Show & Tell

What you can learn from the first 157 seconds of Ted Lasso's opening episode

Hey — Nathan here. You’ve heard the advice “Show, don’t tell.”

But it likely came with examples like: “She was sad” → “She frowned”

Not exactly helpful. So when the legend Trung Phan wrote about how Ted Lasso’s first 157 seconds nailed the technique, I reached out about a guest post.

Today’s storytelling tip — show, don’t tell. From Trung’s great SatPost newsletter, which I highly recommend.

Animated Divider

If you want to see great character writing, rewatch the pilot episode of Ted Lasso (the show’s first episode). It’s 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 is a riff on this quote from Russian playwright Anton Chekhov:

“Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

From the get-go, the Ted Lasso writing team employs the classic storytelling technique "show, don't tell." It happens in 6 quick frames:

1 - We first see Lasso at the 3:51 mark of the pilot. When we do, it’s a still photo of him featured on ESPN's SportsCenter 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.

SVP and Ted

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."

Ted dancing

3 - Next, we meet Lasso in real life on an airplane. The 1st test of his character is someone interrupting him while he’s reading. The POV is of his book being obstructed. Think about how pissed you'd be. But 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.

Ted with fan

4 - The Us-ie guy quickly puts Lasso to his 2nd test. How? By telling Lasso that he’s nuts for taking the European football coaching job. Lasso takes the trolling in stride.

Lasso passes the 2nd test.

Ted with fan two

5 - The next interaction Lasso has is with his assistant, Coach Beard. It's a friendly, inside-jokey conversation that’s capped off by an exploding fist-pound. Lasso is officially the chillest dude ever.

Ted with Beard

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!

Ted and family

With so much Hollywood content, a TV pilot has to quickly capture the viewers’ attention. Ted Lasso's writers make the main character very likable in only 157 seconds.

Interestingly, Jason 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.”

If you like this, check out Trung’s newsletter. It’s one of my favorites.



Animated Divider

Two “Show, Don’t Tell” Tips


Avoid “thought” verbs

In 2013, Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk wrote an explainer of 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.”


Use dialogue

Dialogue forces action. Usually between two people (unless they like to talk to themselves). Check out this short exchange in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch:

“Yes, but Sascha thinks he used the picture to clear a debt.”

“So the guy has ties there?”

“I find this difficult to believe.”

“What, about the ties?”

“No, about the debt. This guy — he looks like he was stealing hubcaps off the street six months ago.”

Five lines show you so much:

  • The two speakers had a misunderstanding (“What, about the ties?”)

  • One of the speakers disagrees with Sascha’s theory

  • The guy they’re talking about is an outsider

Without the writer having to explicitly tell you any of that.

PS: “Show, don’t tell” is the reason so many landing pages have 100s of testimonials. Social proof is a great way to “show.” It’s basically past users speaking to you.

Animated Divider

Three Resources and Ideas for Storytelling and Creativity

📜 Fighting Entropy: “We call these tools that bridge this gap between reality and understanding ‘stories.’ The word ‘story’ has a negative connotation. According to, its synonyms include ‘fiction,’ ‘tale,’ ‘fabrication,’ and ‘untruth. But stories, fictions, and tales reveal far more about human nature than basic ‘facts.’ Stories are our best, and possibly only means of understanding ourselves.”

📹 Get Out of the Box & Generate Ideas: Creative thinking means finding many alternatives and picking the best answer, not finding the already thought of right answer. And, if your environment punishes creativity, you’ll never find it. So create an environment that rewards it.

⚒️ 8 ways to fix your video setup: I’m terrified of being on video. Also, I’m starting on Youtube in the next few weeks. Those things don’t mix. I’ve been referring to this thread constantly to get my setup right.

Animated Divider

A message from... Me!

The interest in this tweet blew me away...

In my experience, there are two ways to get good at storytelling:

  1. Study the greats (what this newsletter is for)

  2. Practice, practice, practice

I do a lot of practice through StoryWork.

And so many of you liked, commented, and sent me DMs about the practice I decided to turn it into a guided course for you.

Check it out:

Animated Divider

When you’re ready to go deeper, here are two ways I can help:

  • For a practical way to improve your writing in less than 25 minutes a day, check out StoryWork (110+ students).

  • To sponsor the newsletter, reply to this email for details.

I’m currently reading A Swim in a Pond in the Rain. What about you?