Splitsider

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

The Lost Projects of Judd Apatow

Lost Roles is a weekly column exploring what could have been, examining the projects and casting choices that almost happened but fell apart for one reason or another. I’ve mainly focused on actors in the past, but this week, I turn my attention behind the scenes to comedy virtuoso Judd Apatow and the various projects he’s developed over the years that never made it through Hollywood’s grueling development process.

Judd Apatow’s career as a professional comedy writer is still going strong more than 20 years after its inception. Apatow made a graceful transition from writing jokes for stand-ups like Jim Carrey and Roseanne Barr to working on a handful of the most critically-acclaimed, unfairly-cancelled TV series of all-time. Most great writers would be lucky to have one masterpiece TV series ripped out of their hands by impatient network execs and thrown on the cancellation fire, only for the sound of the crackling embers to be drowned out by the grumbling of a fiercely-loyal band of critics and fans. Apatow’s had this happen three times. What a lucky guy.

Discouraged by one television cancellation after another, Judd Apatow turned to movies and has emerged in the past decade as one of the industry’s leading purveyors of comedy, his reach and influence so widespread that the LA Times even dubbed him the “Mayor of Comedy.” Apatow’s been a busy guy lately, developing several projects at a time. As is natural with any production company, not everything on Apatow’s development slate makes it theaters. For every film like this Friday’s release Bridesmaids, starring Kristen Wiig, Apatow has had two or three that were called off for various reasons. Let’s take a look at some of Judd Apatow’s lost projects.

TV pilots that weren’t picked up

Sick in the Head (1999)
The first of five television pilots Judd Apatow worked on between 1999 and 2002, Sick in the Head starred David Krumholtz, Amy Poehler, Kevin Corrigan, Kevin McDonald, Austin Pendleton, and Andrea Martin. It’s a cast assembled from some of the finest comedic actors from the past five decades. Just looking at those names next to each other makes me angry at the Fox network for not picking this one up. Paul Feig, creator of Freaks and Geeks and director of Bridesmaids, created this potential series with Apatow, and it was a multi-camera sitcom with David Krumholtz as the lead. Krumholtz played a “a psychiatrist on his first day on the job,” with Kevin Corrigan as his slacker roommate who works as a physical trainer, Kevin McDonald as a client who has a different disorder each week, and Amy Poehler as a “sassy, suicidal patient.” Apatow recently said the show “came out great,” and with a cast and crew like this, I can’t imagine it any other way.

Judd Apatow recently tweeted this photo of him with some of the cast, and it’s hard not to look at their young faces without thinking about the ripple effect it would have had upon the entire comedy world if Fox had ordered this one to series. If Sick in the Head was picked up, Feig and Apatow probably wouldn’t have been able to work on Freaks and Geeks, as the two shows were in development during the same season. Maybe they would have held off on Freaks and Geeks for another year or two, and that show would have found the audience and success it deserved under alternate circumstances, likely receiving a different timeslot, promotional campaign, and network in the 2000 season rather than the 1999 one. Hell, Freaks and Geeks would have had different ratings competition too if it were put on a season later. Who knows? It might have caught on. Or it might not have happened at all. Shudder.

Sick in the Head's success would have thrown the careers of the stars out of whack too, most notably Amy Poehler’s. If the show were ordered to series, it may have necessitated she leave Upright Citizens Brigade a season early, and her departure would have led to that show’s demise. It’s unlikely she wouldn’t have been able to join the cast of Saturday Night Live in 2001 if Sick in the Head had become a hit and managed to last a few seasons. SNL is where Poehler first worked with Parks and Rec co-creator Michael Schur, and Schur may not have cast her in Parks years later if he hadn’t met her on SNL.

