’s silly and joyful and makes us giggle because we already love this guy who isn’t afraid to break it down and look ridiculous.
The headshot and dance serve as our first impression of Ted, even if it is a secondhand first impression. By introducing Ted to the audience in this way, the writers are able to build Ted’s character before he even appears on-screen. If other people in the world of the show think highly of a character (and it’s clear — Ted’s players LOVE him), the audience is more likely to feel the same.
Show, Don't Tell
But audiences don’t want to be told how amazing a character is for too long, they have to see it for themselves. This is where the age-old storytelling adage “show, don’t tell” comes into play.
At this point, viewers have seen about 45 seconds of Ted Lasso, but not in the flesh. We think he’s a cool guy, but we’re not 100 percent sure yet. So when he and his mustache finally appear in full glory, it’s crucial that Ted’s actions show that he’s just as amazing as we think he is.
We meet the real Ted Lasso on an airplane — not just on an airplane, but as he’s leaving an airplane bathroom. I don’t know how airplane bathrooms make you feel, but Ted looks totally unaffected by whatever he just experienced inside that cramped hellscape.
He makes his way back to his seat and is about to dig back into his Jack Kerouac book when someone recognizes him and wants a selfie. Instead of being annoyed, Ted hams it up for the photo. Then, after chatting with his assistant coach, Ted settles in and checks his phone, fondly smiling at the photo of his wife and son on the screen.
Writers build obstacles for characters to overcome, but we also (either knowingly or unconsciously) create tests for characters to pass or fail. Every situation, dilemma, or choice a character is faced with is a test of character, showing audiences what kind of person the character truly is.
In Ted Lasso’s case, we want him to pass with flying colors.
If he denied the excited fan a selfie, we’d think twice. If he was a jerk when that same guy said he was nuts for taking this coaching job, we’d definitely second-guess our opinion about him.
But Ted passes every test he’s given in this scene, even choosing to make a joke and lighten the mood when his chat with Coach Beard could have gone much differently. “But hey, taking on challenges is a lot like riding a horse. If you’re comfortable while you’re doing it, you’re probably doing it wrong.”
And There's More
After just 157 seconds, we officially love Coach Ted Lasso.
But first impressions aren’t enough. If we love Ted after our first three minutes with him, we have to love him in the next three episodes too. The Ted Lasso writers again — to use a sports reference not at all in line with the show’s story — knock it out of the park.
In the next few episodes, Ted shows what a genuinely good person he is over and over again. He carries his own bags instead of letting a chauffeur take them, drinks tea even though it tastes like brown water, eats Indian food even though it burns his mouth, makes a point to learn people’s first names, and gives hand-picked novels to his players. And I haven’t even mentioned the biscuits yet!
Ted Lasso’s not the only character who gets this type of incredible less-than-three-minutes-and-you’re-in-love introduction.
Think about Captain Jack Sparrow, first seen in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies in a 72-second scene in which he sails into Port Royal with way too much confidence for a man whose boat literally sinks as he steps onto the dock. How can you not like him after that?
Consider how hard it is to dislike Jane Villanueva upon learning that “grilled cheese sandwiches” round out the list of her three greatest passions, or how quickly you love Jessica Day, Coach Taylor, Leslie Knope, or Olivia Pope.
People watch television for the characters. And while making audiences love a brand new character is no easy task, if you can pull it off, you’ll end up with a slew of devoted viewers who will stick with your show until the very end.
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Britton Perelman is a writer and storyteller based in Los Angeles, California. When not buried in a book or failing spectacularly at cooking herself a meal, she’s probably talking someone’s ear off about the last thing she watched. She loves vintage typewriters, the Cincinnati Reds, and her dog, Indy. Find more of her work on her website, or follow her on Instagram.
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