NEW YORK — IFC’s returning comedy series Documentary Now! has three built-in promotional assets in executive producers (and Saturday Night Live alumni) Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Seth Meyers. They made the rounds ahead of the show’s Sept. 14 season-two premiere at an IFC event, on Meyers’s own Late Night on NBC and at a 92d Street Y panel session hosted by The Hollywood Reporter chief creative officer Janice Min.
The most fun is watching and hearing Hader crack himself up, or tell back stories about cracking up with Armisen during SNL sketches like mock soap opera The Californians. But Min also got them to dish about how they chose the famous documentaries they parody in the series.
Season one saw send-ups of Grey Gardens, Nanook of the North and The Thin Blue Line, among others. The first two episodes of season two are homages to The War Room (The Bunker) and Jiro Dreams of Sushi (Juan Likes Rice & Chicken). A later episode this season will parody the Talking Heads movie Stop Making Sense. Armisen and Hader’s faux Talking Heads band, Test Pattern, did a song on Late Night on Tuesday.
Armisen told Min that he, Hader and Meyers will get in a room and talk about lots of different docs, narrowing the choices down to “ones that will actually make the most sense to shoot.” They look for a variety of styles and for ones that have great parts for Armisen and Hader to play, Meyers said.
What about documentaries they won’t touch? “Stuff like The Jinx and all that,” Armisen said of the HBO docuseries about Robert Durst. “Anything that’s too long a story,” Meyers said.
“Staircase we tried to think of, and that didn’t really work,” Hader said of the 2004 murder-trial docuseries that aired on SundanceTV. Others to be avoided are ones that already have a lot of comedy in them, like Morgan Spurlock or Michael Moore docs.
“And then there are obviously lots of documentaries about things that are way too dark,” Meyers said. For instance, Ken Burns’s Holocaust documentary Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War, which Min said was being shown in another room at the Y; Burns met the Documentary Now! EPs in the green room. “We probably won’t have a take on that,” Meyers said.
When Min pointed out the potential challenge of building a series around a lightly viewed category of entertainment — Hader called that a testament to IFC — Meyers said actually it’s a great time to do a documentary show. There are more documentaries than ever before and they’re on outlets like Netflix and ESPN. “That O.J. Simpson documentary was like one of the best things I’ve ever seen,” Hader said of ESPN’s “30 for 30” opus O.J. Simpson: Made in America.
The trio seem to still be shocked that Helen Mirren agreed to do the introductions to each episode of the series. “And then we just thought, oh she won’t do season two,” Meyers said. Surprise, she agreed immediately. Of course, “we had to pay her a lot more.”
Documentary Now! is on IFC on Wednesday nights at 10 o’clock.
What’s in a Name? How NCTA’s New Brand Came to Be
NCTA-The Internet & Television Association president Michael Powell explained to Multichannel News back in 2014 how the brandwagon for his group’s new moniker started rolling at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. That was when the trade group rolled out INTX, the updated name for the former Cable Show.
“My staff will tell you I don’t have any trouble drawing up what I like,” Powell said. “I started using a terminology and logo in my slides and in my email, I invented my own signature block that was different from the standard one, and my staff got all nervous because they were like: ‘You’re running around and using a brand that doesn’t exist; we could be infringing somebody’s copyright.’
“Unbeknownst to me, nobody had told me, but the lawyers quietly went away and said: ‘Our crazy boss might show up one day and say this is our new brand. We’d better go copyright and trademark this.’ And so they did. I went downstairs and said: ‘You trademarked that?’ They said: ‘Yeah, we decided we’d better take control of it.’ And when you have a trademark, you have a duty to exercise a trademark. So on my desk are markups of some my new stationery that has it on it. I don’t know — I like it.
Powell also called cable “a cool little moniker” but one that “doesn’t always distinguish between the industry and the association. “Sometimes we want to say, ‘this is NCTA talking, this is the association’s brand.’ ”
So, even with a new name, it will still be “NCTA” talking.
— John Eggerton
Big-Screen Moments Offer Inspiration For Ames, ‘Blunt Talk’
Blunt Talk, the Starz comedy series featuring Patrick Stewart as idealistic British broadcaster Walter Blunt and his U.S. news program, is returning soon for a second season.
Creator and showrunner Jonathan Ames also does “inside the episode” commentaries for Starz, where he often points out film allusions. Season one saw homages to Laurel and Hardy’s The Music Box and to Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces in the same episode, both involving a piano. Blunt’s show airs on fictional UBS, a nod to Network. Ames also has mentioned Pink Panther and Busby Berkeley references and the hoarder look of Joe Franklin’s office in The Aristocrats.
“Throughout, I’m always lifting things or being inspired by things and trying to recreate them in my own odd way,” Ames, a novelist who also created HBO’s Bored to Death, told The Wire.
Keeping things spoiler-free, viewers might like to know that early episodes of season two have cinematic references to Dr. Zhivago; to French films Boy Meets Girl and Beau Travail; and to Chinatown.
California’s drought and water use are important themes this season. “We’re behind the news cycle: we film the show in February and then come out in the fall,” Ames said, “so I can’t be current with the news per se. But the environment and our crisis with the environment is ongoing.”
Ames also said Blunt Talk is a lot more than the brilliant star Stewart. “The whole cast is just such a fantastic ensemble and every character really gets a strong storyline, usually having to do with affairs of the heart. There’s just a lot of romance and romantic intrigue and vulnerability.
“I think if the viewers enjoy the characters, they’ll enjoy them even more this season,” the showrunner said. “Everybody gets to shine.”
Blunt Talk returns Sunday, Oct. 2, at 8:35 p.m. ET/PT.
— Kent Gibbons
Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Nexttv.com. Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.
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