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Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Inside 'Eagleheart's' Second Season with Creators Michael Koman, Andrew Weinberg, and Jason Woliner

Currently in the midst of its second season, Adult Swim’s 11-minute crime-comedy Eagleheart has quickly emerged as one of the fastest and funniest shows on TV. For the uninitiated, Eagleheart stars Chris Elliott, Maria Thayer (Strangers with Candy), and Brett Gelman (Comedy Bang Bang) as a trio of sociopathic U.S. Marshals who wind up in all kinds of exceedingly strange and hyper-violent scenarios week to week. Eagleheart is put out by Conan O’Brien’s production company and written by longtime Conan writers Michael Koman and Andrew Weinberg and Human Giant's Jason Woliner, who manage to cram a full 30 minutes worth of story into each 11-minute installment.

Eagleheart's second season is currently airing Thursday nights at midnight on Adult Swim and past episodes are available on Adult Swim’s website and on iTunes. The writers, Michael Koman, Andrew Weinberg, and Jason Woliner recently shared some behind-the-scenes info and videos from the first four episodes of the new season, discussing how Bruce Willis’s blues music inspires them, and why they weren’t allowed to use the name Samuel Hitler for a character on the show.

Episode 1: “Gabey, Calvin & Stu”

Plot: Chris Monsanto (Chris Elliott) and the other Marshals soon come to realize that there’s a large conspiracy afoot and the Chief may be behind it.

The episode's plot involves the Chief hiring one guy to pretend to be the ghost of three different people to manipulate the Marshals into working for him, but the writers revealed that wasn't quite different from their original plan:

"In the original script, there were other fake ghosts who each played different members of the marshal’s fake families. It got way too goddamn complicated for eleven minutes… The villain originally was going to be an evil “Head of HR” from the Marshal’s Office, who used fake families pretending to be ghosts to recruit new marshals. When the decision was made to kill off the Chief, these roles were combined… The unfortunate working title for this version was 'HR Enough’s Enough.'"

The actor who played Gabey, Steven Anthony Lawrence, is probably best known for playing a character named Beans on the hit kids show “Even Stevens”. In one scene, he had a little trouble putting on his leather jacket. Take a look!

Here's some interesting info on the set for Gabey's apartment from the writers:

"Gabey’s apartment is a standing set (meaning shows can just come in and shoot, as opposed to having to construct it from scratch) in downtown LA that can be seen in many, many low budget films and television programs. Most famously, it was Morgan Freeman’s apartment in SE7EN. More recently it was in NBC’s BFF. The gigantic puddle of dried blood we left on the floor seemed to have been cleaned up."

Episode 2: “Bringing Up Beezor”

Plot: After Brett (Brett Gelman) eats over a pound of plastic poker chips, he’s rushed to the hospital and a bezoar – a mass of indigestible matter that accumulates in the stomach – is removed from his intestines. Brett grows attached to his bezoar and starts carrying it around until it hatches into an evil version of himself.

“Bringing Up Beezor” was inspired by an episode of the TLC reality show My Strange Addiction that co-creator Andrew Weinberg saw, in which a woman showcases her obsession with eating pieces of couch cushion. Here’s a link to part of the My Strange Addiction episode, but I have to warn you that I found watching this lady wolf down bits of sofa cushion to be more horrifying than this also-gross episode of Eagleheart. The creators of Eagleheart say that, the woman in the TLC show’s bezoar “didn’t hatch with an evil version of her (at least not in the cut that aired).”

This episode also features a pair of funny fake commercials in which Growing Pains’ Joanna Kerns cameos as herself and as her own bezoar. The shoot ran that day ran into a little bit of an insect problem though, as the creators of Eagleheart explained:

“Someone left a bunch of garbage bags in our soundstage over a hot summer weekend and we returned to shoot on Monday to find the stage swarming with flies. As a result of this and the fact that we shot a lot out of order, there are tons of flies in the backgrounds of shots this season, symbolizing the rotting decay of society and the laziness of whoever’s job it was to take out the garbage at Eagleheart. When Joanna Kerns came to shoot her fake commercials, flies were everywhere. She was a real trooper and totally cool about it. We were able to get most of it ‘clean’ but there were still a number of shots in which our editors had to digitally remove flies from her head.”

Here’s video of those flies bothering Joanna Kerns during the filming of that scene:

The scene in the auto shop in which Chris Elliott’s character shoots a hole in a mechanic’s back and then sticks his hand into the man’s wound like a ventriloquist with a dummy to get him to confess “was inspired by a really dumb Boardwalk Empire bit where a guy stick his finger in a dying man’s shotgun-wound hole to try to get information out of him. Puppeteering a man through similar means seemed like a good Eagleheart-style escalation of that.”

Episode 3: “Silly Sammy”

Plot: Ben Stiller guest stars as Silly Sammy, a childrens’ show host who uses his program to manipulate kids into stealing organs for him to sell on the black market.

