FOX SITCOM – “GREG THE BUNNY” (2001)
With the Independent Film Channel very popular in Los Angeles, GTB got some decent exposure. It wasn’t long before Hollywood came calling. Our original concept was to take the characters to a show very much like “The Larry Sanders Show,” a look at a fictional children’s show and the egos behind the scenes. Hearing from agents and producers that this might be too “inside Hollywood,” as concept to sell, we tailored the pitch to concepts ranging from shows like “SCTV” to “Friends.” The show was finally sold to film producer Neil Moritz, who then teamed us with Steven Levitan (creator of “Just Shoot Me”) who had a development deal with Fox Television. Steve’s first suggestion – hey, why not a show like “Larry Sanders?” We thought it was a match made in heaven.
What followed were thirteen episodes of a sitcom made in Hollywood. Though we acquired a stellar human cast and top-notch production staff, the show was very much a creative nightmare for us. The original intent was to create a show based in improvisation (like “Curb Your Enthusiasm”). A show that would focus on character humor, rather than rely on traditional sitcom jokes. Unfortunately, even with brilliant improvisational actors like Eugene Levy and Sarah Silverman, this would not be the case. There were too many cooks, and they all kept adding salt.
Fox spent millions of dollars on production, especially after our pilot script attracted such A-list actors and industry buzz. They spared no expense in re-tooling as they saw fit, which was both a blessing and a curse. It meant they had high hopes for us, but it also made our production an expensive liability that had to work even harder to turn a profit. The show tested poorly, with most people confused as to why the puppets were even talking in the first place! After the first six episodes were shot, Fox made the decision to remove Greg’s button eyes and replace them with blinking, glass eyes.
Feeling more confident about the human cast, they also geared us toward stories that would focus on the Seth Green/Eugene Levy relationship. Seemingly, having the son from “Austin Powers,” and the dad from “American Pie,” became more of an asset to them than a cast of rag dolls. And so, the stories focused more on the human relationships. Junction Jack’s cross-dressing, Alison’s alienation from the crew, etc. Not until our final episode, “Blah Bawls,” did a plot truly revolve around a puppet cast member.
Greg’s innocently wise narration and feel-good, emotional wrap-ups became staples of our format, which we felt conflicted with the show’s otherwise dark tone. Scenes were re-shot to make Greg seem older and less childish, since some testing and standards viewpoints saw puppet-human relationships (some of them sexual) as bestial and pedophilic.
Typically in these situations, the show-runner (Steven Levitan) acts as a liason with the network and tries to protect the co-creators from fearful studio concerns. But creatively we and Levitan were coming at the show from different perspectives, which made this difficult.
This is not to say we are not proud of the final product, or that there weren’t plenty of Fox executives who “got” the show and wanted the best for it. Though we had our creative pitfalls, so many talented people contributed to the making of this show, and of course there were plenty of moments (both onscreen and off) that make us smile. It was a real learning experience, our first professional production of any kind and the birth of many strong relationships. There are fans of this series that truly embraced it, and for that we are forever proud and grateful.
The Fox series premiered on Thursday nights at 8:30, after “The Bernie Mac Show.” It was then re-run on Sundays, and quickly moved around. Much like the original run of “Family Guy,” Fox audiences who cared for the show had no idea where to find it. Cancelled after 11 of our 13 episodes aired, it finally left the air after a few months.
Fortunately, Fox released the entire series on DVD in 2004, along with plenty of extras that we personally contributed, including commentaries, deleted scenes, etc.
Episodes below are in order of production, not airing order.
1. Welcome to Sweetknuckle Junction
Our pilot episode, which was re-cut more than Joan Rivers. Features an attempt to recapture Greg and Blah’s first meeting from IFC’s “Blah!” and the fart gag from our “Gummo” episode. A bumpy start, this pulled millions of viewers on national TV, who then left us quickly in favor of “West Wing.” Greg the Bunny tries landing a job as a gopher on the TV show, “Sweetknuckle Junction,” and ends up becoming its new star. Introduces the cast, including Seth Green as Jimmy Bender, Dan Milano as Greg and Warren, Drew Massey as Count Blah and Victor Yerrid as Tardy Turtle.
2. Sock Like Me
Greg writes a racial slur about himself on the bathroom wall in order to show that he can take a joke. Thinking the slur was made by the notoriously racist Junction Jack (Bob Gunton) studio executive Alison Kaiser (Sarah Silverman) and show director Gil Bender (Eugene Levy) hire a puppet sensitivity coach (Drew Massey) to teach the cast about tolerance. Introduces the character of Susan the Monster (James Murray). This episode never aired.
3. Dottie Heat
Greg rehearses a sketch with co-star Dottie Sunshine (Dina Waters) and tells his friends they slept together. Eventually he feels bad about it and apologizes to everyone, with a big speech at the end. Man, were we making sitcoms. Not without some funny bits and good production value, such as Greg on his Vespa and Count Blah’s poker binge.
4. SK 2.0
When “Sweetknuckle Junciton” does poorly in a focus group (based on real-life, folks) Gil’s son Jimmy comes up with hip and cool ideas intended to revitalize the show. Suddenly the cast find themselves in a hip-hop version of Sesame Street. Highlights include Warren as Prof-Meister Ape, and Count Blah’s new catch-phrase, “A’ight.” Though he appears in the pilot, this was also the origin of Tardy Turtle (Victor Yerrid).