Given the Fox network’s patience with new series, as demonstrated by their treatment of Apatow works Undeclared and The Ben Stiller Show, amongst others, they likely would have given this one the axe even if it was a critical darling that was building an audience. Sick in the Head sounds like it would have made an amazing show, but it’s probably for the best that things went the way they did, as it could have thrown some great comedians’ careers and projects off track, potentially preventing or altering the existence of Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, and Parks and Recreation.

North Hollywood (2001)
Judd Apatow reunited with Amy Poehler to work on this pilot for the ABC network about struggling actors in North Hollywood. In addition to Poehler, the series starred Jason Segel, Kevin Hart, and Judge Reinhold as a fictionalized version of himself, with Seth Rogen, Phil Hendrie, Adam McKay, and Colin Hanks also making appearances. The characters played by Segel, Poehler, and Hart were all struggling actors who shared a house together. Segel played an actor who works as Frankenstein at Universal Studios, while Poehler played a personal assistant and babysitter for an out-of-work Judge Reinhold. For a detailed summary of the pilot from a writer who attended a screening at the Austin Film Festival in 2005, check out this link.

Apatow has said he made North Hollywood because Fox wouldn’t allow him to cast Jason Segel as the lead in Undeclared, and this was his chance to get the actor a leading part. He brought the project to ABC because there was short time around 2000 when ABC wanted to be the new Fox and was looking for edgier shows. ABC never fully made this transition, as more traditional shows like According to Jim became hits for them, and they strayed away from trying to capture Fox’s younger audience with risky programming. While North Hollywood sounds very funny, it worked out for most everyone involved that the show wasn’t picked up. North Hollywood went into development the same year as Undeclared, and if it had been ordered to series, Apatow wouldn’t have been able to run both shows and Poehler once again would have been prevented from enlisting in Saturday Night Live.

Life on Parole (2002)
Written by Judd Apatow and his Ben Stiller Show/Undeclared cohort Brent Forrester (an accomplished comedy writer in his own right), Life on Parole was another Fox pilot that was passed over, this one starring David Herman as a parole officer who’s unhappy with his job and is roommates with one of his parolees. I’ve always thought Herman, immortalized as Michael Bolton in Office Space, deserved greater success; and if Life on Parole were picked up and became a hit series, it would have certainly boosted his career. If this show had taken off, though, it would have taken away from the time Judd Apatow spent working on movies around this time, during which he began to find a great deal of critical recognition and commercial success beginning with 2004’s Anchorman.

Proposed movies

Making Amends (in development circa 1996)
Judd Apatow wrote this feature script and was shopping it around shortly after working on The Cable Guy. Making Amends had up-and-comer Owen Wilson attached to star as a guy in Alcoholics Anonymous, working on the program’s eighth step: apologizing to everyone he’s wronged over the years. Apatow had previously worked with Owen Wilson on The Cable Guy, Wilson’s first big Hollywood movie after making his debut in Bottle Rocket. Apatow said, "I believed Owen Wilson was going to be a gigantic star.” He was correct on that one, but the rest of the movie industry wouldn’t realize this until a few years later when Owen Wilson began receiving leading roles. Rip Torn, who worked with Apatow on Larry Sanders, was set to be Wilson’s co-star, and Apatow sought out Warren Zevon to provide the film’s score. Apatow has spoken publicly about a lunch meeting with Zevon that was transformative for him creatively:

“I told him about a screenplay I wrote, and I was telling him how I was waiting for the notes to come in from the studio, and I said, “Hopefully they’ll like it.” He said, “Why do you care if they like it? Why would you listen to their notes?” Because he came at everything as an artist, it wasn’t about what anyone else thought… it actually shamed me into really being much tougher about my work, and not making concessions.”

