From executive producers Denis Leary and Bob Fisher, Sirens (premiering on USA Network on March 11th) is an edgy but heartfelt comedy that follows the lives of three Chicago EMTs. They are rock stars, professionally, but they are a hot mess, personally. The show stars Michael Mosley, Kevin Daniels, Kevin Bigley and Jessica McNamee.
During the USA Network portion of the TCA Press Tour, Denis Leary talked about the experience of developing the first original comedy series for the network, why he wanted to turn the original British series into an American version, how much fun the show is to make, the real life stories they turn into storylines, how far they can push the boundaries, and how he has no plans to appear on the show. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Question: Because this is USA’s first original comedy series in the half-hour vein, what has your experience been like, in terms of developing this project and bringing it to air, with their expectations and the show they you wanted to make?
DENIS LEARY: We had a great time. After Peter Tolan said that he wasn’t going to work with me anymore because he wanted to work on his own, I Googled silver-haired, 50-year-old sarcastic Irishman in Hollywood, and I got Bob Fisher’s picture and was like, “Fuck, yeah!” No. I was a big fan of Bob’s. I wanted to co-write the thing, so I wouldn’t be fully responsible for fucking up the British series. And as a fan of his, we sat down for the first time and really hit it off. And then, it was just really about getting a cast. So, it’s been great. It’s really been terrific. I have no complaints.
When did you first see the British series, and what gave you the idea of doing an American version?
LEARY: Three years ago this January, right before Christmas, my partner, Jim Serpico, was approached by the British producers of Sirens, who had been fans of Rescue Me, and they had the idea that they might want to turn it into an American show. So, we met and sat down, and I really liked those guys. I clicked with them. Serpico said, “I think we can make some money off of these USA people.” I said, “Fuck, yeah, dude. Let’s go.” I took the meeting and liked them a lot. They basically said, “You guys don’t have to follow the British series. You can Americanize it, or do whatever you want.” That’s the freedom we wanted. And I said, “I just want to go find a guy to write with me.” That’s how I met Bob, and we went from there. There are some crossovers, in terms of the characters, in general, and the ideas in the British show, but Bob and I had our freedom. The British producers were totally into the idea of reinventing it. If our show takes off and we get into Season 2 and Season 3, I would love to do a crossover with some of the original cast members.
With Rescue Me having been born out of 9/11, it always had a very heavy, dark core, even when it was really funny. When you’re doing Sirens, is it fun to have these guys occasionally do serious things, but with a funny core?
LEARY: Yeah, definitely. That’s one of the things that Bob and I really liked about it. A lot of the stories that we’re using come from EMTs that we know, and that I know. My wife is a volunteer EMT. Bill McGoldrick, who’s now at Syfy channel, but who was at USA when we started, had a buddy that was a paramedic and an EMT. And so, we got a lot of these stories from that world. But, it does allow us to be absolutely, insanely funny without having to carry the weight. Because the job gives them some liberty, there’s a lot of funny things that happen in their jobs.
LEARY: The bottle up the ass was a real story. That happened to a friend of mine. A lot of people, when they have a bottle or an object stuck up their ass, don’t want to go to the hospital. And if they do, they tend to drive to hospitals that are not in their area because they don’t want to run into anybody they know. But, a lot of people just call into 911 and say they have a massive emergency, really have something stuck up their ass that needs to be removed.
There’s a gay character on this show, but there’s no judgment about that or issue involved with that. Is that something we’ll see in the series, or are you staying away from making it an issue?
LEARY: Well, it comes up from time to time, but only in a very funny way. Even the stuff these guys would sometimes play around with and improvise within that relationship, there was a lot of giving each other shit based on who they are, just like two best friends would.
You had a lot of freedom to push the envelope with Rescue Me, but FX is known for being a little edgier than USA. Are you pushing any boundaries with this show?
LEARY: Yes, there have been a few. We had to draw some personal boundaries. The porn episode is a good example. We discussed the idea, and some people at USA said, “How far are you guys going to go?” We said, “Well, let us write it.” And then, they said, “Okay, you can’t show the horse actually getting a blow job.” And we were like, “We know we can’t show the horse getting a blow job.” But secretly we were like, “Fuck, we can’t show the horse getting a blow job.” They have been great, though. USA’s basic thing is, “We’re worried about how far to go with this, but you go out and shoot it and we’ll pull back from there.” There is some stuff in these episodes, but only if it’s funny. We can only really get away with it, if it’s funny. If it’s not funny, it’s not going to fly. Part of the fun of it is watching the cast. One of the things that I loved about that porn episode is that these guys think they’re so, “Yeah, we can take anything. We’ve seen everything.” Then, all of sudden, they see the one thing that really takes them over the edge.
You’ve spent a lot of time around guys from these high-pressure jobs, like firemen and EMTs. What have you noticed about that?
LEARY: These guys are dealing in life and death, in the sense that the people they are about to respond to are either going to live or die, quite often. And you go to work every day, knowing that it might be your last day. I think it just brings out a lot of black humor and a morbid approach. The worst could happen to them. It’s an interesting place for comedy. It’s also an interesting place for drama. Hopefully, on this show, there are episodes and moments when we do the reverse thing from Rescue Me. On Rescue Me, it was a very heavy show, and we occasionally stuck the knife in and it made you laugh, unexpectedly. With this show, a couple of times during the season, you’’e going to be laughing your ass of and, all of a sudden, feel an emotional jolt. So, it’s very rich territory.
LEARY: No, I’m not appearing in the show. I don’t plan to appear in the show. I get up at 4:30 in the morning to get ready for the call time, but I don’t have any fucking lines and I can wear sweat pants, or whatever the fuck I want to the set. I can look like shit. I fucking love it. I just sit there and smoke and laugh. I sit at the monitor, smoke, laugh and drink coffee. It’s the great fucking job yet.
You come from a background as a stand-up comedian. When did you first know that you were funny?
LEARY: Wow. I had to share a room with my older brother, in a three-decker in downtown Worcester, Massachusetts. The family lived in the apartment that was on the third floor, but my brother and I were stuck in the attic, which they turned into this tiny little bedroom. So, we were pretty funny together up there. I had a sense that I was funny because I could make him laugh. But from then, I really hated school, and I hated the nuns and the priests, so I just was a wise-ass in the back of the classroom. That’s where I started, and look at me now.
Did you get into trouble?
LEARY: Oh, fuck, yeah!
Sirens premieres on the USA Network on March 6th.