TV Junkie Interview: Paul Scheer - 'NTSF:SD:SUV::' Premieres Tonight
Paul Scheer has been a regular on TV since he appeared in "Upright Citizens Brigade" back in the late 1990s before scoring his first series "Human Giant" on MTV a few years ago. While we love seeing him pop up as a guest star on every show from "Reno 911" to "Parks and Recreation" we were very pleased to see him land the part of André on FX's "The League" which returns this October 6th. He even popped up in last week's ESPYs awards show as 1/2 of the "Vancouver make-out couple" in a parody of the lovers' inappropriate amorous displays in public settings, whether during a riot or at the Nokia Theatre.In addition to acting, Scheer has been an active writer and producer and has created his own show, "NTSF:SD:SUV::," which will premiere on Adult Swim tonight at 12:15am, right after "Childrens Hospital." "National Terrorism Strike Force: San Diego: Sport Utility Vehicle::" takes on the cadre of pseudo-action-investigation-cop-shows that dominate your TV dial and it's absolutely hilarious. Scheer has been unleashed - feel him.
Thomas Attila Lewis: I'm a big fan of yours since I first saw your series "Human Giant." You are a very busy man! Let's talk about your newest project, "NTSF:SD:SUV::." Do you have a shorthand way of saying that?
Paul Scheer: [Laughs] I think the shortest way we'd say it is "NTSF" but it already is an abbreviation.
TAL: You could further abbreviate it to "NSS"?
Paul Scheer: [Laughs] I see what you're saying. The thing about it is that when I came up with the name for it, we were laughing, and everyone liked the name, but when my Mom saw it she said "What is this show that you are on?" But I think this is a benefit of the show, because, I know it has a lot of initials, but I just don't know what they are. I feel like we won, like we've won in some way, it's memorable in that it's hard to remember.
TAL: You have the instant laugh in that TV has evolved to the point that we have a bunch of acronym shows, and that this is a reflection of the culture, somehow we know what all these abbreviations are and what they are about.
Paul Scheer: That's the basis of the joke. There's an "NCIS: LA" and I don't even know what this is and I've watched the shows. Is it a Naval investigative team? But it's a cop show, what does the Navy have to do with it? You had "JAG" which was an acronym, which spun off into "NCIS," and then there's an "NCIS: LA"? Wow! I've always been a fan of "24" and while I was doing research for this I was blown away - we had to work so hard to make our show big enough, crazy enough! There's a "CSI: Miami" where they solve a murder in space, literally on a spaceship - that's crazy! We have an episode where I get into a zero-gravity fight with the President of Mexico and I didn't think that was too far-fetched, I feel like it could have been an episode of "CSI."
TAL: It's getting so bizarre that you wonder where the franchises could go - and then on top of it you have everyone trying to do the "ripped from the headlines" type thing on top of it.
Paul Scheer: Yes! Hey, did you know that Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed a two-part episode of "CSI"? I never realized this until I went deeper and deeper into this rabbit-hole, and I'm a huge Quentin Tarantino fan. This was a piece of him that went missing in my knowledge of him - it's crazy, it's all Quentin Tarantino dialogue, it's the best episode of "CSI" ever, and of course, it's a crazy episode where this guy gets trapped in a coffin for the majority of the story. It's very much like that movie Trapped with Ryan Reynolds.
TAL: That's so weird. What's also weird is that Ted Danson is coming in? He could do whatever he wants, he could float on "Cheers" syndication $ forever.
Paul Scheer: Yes! Ted Danson, and he's on a very hip show, "Bored To Death" is very good for him.
TAL: That and his role as Frobisher on "Damages"!
Paul Scheer: Yeah, yeah - I forgot about that! He's so good.
TAL: Is it really all about the money?
Paul Scheer: My guess is the money is good but there's nothing in there for him in terms of the acting. Laurence Fishburne is getting out because he was asking himself why he was doing that. There's not much there, not much depth, not much character stuff. I don't want to trash William Petersen, maybe I'm missing something.