In addition to Zevon, Judd Apatow has long admired writer/director Cameron Crowe, and Making Amends has been described as Apatow’s Jerry Maguire. Apatow’s projects up until this point had been flat-out comedies like The Ben Stiller Show and The Cable Guy, and Making Amends may have been his first attempt to blend comedy and drama in the style that he would come to popularize a few years down the line. Larry Sanders fans know Rip Torn can play a rip-roaring, hilarious, three-dimensional drunk and he was in the midst of his Artie glory in 1996, but scheduling conflicts might have necessitated he drop out of Men in Black, which is perhaps the role Torn is most known for to mainstream audiences. Nevertheless, a collaboration between a young Judd Apatow, Owen Wilson fresh off of Bottle Rocket, a hammered Rip Torn, and the music of Warren Zevon sounds like a film I still want to see, fifteen years after the fact.

Untitled Motorcycle Cop Project (in development circa 2003)
The 40 Year Old Virgin was Judd Apatow’s directorial debut, but the comedy mogul was planning on making this his first outing as a director a little bit earlier. Apatow was attached to write and direct this untitled comedy that would have starred Will Ferrell and Jack Black as two motorcycle cops in L.A. In the film, Will Ferrell’s character was to be a policeman in the squeaky-clean Orange County city Irvine (Ferrell’s hometown and one that consistently ranks amongst the country’s safest cities) who moves to Los Angeles after being fed up with Irvine’s lack of crime. He’s partnered with Jack Black, who plays the youngest in a long line of cops, who isn’t quite right for the job.

Will Ferrell and Jack Black’s careers as leading men were both burgeoning around this time, and teaming them up for a balls-out comedy sounds like a great idea. With Apatow taking the reins, this project was in highly-capable hands. It’s not known why this one fell apart, but it’s probably due to Apatow, Ferrell, and Black’s careers all blowing up around the same time and them being too busy to work together on this project. There was enough talent on both sides of the camera to turn this one into a memorable comedy.

The Long D (in development circa 2005-07)

Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg wrote this romantic comedy, about a high school couple enduring a long-distance relationship while they’re away at separate colleges, but it never got off the ground as the three have chosen to pursue other projects instead. Seth Rogen had this to say about The Long D:

“It's more romantic than anything we've done, but it makes us feel gay just to work on it. But actually these are our favorite types of movies. Those are the movies we run to the theatre to see."

That was back in 2007, and there aren’t any plans to get this one ready for theaters anytime soon, but it very well could go into production at some point in the distant future.

The Recruiter (in development circa 2006)
While The 40 Year Old Virgin shot supporting players Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd to stardom, Romany Malco is the only member of the central quartet who hasn’t received a big juicy starring role as a result of Virgin's success. Malco’s still a visible and talented presence in film and movies, but he’s been confined to supporting roles lately, most notably in Weeds, Baby Mama, and No Ordinary Family. Back in 2006, Romany Malco sold a pitch for The Recruiter, a starring vehicle for himself, to Universal with Judd Apatow attached to produce. Robert Siegel (writer for The Onion, The Wrestler, and writer/director of Big Fan) was hired to pen the script, which would have followed a day in the life of a hotshot recruiter for the Marines.

The project also went by the similar titles The Military Recruiter and The Marine Recruiter during development, but the film never came to be. Robert Siegel said in a 2009 interview that The Recruiter was just a job he was hired for that his heart wasn’t in. Even still, the idea behind this one sounds strong, as I’ve yet to see the life of a military recruiter fully explored in a movie, and Romany Malco’s proven to be a very funny and engaging actor. It’s a shame this one never came together, as it sounds equally promising as the Will Ferrell/Jack Black moto-cop comedy.

A Whole New Hugh (in development circa 2007)
Ed Helms had a bit part in Walk Hard and was poised to be next in a long line of supporting actors Judd Apatow has worked with and then turned into movie stars. Todd Phillips beat Apatow to the punch on this one when he cast Helms in The Hangover, but Apatow did have a project cooking with Ed Helms first. A Whole New Hugh, an Ed Helms vehicle produced by Apatow, was first announced in 2007. At the time, Helms was still new to The Office and hardly a household name after his stint on the The Daily Show. Apatow referred to the actor as a national treasure, saying “the nation doesn’t know it yet.” America seems to have caught up to Apatow, as Helms has now achieved leading man status without his help.

