The CBS action-comedy series Rush Hour is a re-imagining of the hit feature film franchise, and it follows maverick LAPD Detective Carter (Justin Hires) and by-the-book Detective Lee (Jon Foo), who he’s forced to partner with. Straight from Hong Kong, Lee is a reserved, honorable master martial artist who is in Los Angeles to avenge his sister’s alleged death, and the only way to get to the bottom of things is to find a way to work with a wisecracking cop who plays by his own rules.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, executive producer Steve Franks (Psych) talked about how he got involved with Rush Hour, what appealed to him about the project, the biggest challenge in taking this franchise from big screen to TV, finding the comedy in action without it getting too silly, getting to shoot in Los Angeles for Los Angeles, and not wanting to serialize the story too much. He also talked about the pilot he worked on about the life of Rivers Cuomo from Weezer, called DeTour, and why that didn’t go forward, as well as what it’s like to be the showrunner of a TV series.
Collider: When the idea of turning Rush Hour into a TV show was presented to you, what was your reaction?
STEVE FRANKS: Bill Lawrence and Blake McCormick had done the pilot. I had come off of Psych, and I had just done this pilot based on the life of Rivers Cuomo from Weezer, which was a very, very different thing. And then, literally the last day, they said, “Bill Lawrence wants to meet you.” I was like, “Why does he want to meet with me?” They said, “We’re doing Rush Hour as a show.” And I was like, “That is a difficulty nine on the scale. That’s incredibly challenging.” So, I read the script and really liked it, and then I watched the pilot, which ended up being quite different from what was actually shot. But I loved the spirit of what they were doing and the opportunity to do action, and there was the fact that they were going to shoot it in Los Angeles. There were so many great things, on top of the fact that I was a huge fan, like so many people, of the Rush Hour movies, and I just wanted to play in the same space as these guys. I was like, “I want to meet Brett Ratner! Let’s do this thing!” It was a challenging call, at the beginning. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to bring anything to it, but I found my little niche within all of these other voices. Arthur Sarkissian, a producer on the movies, is also involved, and Brett Ratner is involved, along with Bill Lawrence and Blake McCormick being involved. There’s a whole sea of voices and people who have a lot of ideas.
What were the challenges unique to bringing this much-loved movie franchise to TV?
FRANKS: The greatest challenge of this is that Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan are so iconic, and there is no other Chris Tucker or Jackie Chan. So, if you try to just completely straight-up replicate that, you’re guaranteed to fail. The idea was to find somebody who had their own unique, different thing, but that gives you the same spirit of the fish-out-of-water thing. It’s two guys who come from different sides of the equation when it comes from law enforcement, but together they complete a perfect cop. And you have the fun of the culture clash and these two different personalities, helping each other as often as possible.
In the pilot, a lot of the comedy comes from the action. What are the challenges of finding the funny in the action?
FRANKS: CBS doesn’t often do this kind of thing. They know who they are, as a network. They’ve been really great to work with because there’s never any identity crisis with CBS. They’re always very into the crime-solving of it. They don’t want it to be too ridiculously silly, but they also don’t want it to be too dark, so you’re threading a needle. You want these action sequences to be fun. We try to do fights that are fun, exciting and that take advantage of the amazing physical talents of Jon Foo, and yet they have some levity to them without being too silly or as silly as we secretly hope that we can get away with in Season 2.
When it comes to the action, are you surprised by how much you’ve been able to get away with, or have you had to make adjustments more than you expected to?
FRANKS: I think we walk that line. We’ve made a handful of adjustments, just so that everybody can be on the same page and be happy, and we also have made a lot of adjustments based on budget. We think like movie producers, but we have to be budget conscious like television producers. The great thing that’s happened is that Jon, who comes from the Jackie Chan of martial artists, has these incredible abilities that it’s so often him [doing the stunts]. All the limitations that we might be given are opened up by the fact that Jon can and will do anything. He’s so completely comfortable standing on the ledge of a building because, to him, it’s the same as standing on the ground. None of that stuff phases him. There have been a lot of adjustments and sometimes it’s limiting, but with Jon, it’s completely liberating because we have so many opportunities to try something. We’ll write something that’s challenging, and then Jon will come in and say, “Well, what if I did this instead?,” which makes it twice as hard and twice as exciting on screen. He really helps us make everything a little bigger.
The biggest hurdle to get Rush Hour right is finding the right actors for these two lead roles and making sure their chemistry is right. Did you have a moment, in watching them work together, where there was a collective sigh of relief that you had the right actors in those roles?