5. Piddler on the Roof
Directed by film director Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, 8 Mile) and featuring a cameo by Gary Oldman (No shit!) this episode featured Warren peeing in the sunroof of Alison’s car because she had the nerve to veto his Shakespeare sketch. Highlights include Warren performing the Bard for Oldman.
6 Rabbit Redux
Greg feels guilty about having replaced Rochester Rabbit (James Murray, reprising his role from the pilot) and seeks out the old hack to give him one last chance at glory. Unfortunately, as soon as he takes the spotlight, Rochester has a fatal heart attack. The cast is forced to throw him a celebrity roast-slash-wake at the local watering hole. Highlights include Susan the Monster’s obsession with Jimmy Bender and Warren the Ape’s touching speech. Plus, we set a corpse on fire.
7. Father & Son Reunion
Directed by Mr. Show alum Troy Miller, this episode, while not without some good visuals, represents a total lack of focus on the show we wanted to make versus the show that ultimately got made. Focusing more on human relationships than puppets, Jimmy Bender and his father Gil attempt to mend their estranged relationship. Full of fart jokes we’re embarrassed of and other tonal struggles, this also marks the first episode in which Greg was forced to remove his button eyes in favor of glass ones. During air, audiences would see the eyes change from week to week, adding insult to their already desperate confusion. It was the point of no return. Still, some funny moments of Greg and Seth Green playing dodge ball, not much else. Do we sound bitter?
8. Jimmy Drives Gil Crazy
Immediately, the network wanted another episode about Jimmy and Gil mending their relationship. It seemed they were a little pre-occupied with the Dad from “American Pie” and the son from “Austin Powers,” shifting focus onto their relationships instead of the relationships of the puppets (who alas, never had a hit movie). The plot -- Jimmy borrows Warren’s car to run an errand with Greg. While on his errand, he meets a horny Catholic school girl (no lie) who seduces him and ties him up. Meanwhile, guest star Corey Feldman steals Warren’s car as a prank. Unaware that Greg is in the car with him, Corey gets into a highway chase that gets broadcast on the local news. Gil sees the report and becomes convinced that Jimmy is the driver. He runs to the scene of the crime and tries to talk Jimmy out of the car, with a long speech of love. Eventually Corey Feldman is beaten severely by cops, to the tune of Cyndi Lauper’s “Goonies R Good Enough.” This episode never aired.
9. Greg Gets Puppish
Greg gets into a brawl at a local bar when someone calls him a “sock” and it makes the papers. He is then approached by puppet activist Hurbada Hymena (James Murray), a puppet rabble-rouser who educates Greg on his Puppish heritage. Greg becomes obsessed with Puppish culture and imposes it on the show, demanding that people refer to him by his Puppish name (Bizzelburp) and speak the Puppish language. Eventually he gives up the fad, mostly because Jimmy makes a big speech (lot of speeches at the end of our shows) but also because we run out of time. Funny highlights include Blah teaching Dottie the Puppish dialect, and characters such as Mushma and Ratagaba, Greg’s new Puppish pals.
When a TV Guide reporter visits the set of “Sweetknuckle Junction,” Alison has the entire cast on their best behavior. The reporter soon learns that Junction Jack’s birthday has been overlooked. In order to make up for the faux pas, Alison arranges a surprise party at Jack’s apartment. Only the surprise is on the guests, because Jack comes home dressed in drag. One of the tightest and best-produced episodes, this ensemble episode features good moments from the entire cast. Highlights include Warren singing “Arthur’s Theme,” and Seth Green stammering over a lesbian kiss.
11. The Jewel Heist
Greg is jealous that Jimmy is spending too much time with his new girlfriend (Lindsey Sloan). He also doesn’t like the fact her gigantic dog has a taste for bunny meat. In an attempt to make the dog more docile, Greg has Junction Jack, a former vet in every sense, remove the dog’s testes. Meanwhile, Gil plans a paintball retreat for the cast, but neglects to invite the women. This is because (in a strange decision to make him sexist) he actually thinks they’re inferior. The women of course challenge him, and then riddle him with paintballs. Again, great production values here, as well as some good gags. But it represents the kind of inconsistency of tone and character that made up our daily writers room battles. Though it confuses gross for edgy and convention for invention, it remains gleefully absurd.
12. The Singing Mailman
Struggling actor Leo Kornelly (Michael McDonald) blackmails Dottie Sunshine with illicit pictures so he can have a part on “Sweetknuckle Junction.” Leo stinks up the place with his lousy performance and worse ego, but Dottie begs the others not to get him fired. Greg, knowing the truth about Dottie’s situation, tells the gang what Leo is up to and together, they confront him to get her pictures back. Features a Reservoir Dogs parody (few years too late) and some fun moments from guest star McDonald and the entire cast. Also features Tardy Turtle operating a forklift, if that means anything to you.
13. Blah Bawls
Ironically, this last episode in the run finally gets around to exploring characters that deserved a lot more focus -- Count Blah and Warren the Ape. Blah sleeps with Warren’s ex-wife Maggie (Marilu Henner) and attempts to keep it a secret. Meanwhile, Alison refuses to let Jack take a job playing a serial killer in a TV movie. As a result, she finds herself the victim of a stalker that may or may not be Jack, looking for revenge. It’s not, by the way. It’s some other guy. On the whole a fun episode, but par for the course. Interesting to see Maggie, whose origin was in IFC episode #12 (Barton Fink) and whose relationship with the Count was implied in the IFC special, “Blah!”. The role was originally written for Jennifer Coolidge, the ideal human woman for Warren, but was played with great enthusiasm by Henner.