Calling for Laughter

Oct 27, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Don’t bother to tell the creators of Comedy Central’s “Reno 911!,” the wacky cops-and-perps sendup heavy on trailer park trash and precinct love affairs, that its unscripted format has whiffs of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
“Neither Ben nor I have cable TV-we only watch things you get with an antenna,” said Thomas Lennon, who serves not only as the series’ creator and executive producer but also as one of its stars. Robert Ben Garant and Kerri Kenney also wear the same three hats. Mr. Lennon, who plays Lt. Jim Dangle, prefers to see the show as “equal parts `Cops’ and `Knots Landing.”’
The threesome’s unique brand of comedy grew out of their New York University comedy group, The State. A three-season run of a similarly titled MTV sketch show ensued, followed by Comedy Central’s “Viva Variety,” a variety show spoof.
“Three seasons of that was plenty,” said Mr. Garant, who plays Deputy Travis Junior. “We were ready to move on, and so was America.”
They moved on by making several pilots for Fox, including an early version of “Reno 911!” originally conceived as a live cops sketch show. “There was absolute silence,” Mr. Lennon said of the two years the show sat on the shelf. “The fact is our sensibility never meshed with them.”
At Comedy Central, the creators found like-minded executives in Lauren Corrao, senior VP of original programming and head of development, who developed “The State” at MTV, and Jim Sharp, VP of original programming and development, who produced “The State” and “Viva Variety.” “They knew MTV had sold a lot of Sprite during our time period,” Mr. Garant said.
“They were absolutely people we wanted to be in business with,” said Ms. Corrao, who ordered a new pilot with less sketch sensibility and more character development of the seven featured cops. After the pilot was well-received both internally and in tests, the network picked up an additional 12 episodes and premiered the pilot in July. The last show aired Oct. 20 and the series repeats through December, with the second season debuting in the second quarter of 2004.
Currently Comedy Central’s third-highest-rated show after “South Park” and “Chappelle’s Show,” “Reno” was watched by an average of 1.57 million people, with an average 1.2 rating among viewers 18 to 49, representing a 40 percent increase over the same time period last year.
Reno 911!
Network: Comedy Central
Premiere date: July 23, 2003
Production company: Jersey Television
Time slot: Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. (ET), repeating at 12:30 a.m., Friday at 1 a.m. and Saturday at 9:30 p.m. Last original episode aired Oct. 20. After that, repeats will air through December on Monday at 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
Cast: Cedric Yarbrough, Niecy Nash, Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon, Carlos Alazraqui, Wendy McLendon-Covey and Kerri Kenney
Credits: John Landgraf, Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant and Kerri Kenney, executive producers; Mr. Lennon, Mr. Garant and Ms. Kenney, creators; Michael Patrick Jann, director