Exclusive Details on Thomas Lennon’s New Sci-Fi Improv Show ALABAMA; Says it’s “Reno 911! Meets Battlestar Galactica”

     August 8, 2010

A few days ago we reported FX had ordered a part-scripted/part-improvised science fiction comedy pilot called Alabama from Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant, the screenwriters and creators behind Reno 911! The synopsis was:

“Set a thousand years in the future, the show follows the crew of the space ship USS Alabama as they continue a seven-year mission to maintain interplanetary peace.”

Since the idea sounded awesome, I decided to do a little more digging and managed to land an exclusive interview with Thomas Lennon. During the interview he revealed:

  • They only have an order for the pilot
  • Call it “Reno 911! meets Battlestar Galactica.” In their mind it’s not really a Star Trek parody
  • They’re shooting the pilot either end of September-beginning of October and they want it to feel like Das Boot.
  • He said he thinks Natasha Leggero will be on it and a lot of Reno 911! regulars. He also said “I wouldn’t be surprised if the series has a few people from The State.”
  • There is a major also overarching plot to the entire series and there’s two twists in the series that have sort of already been designed. Also, they know how it ends no matter how long the series goes.
  • “There may be some characters on the show who are puppets. There will certainly be some characters on the show who are cyborgs. So it’s just Reno 911! with a much larger buffet of problems to choose from.”
  • Regarding costumes: “No one’s ever going to be in like sort of clean like Starfleet looking stuff. The show is way more like Moss Eisley Spaceport style than like Episodes 1,2, 3.”

So much more after the jump:

When I asked him if the show was more human drama or sci-fi, he said:

We’re still kind of figuring the show out. The only thing we know is that technically no one on the ship is supposed to have sex with each other for the entire 7 years of the mission, but male and female…everyone on the ship showers together. So it leads to lots and lots of sexual tension basically.

And regarding some ideas for future episodes:

“the crew of our ship is being put on trial for war crimes against this alien race and we get beamed down to their planet and then we find out that these aliens to us look like puppets like Elmo. They’re unbelievably cute but they’re charging us with war crimes and eventually we’ll have to kill them all and blow them up and escape. So it’s Reno 911! with occasionally like we pass through a nebula that causes everyone on the ship to hear each other’s thoughts.  Sometimes we run into ourselves as babies and then we have to keep the baby version of ourself alive so the future version of us can be there at the time.  You know, sci-fi problems. Reno 911!/sci-fi problems on a very, very sweaty, sweaty, clunky spaceship.”

Here’s everything we talked about regarding Alabama.  After talking to Lennon about the show, I really hope the shows works out as it sounds like it could be a lot of fun.  And if you missed the part of the interview where Lennon talked about how A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas 3D is going and who he plays, click here.

Collider: The other day something came out on FX or the President of FX made some announcement which we covered that you guys have a TV show that’s coming together?

Thomas Lennon:  Yes. We’re doing the…it’s basically the Reno 911! version…it’s Reno 911! meets Battlestar Galactica.

I heard the announcement and I heard the concept and I was….it sounded like just a great idea.

Lennon:  It’s really simple.  I mean basically the idea is Reno 911!, an improvised show except there’s a bunch of people who are working on a spaceship that’s been out in space for almost 7 years.  So you know we basically wanted to take the feel and it’s not…you know people keep saying it’s a Star Trek parody. In our mind it’s not really a Star Trek parody in any way. The Sunny in Philadelphia guys kind of already did one of those called Boldly Going Nowhere, which was very funny. This is more of an improvised kind of gritty, you know, the look and feel as if you’re watching people who are in the actual Navy. We’re going to shoot it on an old Russian submarine I think. And we want it to basically feel like “Das Boot”.  Like we’re on a ship that’s constantly leaking and everybody’s sweaty in tank tops. We’re still kind of figuring the show out. The only thing we know is that technically no one on the ship is supposed to have sex with each other for the entire 7 years of the mission, but male and female…everyone on the ship showers together. So it leads to lots and lots of sexual tension basically.

So do you have a plan of when you’re going to be shooting the pilot?

Lennon:  Probably shoot either end of September-beginning of October something like that. Relatively soon now that we’re into August, so pretty soon.

So who is doing the show with you?

Lennon:  You know the cast has not really been finalized. It’s a little early for me to say. I can say that there’s people that we’d like to work with. I think it’s very likely that Natasha Leggero who’s hilarious will do the show with us. Me, Ben Grant. We’re out to some great improv people.  I’m sure that the series will be populated with a lot of Reno 911! regulars. I wouldn’t be surprised if the series has a few people from The State. We like working with the same people over and over.  We’re more interested in who’s great at improvising and being hilarious than like ever casting famous people.

So you guys got an order for a pilot and…or did you get an order for more than that?

Lennon:  As of right now it’s just an order for a pilot. It is, right now, one very special episode.

And I guess so how much is…I mean obviously when….there’s a lot of sci-fi fans out there, myself included, how much are you sort of going to play the sci-fi angle in this or is more like you know human drama….you know what I mean?