The episode was inspired by a true story about ‘60s TV host Soupy Sales asking his adolescent viewers to take money out of their parents’ wallets and send it to him.

While Eagleheart usually uses character actors instead of big-name guest stars, Ben Stiller’s presence in this episode is a rare exception. Stiller was in New York when the episode was filmed, which presented a little bit of a challenge for the production:

"Ben Stiller was in New York during the shoot, and the Silly Sammy Show set had to be built behind him. Literally, he refused to move from where we found him and local crew had to hastily construct the set behind him. The other side of the scene – the rich guys and the Marshals – were shot in LA. Chris Elliott and Whit Hertford came to the NY shoot, but Brett Gelman and Ben Stiller were never even in the same room!!*

*as per the court order."

In the finished episode, Stiller's creepy kids show host has his full name revealed to be Samson Hitler, but that wasn't the writers' original plan:

"In the original script, we reveal that Silly Sammy's real, full name is 'Samuel Hitler,' and Brett is shocked to find out that his first name is 'Samuel' and not 'Sammy.' All character names in our show have to be run through the legal department to make sure no one with that name could sue us. It turns out that there is one Samuel Hitler living in the U.S. today and they told us we couldn't use the name. Naturally, we wouldn't want to sully his good Hitler name. So we changed it to 'Samson.'”

The song that Silly Sammy sings to introduce kids to his organ-harvesting scheme was arranged by Mark Rivers, who also did the music for Deke & The Growlers in the “Blues” episode (see below). Rivers has composed music for a lot of notable comedy shows, such as Mr. Show (he wrote the eerie theme song), Human Giant, Important Things with Demetri Martin, and Moral Orel.

Episode 4: “Blues”

Plot: Chris runs off to learn the true meaning of “the blues” from a crappy white guy blues band led by Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris.

This is the only episode that was written for Season 1 but shot during Season 2. “Blues” was originally going to be two parts, but the season 2 episodes wound up becoming so dense that the writers “were able to smoosh it into one.”

The writers used this commercial for “Seagrams Golden Wine Coolers” starring famed bluesman Bruce Willis for “inspiration and warmth during the long, cold nights writing the ‘Blues’ episode”:

The opening scene, in which Chris uses a powersaw to slice open a criminal’s brain so that he can tear the brain out of the skull and repeatedly punch it was different from what was originally planned:

The bloody opening scene was originally a little more elaborate. The kosher-for-bashover/brain punching was a last minute sub-in for a sequence we couldn’t afford to do, which involved something like Chris shooting the thieves in the meat locker and the low temperature making their blood freeze into “bloodsicles”, which he then uses to stab another thief (or something close to that). We actually like the simpler, maybe more disturbing version we wound up doing a lot more. Sometimes the simplest version of sawing out someone’s brain and beating it up is what works best.

There’s a scene in the episode where Chris and the crappy blues bland first arrive at their mecca, Blues House Orlando, where they’re shocked to see historical blues artifacts like “Bruce Willis’s Harmonica” and “Jim Belushi’s Brother’s Sunglasses.” There were some legal concerns with that last one:

"The legal department flagged some jokes as potentially dicey. We had to have a long conference call where we insisted that it was unlikely that, at some point in the future, the real-life Jim Belushi would try to market a product called “Jim Belushi’s Brother’s Sunglasses”. Let history prove us wrong!"

Brian Stack, who plays the “King of the Blues” here is a longtime writer at Conan (who worked with Michael and Andrew during their tenure there, and with Jason on a handful of Human Giant sketches). He returns later in the season as the voice of a talking shoe.

Early (Season 1-era) pitch session notes for the episode "Blues":

  • An early incarnation had the “King” being Jim Belushi, who was to be portrayed by a beam of shining light.
  • Another idea was to have them meet John Belushi’s ghost, to be played by John Goodman.
  • Rejected Blues House menu item: “Iceberg Lettuce Wedge with Blues Cheese”

New episodes of Eagleheart air Thursday nights at midnight on Adult Swim. You can get caught up on the episodes discussed above on the iTunes store or via Adult Swim’s “Gold” site, which is available for free to customers of most cable companies.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

  • Brian Stewart

    I approve whole heartedly, or with whatever is left of my heart after Monsanto rips it out through my ear. This show is genius and it's good fun to get a glimpse behind the curtain at the meek and easily toppled writers who live vicariously through the violent harmonica impaling that is the bread and butter of their show. Honestly, I can't live without Eagleheart. It's a medical condition. The only thing better would be my own show Beagleheart, in which a man lives a relatively ordinary lifestyle after a controversial dog heart transplant, that is… until aliens invade.

    • Brian Stewart

       OK. Just read the article. And I take it all back. Flies are unsanitary. I called the clean police. Where can I return this forever sullied Season One DVD to?