TAL: Tell us about your "NTSF" character Trent Hauser! When I saw the first still from the show I didn't recognize you.
Paul Scheer: I have hair!
TAL: [Laughs] Yes, it's the hair, but also the expression on your face, this leather jacket, and how you're turned away from the camera. It's crazy.
Paul Scheer: I had the most surreal experience, it sounds so dumb to say it. I was driving down Sunset, and there's this big billboard of the show on Sunset. I started laughing, "Holy shit! That actually looks like a real show!" It's like me with that stupid hair and the cityscape behind me, it looks like I'm holding a gun but it's really my hand in the shape of a gun and it says "Bang! Bang! You're dead." I had seen it small on computers but when it's all huge, you think "Oh yeah, that's a new show."
To me, the whole Trent thing came across because, as I said I was a huge fan of "24," I loved that show and I love action stuff in general - Fast Five, Bad Boys, the kind of stuff I grew up on. I thought I'd never have the chance to have fun as one of those regular guys [adopts scared voice] "Hey guys! We're getting shot at!" Like Joe Pesci next to Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon. I saw what Rob Corddry was doing on "Childrens Hospital" and how he was able to do what he wanted.
I had wanted to do this show, I was going to call it "55" so that the total time would have been an hour and that crazy concept morphed because we saw that the world of "CSI" and "NCIS" hadn't been tapped yet. Right now, I love "Hawaii Five-O" because it's a combination of "Magnum PI" and "24" - they're out there surfing and then all of a sudden they're sticking their finger in some guy's bullet wound and yelling "C'mon, tell us!" So as I got to watch more of these I knew I had to broaden it out, it couldn't just be "24." The Trent Hauser character is: if Jack Bauer and David Caruso had a baby while Michael Bay was in the corner, watching it, perhaps touching himself, that's how he would come about.
TAL: I was a big fan of "24," it really was the best of that genre in this last decade.
Paul Scheer: You know, "24" had its missteps - everyone would agree one was when he was addicted to heroin for half a season.... which is half a day! The good thing about this show, at least in writing it, there's so much for us to draw on - there's so much stuff. This season Trent fights a dolphin, he's in a zero-gravity fight with the President of Mexico, my ex-wife comes back but she's had a sex change to a man, a lot of stuff is happening.
TAL: You've lined up some amazing people to do this with you. Kate Mulgrew? You've got Captain Janeway!
Paul: That was inspired casting and I'm saying that because it was not my idea. My wife [June Diane Raphael], who's also on the show, played the part in the trailer, with an eye patch on. Adult Swim thought that we needed an older, more distinguished actress for that and I agreed 100% - I would rather have had June do something more akin to what Piper Perabo does or Sydney Bristow. So we started writing the character more and she just kept getting crazier and crazier and we didn't know who could pull this off, we had zero names. One of the EPs on the show, Curtis Gwinn, said Kate Mulgrew - and the whole room was like "Yup! That's it!"
TAL: So you somehow got her, you got Rebecca Romijn - wow!
Paul Scheer: She's great, she's so funny. I did this movie Piranha with Jerry O'Connell and we became close friends and he's married to Rebecca. I think Jerry's a superfunny guy and she... is just amazingly funny. I was nervous to ask her but she jumped in and she's hilariously funny. We're so lucky. I had never met her, and she's obviously a gorgeous, supermodel, actress, and you have in your mind that she would be a certain way, and then I met her and she's got this great sense of humor and ability and I don't think people even know this about her. She's really great in the show.
TAL: You said that "Hawaii Five-O" was a current favorite of yours, there's something about the cinematography or something on that show that makes it look real compared to what we see on the acronym shows.
Paul Scheer: I agree with you, there's something about it, perhaps because they do a lot of outside location shots. The other shows look like they're living in a weird kind of reality.
TAL: They feel like they're all shot on the old "La Femme Nikita" series sets. With the lighting and the feeling that they're just rearranging walls and putting another colored light on it, like red to show it dangerous.
