IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant Talk 'Reno 911!: The Complete Series' DVD and the Future of the Franchise

Monday, 24 November 2014 12:33 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant Talk 'Reno 911!: The Complete Series' DVD and the Future of the Franchise

Finally available on DVD beginning November 7th is Reno 911!: The Complete Series, which has become one of the most popular shows in Comedy Central history. 

Viva Variety and The State alumni Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, the duo that also wrote Night at the Museum and directed Hell Baby, created the popular comedy series. Originally conceived as a satire of Cops, Reno 911! ran for six seasons on Comedy Central from 2003-2009 and also spawned the popular film Reno 911!: Miami. In addition to starring Lennon as Lieutenant James “Jim” Ronald Dangle, and Garant as Deputy Travis Junior, the series also featured Kerri Kenney-Silver (All About Steve) as Deputy Trudy Wiegel, Cedric Yarbrough (Get Smart) as Deputy Sergeant Class II Sven Jones, Carlos Alazraqui (Justice League: Doom) as Deputy Sergeant Class III James Oswaldo Garcia, Wendi McLendon-Covey (Bridesmaids) as Deputy Sergeant Class I Clementine “Clemmy” Johnson, Niecy Nash (The Proposal) as Deputy Raineesha Williams, Mary Birdsong (The Descendants) as Deputy Cherisha Kimball, Ian Roberts (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) as Sergeant Jack Declan, and Joe Lo Truglio (Superbad) as Deputy Frank Salvatore Rizzo. 

I recently had the absolute pleasure of speaking with the hilarious Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant about Reno 911!: The Complete Series DVD and the future of the franchise. The two actors/series creators discussed their new DVD set, the origins of the series, developing the characters, the success of the show, DVD extras, and possibly returning for a Reno 911! Comedy Central Christmas special.

Here is what Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant had to say about Reno 911!: The Complete Series DVD and the future of the franchise:

IAR: To begin with, Thomas I’ve heard you describe the creation of Reno 911! as “coming out of desperation” when you were working on another pilot. Can you talk about that and the birth of the popular series?

Thomas Lennon: Oh, we so painted ourselves into a corner. We did a couple of pilots that all failed. Then we were doing a sketch show for Fox, and we had cast Niecy (Nash), Cedric (Yarbrough), Carlos (Alazraqui), Wendi (McLendon-Covey) and all these people. We wrote like 90 sketches and honed it down to the best 12 or 13. Then we did a table read for Fox. They were like, “That is all funny, but you know what? We are going to cancel your show right now.” So we had broken new territory by getting cancelled at the table read, which was pretty amazing.

Robert Ben Garant: We had spent a lot of our funding. We rented a stage, and they had started construction. We had $300,000 left of $700,000. So we could quit or we could try to think of an idea we could shoot for $300,000.

Lennon: I guess it is the classic “when life gives you lemons” scenario. Over the weekend, we were kind of just looking at the Fox lineup. Our original spot for the sketch show would have been right after Cops. We thought, fuck it. What if we just did a sketch show that literally is Cops?

Garant: It would be a companion piece.

Lennon: In the original, I clarified that it really was a sketch show. We played all of the cops and all of the criminals, so it was truly like Little Britain. Everybody character was one of us, which was very trippy and not a good idea.

Garant: It was very distracting.

Lennon: It was cool, but it was very BBC. It was very strange.

Garant: Fox hated it. The younger executives loved it, and the executives in charge hated it. So they put it on a shelf, and it sat there for three years. We are buddies with Jim Sharp at Comedy Central. He produced The State back in the day. We were having drinks with him, and he said, “Hey, do you guys have a show that is cheap and that fits Comedy Central’s budget?” We gave him that tape of the Fox pilot and showed him how cheap it was. It was great.

