David Cross and H. Jon Benjamin Invented the Adult Swim 4AM Infomercial
To promote his new film Hits, David Cross fielded questions in a Reddit AMA today, and one of his most interesting responses came when a fan asked if there’s a project he’s worked on that he wished more people knew about:
Uh… yeah! Gosh. Yes. Icelandic Ultra-Blue. It was actually called “Paid programming.” adult swim completely and totally ripped off the idea – we did it for adult swim. Jon Benjamin and I did it. It’s really funny. And the idea that I pitched to Lazzo, in his office, standing in front of him, back in 2008? I wanna say? was to do a fake infomercial that would air at 4 in the morning, and it would be called Paid Programming so that the viewers wouldn’t know it was fake, and it starts out very realistically, and then subtly devolves into this crazy nonsense.
But it would really fuck with people’s heads.
Let me make it clear – I think the people who had the concepts for TOO MANY COOKS didn’t rip us off. I think adult swim was the one who ripped off the idea. And they actually aired it once – it aired at exactly the time I pitched, in that exact way, and they didn’t pick up the show, which I guess makes us a couple years ahead of our time?
So fuck Mike Lazzo. He’s a thief.
But go to Youtube, and see if you can check out either “Icelandic Ultra-Blue” or “Paid Programming” or even Wikipedia it. Because it’s really, really funny.
I think you’ll like it.
Cross is absolutely right — the 2009 pilot did not get picked up by Adult Swim reportedly because the network was uneasy with Cross and Benjamin’s insistence on using unknown actors, a 4:30am time slot, and no promotion whatsoever. To make matters even more awkward, most of the credit for the 4:00am infomercial concept has gone to the person who rejected Cross and Benjamin’s pilot — Adult Swim exec Mike Lazzo: “A four a.m. time slot liberates thinking and creativity,” he told The Wall Street Journal last year in the wake of the “Too Many Cooks” explosion. “Sometimes when you have large budgets and staff, you can flatten the creativity and overwhelm the idea.” Watch some clips from the original Paid Programming here and here.
UPDATE: A rep from Adult Swim notified us that Mike Lazzo has responded to Cross’ accusation on Reddit. Here’s his response in full:
Dear David Cross
Jesus Christ Man. What a shit thing to say. Like I could ever need your thinking, certainly the most awesome thing I’ve ever read concerning myself.
Dude if you told me to air Icelandic at 4am, congratulations, I might offer you a job in Programming, perhaps even Development. However if you are under the impression that you invented any sort of baffling late night television then I must rescind any offer of a Development staff position. You might be too stupid. Overall, I’m in a good position to hook you up. I’ve been making unusual television at Turner (TWX!) almost thirty years. When I was much, much younger I remember Bill Tush airing many commercial parodies on WTBS at, let’s see, 4am. Uh-oh. I ripped the shit out of that. Late night informercials. Fuck yeah. Original! Steal that shit! My idea!
If your dumbfuck program – which we have aired repeatedly for years and is not too bad actually and good luck producing it anywhere else – was really all that good, we’d probably still be making it. I’m just one thief among many in the building, none of whom seem the least bit shy about telling me to get right on with any genius David Cross concept. Unfortunately, you’re just too expensive for your amazing 4am brain creations. Also it seems you’re a totally delusional dick. But look, it’s not too late. Recently I’ve been thinking about what we could program at 1am. Maybe you and that other Mike Lazzo expert, Megh Wright, can come up with another fresh parody idea I can steal. How about a showbiz crybaby series with some ignorant cut and paste commentary?
Love your now total enemy!
Adult Swim also posted “Icelandic Ultrablue” on their YouTube channel today. Watch it below.
UPDATE: Cross and Benjamin have responded to Lazzo’s post.