Paul Scheer: [Laughs] Yeah, with our show we tried everything we could do to get as many weird lights into places. Our budget kind of constricted that a certain points but our set designer, when I was showing him the things that were inspiring me, he started laughing and said "Where are all these fucking lights coming from?" You don't even realize it, we're in the lab and there's this wall of red light behind us, "Where is that coming from?" Or even in the "Hawaii Five-O" headquarters, he thought it was hilarious that there was this lone pipe just in the center of the room, it has no function, it just looks rad. Or how in "CSI: Miami" there's more lens flare in that show than has ever been on television, it's crazy.
TAL: It's so fake, people don't get dirty, or if they go into a garage, there's no oil stains on the ground.
Paul Scheer: It's this bizarre sanitized world.
TAL: So your show is playing off of this a bit?
Paul Scheer: We tried our hardest with our budget to mimic it as best as we can. Unfortunately, as we figured out very quickly, we discovered to get that sanitized not-lived in look, you have to spend a lot o money. You would be amazed at how many lights you need to make things look as bad as they do. To make things look that fake, you have to try very hard.
TAL: It's also great to see this on Adult Swim, you're involved in a lot of things there - you're a contributor on "Childrens Hospital" in many ways. There's a model happening there that is exciting and innovative - is that because of how Adult Swim is run, or is it this group you are involved with?
Paul Scheer: Adult Swim is very supportive of us, we don't have these layers of executives passing us notes. They also did something very smart, they saw the scene happening in LA and New York and suggested that we work together to make stuff for them. I know one or two people on every Adult Swim show which is crazy, but they've been really great about trusting people and letting them create their own vision.
TAL: It also seems like they're willing to give things a chance, allowing shows to build an audience, unlike broadcast networks, who seem to pull shows if they're not a hit by the second episode.
Paul Scheer: Network is scary to me - you don't have much of a shot. I would never want to be judged on my pilot, for anything. When I was writing a pilot for HBO I watched a lot of pilots, and with the exception of Arrested Development" and "Cheers," not many pilots have it together in their first episode. A lot of these shows are getting judged on their first one.
That's the benefit of working in cable: they've invested money in you and they will see out the order. For our show we bypassed even having to shoot a pilot, we just jumped right into production in the Winter and wrote out 12 episodes to discover what the show was and then revised those. It was kind of like British television, we could see the whole show represented over 12 episodes and you can make choices based on that.
TAL: And you can operate without the fear of your work not getting aired. Plus you know how successful Adult Swim is, so you know people will see it.
Paul Scheer: Adult Swim's demographic is giant - they're getting ratings similar to shows like "Mad Men." When we went to the upfronts they put up numbers showing that their shows are the number one cable network show on certain days of the week and that's with their shows starting at midnight.
TAL: You've got a lot of things going on - you have "NTSF" and "Childrens" on Adult Swim, you are incredibly funny on "The League" on FX, and you've got your "How Did This Get Made?" podcast, and these are just the things I know about.
Paul Scheer: Oh thanks, yeah, I'm very fortunate to also be working on another great network, FX, on such a great show - we start shooting next week!
TAL: I have to admit I was a little worried this last December and January if "The League" was coming back.
Paul Scheer: I guess it was contract negotiations? I know that "The League" has a lot of fans at FX and that it was coming back, but the contracts had to be renewed and that took more time than they thought it would.
TAL: And these shows you're working on have attracted such talented people, multi-Emmy winners like Megan Mullally, Henry Winkler -
Paul Scheer: -And on "NTSF" we've got some amazing guests: Jeff Goldblum! And also Adam Scott, J.K. Simmons, and personally, my favorite, Martin Kove, the bad guy from Karate Kid, and Julian Sands from Room With a View and Warlock! It's an exiting place to be over at Adult Swim. Hopefully we'll keep the quality level up there on that network and keep creating more.
Paul Scheer's new show "NTSF:SD:SUV::" premieres tonight on Adult Swim at 12:15am right after "Childrens Hospital." You will also be able to see Scheer in FX's "The League" this Fall when it premieres on October 6th and we highly recommend Scheer's podcast "How Did This Get Made?" which dissects (vivisects) movies a few times a month.