Lennon: As we developed it, we stopped playing al of the characters. Although there are a couple of cases where we do still play the criminals. There were a couple of characters that we always kept playing. At the time we were not sure, but their instinct was to make it realer. So having us play everybody was a little distracting and you did not need it. The show is good enough without that element, and they were right so that went away. It really was also very interesting because we tested it with Fox and Comedy Central in front of audiences, and audiences really liked the soap opera aspect of it, which we had not really counted on. People wanted to know where these characters were going to go and if they were going to get back together or not. That lasted us for years. People really liked that stuff and it was a new thing for us that we really enjoyed. 

Did you two create the characters and then cast the actors to play them, or cast the actors you wanted first and then let them develop their characters?

Lennon: We literally gave the actors nametags. There was no discussion about who anybody was going to be. In the two days we had to prep the pilot, we just picked a bunch of names that would look good on nametags.

Garant: Garcia and Jones.

Lennon: Yeah, and we had no other real interest other than that. We sat down with people, put them on camera and said, what is your name?

Garant: If you want a lesson on how under thinking things really works and may be better than development, we were shooting and it was not even the first day. We realized that we needed some sort of interstitials to get you from one scene to the next scene. We thought, well in Cops they just drive around with the cops, and the cops talk about being cops. So we put all seven cast members in the car with a camera and asked them, “What is your name? How old are you? How long have you been a cop? What did you like about Dangle? What did you like about Wiegel? How you do feel about Jones?” They did not know we were going to do that, so they answered those questions off the top of their heads and those characters stuck for six years. The whole thing about Garcia having a crush on Raineesha, and Jones being a racist all came pretty spontaneously out of the cast on the second and third day of shooting. It totally worked I guess because everybody was just playing it straight.

Have you been surprised by the success and the cult status the show has achieved, and how do you feel about the overwhelming support you’ve received from your fans?

Lennon: It is nice. Even this last month, so many people sent me pictures of their Dangle Halloween costumes. I think the reason why this show is so loved is that it is loved by hardcore stoners and by law enforcement. Most cops really love Reno 911! I think the reason simply is because we are being sincere. No matter what we are doing in the show, no matter how stupid it is, no matter how egregiously farfetched the scenarios are, we are sincere. Even if we are licking cocaine off each other’s faces, or sitting in a police car doing whip-its, I think the thing that gave us staying power is that we were very sincere.

Garant: The characters are not really trying to be funny. The characters are really just trying to get home alive and get laid. I think there is something about that is very relatable about that.

Lennon: Yeah, it is very relatable.

Garant: We had done a couple of really far out pilots before Reno 911!, but this was actually not far out. This is our sensibility, which is sometimes really stupid stuff and sometimes really smart stuff all mixed together. We thought this was a pretty broad concept. You do not have to have watched a whole bunch of BBC to understand what we were doing. I think we had a weird sense while we were doing it that this might resonate with more people than our previous projects did.

Can you talk about the extras that are included on the Reno 911!: The Complete Series DVD collection? Are there deleted scenes included and do you guys do commentary on any of the episodes?

Lennon: Oh my God. There is a lot of stuff. Yeah, there are two different kinds of commentaries. There is the commentary by us, the actors, the writers and creators, and there are also a couple of episodes of commentary by the characters, which is worth the price of admission alone. 

Garant: What is great is that we really do not do outtakes per say because nobody ever really breaks character, but you get to see some of our full takes. There is a full 29-minute scene of Tom and I picking up guns off the highway from a toy donation box accidentally left on the side of the road. So you get to see the full 29-minute process we do. I think that fans are going to love it. I think everybody is going to think it is really cool just to see it. “Wow, they just act like they are doing their job and they do it for a full half hour!” It is all pretty funny. Some of the long takes to me are much funnier.

Lennon: We would do scenes where the camera is in the main room and people could just come and go. Basically we were doing a play. 

Finally, are there plans to do another movie or a revival TV series, or have we seen the end of the Reno 911! franchise?

Lennon: I have heard of a possible Comedy Central Christmas special. I would be very surprised if at some point we do not do something, without saying too much.

Reno 911!: The Complete Series will be available on DVD beginning November 7th. 

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