FRANKS: Yeah. A first-year show is always about finding what works and what doesn’t, and you adjust. We’re doing 13 episodes this year, and it clicked in the middle of those episodes. The pilot was fantastic. They had a lot of time and a lot of budget to do all of the things they wanted to, and they had Jon Turteltaub, who is spectacular as a director. It was like, “They’re too agitated with each other,” or “They’re too nice to each other,” so it was about finding those levels. As they became more comfortable with each other, it became a lot easier to write it and to produce it. They really hit their stride right in the middle, and I think that’s on par with any television series.
With Psych, you had a lot of success with a racially diverse buddy comedy series that had action sequences and also broke a lot of storytelling conventions. How much did your experience with that show inform what you wanted to do with this show? Were there things you wanted to bring over from that, and were there things you wanted to make sure you stepped away from?
FRANKS: Yeah. It’s funny, I think that’s why they came after me. With Psych, we were able to get away with so much. To me, that show was about pushing the boundaries of what we could get away with, in every season. What prepared me for this show was an episode I did, called “Romeo and Juliet and Juliet,” which was our martial arts episode, and I watched Rush Hour on a loop in the office, as I was writing that episode. With Psych, we had six hours to do an entire action sequence. With this show, we can build a day or longer around a giant sequence. We were always trying to sneak the action in on Psych. With this, we’ve got it front and center. Ultimately, I would like to push the boundaries a little bit more. That’s where everybody starts to have fun. With this, there are so many things that came before, with the three movies, before we can start breaking down the walls, but I would ultimately like to get there.
After spending so many seasons shooting Vancouver for Santa Barbara on Psych, is it nice to actually be shooting in Los Angeles for Los Angeles?
FRANKS: It’s extraordinary. The great thing that happened with my Weezer pilot that never made it to the air was that I got to shoot in Los Angeles, so I got a taste of it. But, that was Los Angeles for some other place that was unnamed. This is Los Angeles for Los Angeles. The first thing I did, on the first day of the writers’ room, was to get up in front of everybody and say, “Let’s start listing places we’ve always wanted to shoot at, and not necessarily just the Hollywood sign or Grauman’s Chinese.” It was about well known and not so well known places that we’ve always wanted to shoot, and we got to go to so many of them, by the end of the season. We started with a list of 40 or 50 places that we wanted to go, and that made it fun. We wanted to craft an episode around the abandoned zoo at Griffith Park, so we did, and it was so much fun to go there. We also came up with an episode that takes place in Chinatown, so we were able to go to Chinatown and do research. We could go see what we were writing about, and we never had to hide the giant mountains and trees of Vancouver. It was just really fun and an opportunity to shoot Los Angeles as Los Angeles.
How are you approaching the series beyond the pilot? Are you looking to do season-long or multi-episode arcs, or are you doing a different case, every week?
FRANKS: We don’t want to serialize it too much, but we have a nice story about Lee’s sister, so that has to be addressed. So, that plays in the storyline. That becomes the arc of the season, but it’s not each episode. It’s not like, if you miss the last one, you’re not going to understand what’s going on. They’re self-contained with a mini-arc involved with it. I think that’s fun. There should be something that you’re working to, at the end of each season, but we’re not going to be Scandal, every week.
Just out of curiosity, how did you end up making a show based on the life of Rivers Cuomo of Weezer?
FRANKS: I thought, “This is never going to get on the air.” It was with Fox, and it was so different than anything that they did, but we weren’t actually out of the running until the very end. During one of the last weeks of Psych, my manager was going to see Weezer and I told him that I’m a huge fan of that band. So, we ended up going to the show, we went backstage, and we met Rivers. He’s such an interesting character. And then, a member of my management team was having lunch with his manager and they started talking about how, at the end of the first album, Rivers went and enrolled himself at Harvard and lived in the dorms. I was like, “That’s a TV show.” We got together and I instantly thought, “This is a character I’ve never seen on TV, and this is a show I’ve never seen on TV before.” I love music, and I love writing about music. It was such a perfect opportunity to write a show about the process.
As the showrunner of a TV series, you’re responsible for everyone and everything, and you’re ultimately the one who gets the credit or the blame for the finished product. What do you remember about the first day that you walked onto the set, as a showrunner? Was it more daunting than you’d ever imagined, or did you immediately know it’s what you were meant to do?
FRANKS: The first day on Psych was terrifying because I’d created the show. The first day on Rush Hour, there was Bill Lawrence and Blake McCormick. In a way, I was just one of many voices. It was a lot less scary that way because it was all of these people working together to foster this production. That has its drawbacks, too, because there are a lot of voices to satisfy, but it’s a nice group of people and I’m charmed and entertained by all of them. It’s a fun place to work.
Rush Hour airs on Thursday nights on CBS.