The proposed film, A Whole New Hugh, was written by Helms, his writing partner Jacob Fleischer, and Daily Show producer Ian Berger. The story revolves around Helms’s character Hugh, who finds sudden success in life when his friends start lying to and deceiving him to boost his spirits. Helms commented on the project earlier this year, saying “We wrote a script for Judd and it’s just sorta on the shelf right now.” This one could have kicked off Ed Helms’s career as a lead a little earlier, but maybe it’s for his best that The Hangover was the role to make him a marquee actor.

The Middle Child (in development circa 2007-08)
Jonah Hill’s an Apatow protégé who’s risen to leading man status under the producer’s watchful eye, but Judd Apatow has also helped Hill’s writing career along. Hill’s first writing projects to hit the screen will be the feature film adaptation of 21 Jump Street and the Fox animated comedy Allen Gregory, both are due out next year and star Hill. But the first screenplay Hill sold was The Middle Child, a starring vehicle for the actor which was set up at Universal with Judd Apatow producing. The story involved Hill playing a guy in his early 20s who comes home from college to find out his family had a child before him that they gave up for adoption before he was born and has now returned, sending him through middle child syndrome as an adult. Jonah Hill had Seth Rogen in mind to play his older brother, who hits it off with their parents when he’s reunited with them, making Hill’s character feel left out. Hill drew from his personal life for the script, saying:

“My sister was born when I was 10, so I became a middle child when I was 10 years old," said Hill. "So I kind of went through this at a later stage in life and I thought, ‘It would be even funnier if you were going through this in your 20s.’”

Hill and Apatow began looking for directors in 2007, but the project hit the skids when a similar movie came out in 2008, also produced by Judd Apatow. Hill has announced that The Middle Child is dead, saying:

“It was just too close in tone and somewhat in story to Step Brothers… So we just didn't end up pursuing it cause we really liked Step Brothers a lot, I think it was hysterical.”

As Seth Rogen put it when asked about the project, “I don't know how many movies about two curly haired guys [will go over].” While it seems like these premises bear some major similarities, along with the hair textures of the duos starring in each, Jonah Hill’s premise sounds very funny and like it could make a strong comedy. Maybe in a few years, once it’s been long enough that the project won’t draw Step Brothers comparisons, it’ll be time to get this one back into production.

Attorneys at Raw (in development circa 2007-08)
Jonah Hill wasn’t the only Apatow player who began writing a buddy movie to star Seth Rogen back in 2007. David Krumholtz, who’s worked with Judd Apatow on Superbad, Walk Hard, and Freaks and Geeks, amongst other projects, sold a script called Attorneys at Raw to Universal for Apatow to produce. Krumholtz would star as one of two young white lawyers who decide they want to be rappers, and he had Seth Rogen in mind for the other lawyer-turned-rapper. No news has come in on the project lately, and it seems to have stalled. The last update was that Krumholtz had finished the script in February of 2008.

If this one was produced, it could have turned David Krumholtz into a bigger star and opened up more opportunities for him to play protagonists. Krumholtz has largely been relegated to bit roles in the Apatow universe so far, but he was offered the opportunity to play one of Seth Rogen’s housemates/fellow porn site entrepreneurs in Knocked Up. Krumholtz accepted a leading role in a film Woody Allen was to make in France instead, but the film was canceled before production began. It would have been interesting to see what a David Krumholtz vehicle would look like with Attorneys at Raw, as well as how Krumholtz and Rogen would have been at rapping. Krumholtz claims Rogen is “amazing at freestyling,” but that remains to be seen.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles who hopes he’s the only person in the world who did a Google image search for Judge Reinhold photos today.

  • Jason Farr@facebook

    Thank you for supplying my Judd Apatow nerd habit.

  • MisterThursday

    I would still watch Amy Poehler as a sassy suicidal patient.