Lennon:  You know..yeah absolutely. That’s a very good question. And I think it’s absolutely a mix. I think there is a good percentage of the show that is the relationships between the officers and the enlisted crew on the ship. And then I think, you know, in the same way that on Reno 911! there was always….you know the episode had a plot. Every episode will have at least one or two sci-fi plots.  There’s a thought of doing an episode where we’re being put up on…the crew of our ship is being put on trial for war crimes against this alien race. And we get beamed down to their planet and then we find out that these aliens to us look basically like puppets like Elmo. They’re unbelievably cute but they’re charging us with war crimes and eventually we’ll have to kill them all and blow them up and escape. So it’s Reno 911! with occasionally like we pass through a nebula that causes everyone on the ship to hear each other’s thoughts.  Sometimes we run into ourselves as babies and then we have to keep the baby version of ourself alive so the future version of us can be there at the time.  You know, sci-fi problems. Reno 911!/sci-fi problems on a very, very sweaty, sweaty, clunky spaceship.

Well, how much did you look at and how much can you take what’s been done on say Star Trek? They’ve done at least 300 episodes. How much can you look at what’s been done on Star Trek and just be like yeah, great idea. We’re going to make fun of it.

Lennon:  Yeah, here’s our thing is like we’re not really like spoofy guys. Like we’ve never really done like a spoof of anything. And this show, again in our minds is not a spoof. I think this show will be…I think people in Europe who don’t speak English very well will see this show and think it’s a kind of sexy sci-fi thriller. I think people in America who can hear us talking and hearing the unbelievably stupid things that we’re saying to each other will realize it’s a comedy.  But to us it’s not really a spoof, it’s just an improvised show in the form of….in the genre of a kind of show that we ourselves would watch a lot, which is you know a great sci-fi show.

What year do you envision this actually taking place?

Lennon:  We basically have been setting the show in our minds 1000 years in the future from now. To us it’s pretty important that it’s not the near future. I mean we want it to be where many, many galaxies of the universe have been explored. And there’s tons of planets to go to and we’re not really meeting any of these planets for the first time. Basically our agenda as the Alabama is only to enforce treaties that have already been established between all these…all these planets in our quadrant. So really we’re not really discovering places, we’re just going back and enforcing already established treaties.

I was going to say with Battlestar Galactica, with all sci-fi shows even with most TV shows there’s always the…every TV show has a beginning. Are you thinking about thinking about doing anything special because, you know, it’s a sci-fi version?

Lennon:  Yeah, there is a major also overarching plot to the entire series which I don’t if I should give too much away because it is sort of an interesting twist at one point. There’s 2 twists in the series that have sort of already been designed that we know…we actually know how it ends no matter how long the series goes.  We do know what the ending is—right now, so it would be ill advised for me to probably say what that is. I think it will be very fun as it is for viewers.

When did you guys actually come up with the idea for this thing?

Lennon:  You know we have been, you know for the past year or 10 months at least or so we were working for NBC on a totally fruitless endeavor which was we did a…for some reason last year NBC ordered 5 multi-camera sitcoms. And we were one of them. Even though it was basically just sort of an experiment to see would they pick up any multi-camera sitcoms, and weirdly the process was great. They were super nice the whole way along, everybody loved the show, loved the show, loved the show. We shot the show. We edited the show. Turned the show in. Great. Everybody loves it, and then we never heard from them again—ever. So at some point during, I think, that process when Ben and I were sitting there on the stage for The Strip, which was the show we did, it actually turned out pretty funny and lots of funny people were in it. But at some point we were sitting there and we were once again overwhelmed with the idea that I think ultimately we’re not network TV guys. It’s not our sense of humor. It’s not our tone. I think we’re a little darker and cultier than that. And eventually we just started talking about like what would our dream show be? And where would we do it? And of course the first place we thought of was FX and we’d do it for John Landgraf because we’d worked for him for years on Reno and he’s one of the smartest guys we know. And we just started thinking about well, we love the improvise format at Reno, how can you explode that universe a little bit to make it like….what would make that a more interesting fun thing to do? And then as soon as you take us into space in the distant future, a million more rules get invented that you get to play with in improvisation.  Like there may be some characters on the show who are puppets. There will certainly be some characters on the show who are cyborgs. So it’s just Reno 911 with a much larger buffet of problems to choose from.

When you’re talking about cyborgs and you’re talking about sci-fi settings, you’re talking about a little bit more money, you know? Having to work with that…

Lennon:  Yeah, we’re actually shooting it for not that much more money. The concept honestly and it’s going to require certainly some production design but the concept is to shoot as little on sets as possible. Building the fewest amount of sets that we have to build and using real things in a creative way. Like in a weird way like the way they did Holy Grail where they didn’t spend a ton of money on it but they were really, really creative with the way they would do things. I think this show will be much more about creative production design than really expensive production design just because I know how much we’re spending and it’s not that much.  I do think the outfits will be pretty cool though.

I actually hadn’t gotten to that yet—the costumes.

Lennon:  Well, I think there’s going to be a couple different kinds of costumes because there’s a couple different kinds of characters. So there’s….but it will look….no one’s ever going to be in like sort of clean like Starfleet looking stuff. The show is way more like Moss Eisley Spaceport style than like Episodes 1,2, 3. I think nerds will understand that reference by what I mean which is…yeah.

Yeah, I get that reference. Believe me.

Lennon:  Yup.

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