Holey Moley, ABC’s extreme mini-golf competition show, in which contestants face off on giant, imaginatively designed courses, is an unadulterated joy was easily one of the most compelling, uplifting shows on television this summer. And at the end of its second year, it has been rewarded with a pair of prime-time specials, the second of which (Holey Moley II: The Sequel: The Special: Unhinged, Part Deux) airs tomorrow night on ABC.
So you can imagine how thrilled we were to chat with one the show’s executive producers, Charles Wachter, about this season, which has ballooned into a critical and commercial darling, what his thoughts were behind the specials, and his brand-new science-fiction book The Twin Paradox, which was recently described by Rogue One screenwriter Chris Weitz as “one of the best science thrillers to come along since Andy Weir‘s The Martian.” To mix the sports metaphors a little bit – talk about a curveball! Wachter also gives us his thoughts on what a third season of the show could look like (to be perfectly clear, the show hasn’t been officially picked up yet but things are looking good). Fore!
Collider: What has it been like trying to finish this season in quarantine?
WACHTER: Well, we finished shooting right as the world started to collapse in on itself. We finished on March 6th. It’s like Tom Hanks got it and then the NBA pulled the season, and that’s when we were filming. We actually made it to the end of filming, I think had we not, it would have been really tricky.
And it’s a very global show, the production that sold it are from Australia. So we do post for this show in Australia. We were already built somewhat for a remote process, being that we shoot it in the States. The big impact was having 50 people in post, in 50 different little production post facilities with everyone working from home.
So that was a big hurdle, primarily sharing media and stuff like that. And just collaborating. It’s a very collaborative show where everyone’s looking for the funniest thing and the funniest stuff wins. And to do that when you’re not in that sort of office together was a little more challenging. But we were the lucky ones, to be honest.
Well, this season also has these animated interstitials, which I’m assuming were in necessity of not being able to film everything. Can you talk about those?
WACHTER: I think that the plan had always been to do animation and claymation. I think the brand of the show has always been novelty and being surprising and unexpected. I had planned on doing animation in Season 3, and then when we started to run into some pick-up shoot issues with Steph, certainly it moved to the top of the list. But it’s always been part of the plan with the show. It weirdly worked out. And we actually also did live action stuff with Steph as well.
So how far along did the shoot for the Australian spin-off (also with Rob Riggle) get?
WACHTER: Yeah, so the Australian shoot, we got halfway through. It was torrential rain and monsoon in LA. We probably would have made it had it not been for a bunch of rain delays as well.
But to be honest, I think it’s a net benefit anyway, because we’re shooting the Australia one in a few weeks and having gone through Season 2 post-production and really seeing what translated, it’s actually turning out better now. I’m sure 7 Network in Australia would probably prefer not to spend some of that money, but certainly we’re sort of benefited from that. It was hairy, you know? It was hairy.
Yeah. I mean, it seems like a sort of weird kind of side effect is that a lot of people were at home watching Holey Moley this summer. Was that validating for you?
WACHTER: It was. I think spiritually, there’s been a lot of fear and a lot of uncertainty, both politically and just with what’s going on right now, and sort of the feeling of the show we always want to have is it’s safe to… You can laugh and relax, and the sort of su- message of that is that the world’s going to be okay.
And Holey Moley exists in an alternate universe where mini golf is taught, right? It feels like a safe world that you can go and play in for an hour and you come out slightly more relaxed and happy. So I think partly people are watching a lot of TV, but also just, I think in terms of the zeitgeist, and you remember when there was all this sort of fear, of crime shows really crushing it a couple of years ago, and now we’re moving back towards escapism, silliness, romance, and things like that. I think Holey Moley is just a really good time to unwind from the newsfeed.
Yeah. And then to have Disney say that Holey Moley was “one of our signature shows.” Was that really validating to hear, and how have they been as partners?
WACHTER: It was. When we started really developing the brand of the show and what its ethos was, we didn’t really look to other reality shows. I was inspired by the Smothers Brothers, and yeah, obviously Best in Show is a big reference. We were sort of looking outside of reality TV to comedy, what works in comedy, and then just sort of trusting our instincts if it felt right and it was funny, we figured out how to do it.
And the show is very meta, right? We talk about ABC, we talk about budget, we talk about not having enough budget. And I think that’s part of that, that’s part of how the show has been built is draw from all sides of pop culture. And it works.
Well, how much of the success of the show do you attribute to the sort of chemistry between Rob Riggle and Joe Tessitore?
WACHTER: I think everything. I think people love to watch people getting pummeled and falling in water, and certainly the windmills are endlessly funny, as well as Uranus. But Joe and Rob have found a chemistry, and they understand that Joe knows how to set Rob up and push and pull, and they crack each other up, and they’re friends.
And then in post, we go through, I mean, they sit there for 10 hours just watching, and it’s basically live improv. I’m in their ear, and I’m watching, and they’re watching, and then we’re just finding the funny stuff. Then runners develop that we kind of like add fuel to the fire. I think the show is Rob and Joe. I think they really create what makes the show so special.
Well, can you talk a little bit about how you’re shooting this and how the production kind of works?
WACHTER: I mean, it’s insane. We build a theme park. It’s hundreds of yards long, like a jewel in the desert. And we shoot it in seven days. We did 13 episodes in seven days this season. And the way we do it is we have to shoot it like a movie, which is like when we shoot Double Dutch Courage, we shoot every episode’s Double Dutch Courage before lunch, and lunch is at midnight or 1:00 AM. And then after lunch, we shoot say Hole Number Two. And we shoot every Hole Number Two for the whole season after lunch.
WACHTER: And so every six hours we’re shooting a hole for the first time. You have to get through all the episodes. And it’s really hard for Rob and Joe, right, because you’re on the fourth battle on Dutch Courage and it maybe is a round two, and they’ve got their references in front of them, but they have to kind of… they have to remember where we are in that episode, almost like an actor coming into the scene and be like, Okay, I’ve already been punched in the face. They have to get to that point in the episode. And that’s the dance as we’re going is I’m feeding them information, they’re looking at information, and then also just being live to it. We had 17 holes this season, and we shot them all over seven days. It’s a buzz saw. And it requires a huge amount of planning and resources. And it feels off kilter, but it’s all planned. Then we leave room for everyone to improv. And the creative producers were out there shooting all the peripheral stuff. I give them complete license to go have fun, and when they have fun, it kind of ends up translating on camera.
Well, how hard was it to convince Jon Lovitz and Steve Guttenberg to come back for these bits?
WACHTER: Well, Season 1, it was a lot harder. Because people are like, “Mini golf?” You know? Even when I got called about the show, I was like, “Mini golf?” But it was a lot easier Season 2. I think they could see the spirit of the show. Jon Lovitz got the comedy. He saw probably a lot of the references from the comedy from the ’80s that we’d like to parody. And they were really on board and excited.
We had a lot of people who reached out, and we really try to dial it to the show, and Guttenberg playing against type, sort of when he was America’s sweetheart years ago, so it was really fun for us. I mean, he went bananas. We’re like, “Okay, so here’s the deal, is that like no matter how good the dive is, you hate it.” That was pretty much the pitch. He just lost his mind out there, and Riggle could not get enough of it. It turned out really well.
Where did the idea for these specials come from?
WACHTER: I think that it’s popular, and ABC said, “What do you think about doing some specials or a special?” We thought it would be really fun to do a parody of specials, or at least a meta special that was self-aware that it was a special. And that’s when it got fun. Countdowns are fun, and highlight packs are fun, but when I realized a lot of the comedy could come around making fun of the fact that it was a special, that’s when it kind of really opened up.
Where are we on Season 3 — have courses been designed?
WACHTER: Yeah, I am obsessed about it, it’s called the Triple Dutch Courage en Fuego. And the idea is between Season 2 and 3, it burned to the ground, so it’s on fire, and it’s all akimbo. And then you’re going to have to jump from blade to another blade, and then dive through the third blade, which wasn’t even there last season, but somehow magically, there’s a third one that takes you out. So I’m excited about that.
And there’s another hole that Mike O’Sullivan and I are talking about called Oil Spill, which is pretty fun.
It actually seems like it could be pretty easy to do sort of social distance-wise because not a lot of people share the same space. Are those sorts of things that you’re thinking about now?
WACHTER: We were finding that the rules, obviously we’ve got pretty aggressive protocols and want to keep people safe. And the best practices, every new production has new best practices. So we’re still working on that. It’s a little early for us to mesh that into our machine and figure out how to do it.
But as we work on Season 3, the hard part about the show is that it has to feel risky. It felt risky what we were doing Season 1 by making fun of ABC for buying the show, making fun of Steph Curry for being a celebrity cameo, the show has to feel a little risky and a little out front of itself. And the hardest thing is to not just go make Season 2 with new holes. That’s what we’re working on now. And there are some ideas that worry me, but I know that it’s probably a good idea because you’ll feel that energy on camera. We’re still in the early stages right now. There’s nothing official yet, but if we were to shoot Season 3 it would be February.
I wanted to talk about your book too. How did this come about? Was this something that you had wanted to do?
WACHTER: Yeah. I was an English major in college, and books and literature were my first loves. And literally a decade ago, I was like, Okay, well, if I’m going to write a book, I’ve got to study. I don’t want to just write a book, because I’ll be terrible.
I spent like three years studying Michael Crichton and science thrillers, and I wrote almost a 200-page bible just on that. And I took that water will wear away a mountain eventually kind of approach. I was like, Okay, I’m just going to chip away at this for a long time, and study, and then outline.
I researched an outline for six years, just at 4:00 in the morning, my kids were babies, and I’d just wake up at 4:00, and 4:00 to 6:00 was my time with my coffee and computer. And it was really my hobby. TV is a very much a collaborative thing. I’m just one of many incredibly talented people on Holey Moley, and I certainly can’t take credit for the whole show, but my book was mine. And it was something I could do in the mornings. And then I started writing in 2013. I love hard science fiction thrillers. And I set out to write one, and I just finished last year and have launched it two weeks ago.
I’m curious as to like that bible that you put together, was there one touchstone that you kept going back to, or the thing that guided this book?
WACHTER: Well, there were three things that I don’t think would be completely obvious about science thrillers, and certainly Michael Crichton, it’s very dense information, but it’s also a really boyish adventure. There’s a lot of wonder in his books, his books are sort of organized like, “Gee whiz. Oh, fuck.” You know? Like basically, and that’s how it is, he explores all the cool things about it, and then it’s been setting up a mystery and a climactic disaster that the main characters have to survive.
And then there are lots of these hidden story arcs. And most of his books have these seven-story arcs that are woven through the book. And the second one ends, whether it’s mid-chapter, which it usually is, it’s never at the end of the chapter, the next one goes, and within the mystery is always a bigger mystery. He never gives you everything in the beginning. In Jurassic Park, the word “dinosaur” doesn’t show up until page 75.
You know there are dinosaurs on that island, but he has a way of really sucking you into a world and setting up the world. And also just how he weaves like how long science can last before you got to get to the next hook for a character story. Things like that. So I found it I enjoyed that process, learning how to build the house before I tried to build one myself.
Holey Moley II: The Sequel: The Special: Unhinged, Part Deux airs tomorrow night on ABC.