How ‘Teachers’ Finds the Fun in a Sometimes Thankless Job
Watch out, the Katydids are on the scene. Six improvisors from Chicago, all with names derived from Katherine (Caitlin Barlow, Katy Colloton, Cate Freedman, Kate Lambert, Katie O’Brien, and Katie Thomas) have released the second season of their hilarious TVLand comedy series Teachers. If you’ve ever worked as a teacher or sat in a classroom, the heightened personalities and antics of these elementary school teachers will feel frighteningly familiar. Executive produced by Alison Brie, the show is almost exclusively created by women. The writers, directors, and producers are mostly women which makes for some truly original plotlines. The Katydids take on breastfeeding, slut-shaming, girls in STEM, and sexism in politics. The show is hilarious, unique, and smart, providing an excellent reminder of why women should have greater representation in writers rooms. I talked to Katie O’Brien and Katy Colloton about the making of season two, the response from real life teachers, and bananas.
How has the making of Season 2 been different than the making of Season 1?
Katy Colloton: It’s been really exciting because we have twenty episodes this season instead of ten. We’ve been writing, acting, and editing all at the same time. So it’s definitely been a big difference juggling all three at once. It’s been a fun challenge!
Katie O’Brien: To use a high school term, we were sophomores in a sense last season. This season we’re more comfortable in our skin and were able to play around more and explore. We wanted to do a musical episode.
Colloton: We had a lot of freedom. There were all these things we wanted to do and we got to this season.
What does your writing process look like?
O’Brien: It’s a really unique process. There are two writers on a script and it’s predominantly a female writers room. Our two showrunners are male, Ian Roberts and Jay Mantel, but other than that it’s all women. So two of us will write a script and then we’ll all contribute on punching up.
Colloton: It’s very collaborative. A lot of times we’ll write the outline together and then once it’s been finalized, two writers go off and write it. So in the end it’s really a group effort.
O’Brien: All six of us individually have really different voices and when all of us touch the script it kind of turns into this seventh voice. It’s really fun to write that way, and it kind of develops into its own thing.
Do you rotate who works together or is it always the same teams of two?
Colloton: We rotate, it’s always someone different. It’s fun! Looking at the first episode in the season two premiere, we have a teacher who is a trailer teacher — thats kind of a weird, quirky plot — then a relatable online dating plot, then a genre-style Dangerous Minds parody, and then the silly humor of a teacher just totally missing the first day of school. So we have all these different voices and if you can get us all in there, it’s a really fun episode.
Have you had any interesting responses from teachers to the show?
O’Brien: Yeah, we have. We really try to divide the show up. It’s half a show about women in their twenties going through their first work experience and then the other half we really wanted to cater to teachers. Caitlin Barlow really was a teacher, so that helps, and then we’ve had tons of teachers write in to us and say “This is exactly like my life” or “Would you be open to doing a plot about common core?” Which is something we got a lot last year and is something we’d never heard of, so this season we added a plot about common core, which is great. The response from real teachers has been really positive.
Colloton: My favorite response is when we hear from a teacher who says, “Oh my gosh that happens all the time, but I never get to say that or respond that way.” So it’s fun to use the situations they relate to, but get to fulfill a fantasy for them.
O’Brien: We did a Facebook Live event where teachers kept asking if we were ever going to do an episode about the copier breaking and we were like, what’s with that? And so we did an episode about the copy machine and realized what a hell it would be for these teachers to have to teach their kids without any worksheets or handouts.
Did anything wacky happen behind the scenes of Season 2?
Colloton: The musical episode we had to write in two weeks and then a day later we had to record music and then a day later we had to learn the dances. But for many of the women, dancing is not in our wheelhouse, so that was funny. We want to do a behind-the-scenes of the dance rehearsals because those were a comedy in themselves.
O’Brien: Two other things that were kind of fun — we started this thing where we took inappropriate photos of Kate Lambert eating bananas and pass it around to each other. So it became this thing where whenever someone was eating a banana, you’d try to catch a photo of them. We have enough now that I think it could make a really great coffee table book. The other thing which I don’t think Katy Colloton knows yet is that I started a rumor that she’s actually 42 years old.
Colloton: For the record, I did hear about that and will have to get O’Brien back.
O’Brien: It started with me just telling one crew member, “Hey did you know Colloton is actually 42?” and then it spread from there.
Colloton: I don’t know whether I should be flattered or offended. It’s like, oh, you think I look that good? Or that bad?
O’Brien: At this point we’re really family. Family in the way that we have each other’s back, and family in the way that we really torture each other.
Do you ever give each other unusual directions?
Colloton: Yeah, we’ve been performing together for eight years so we really trust each other and give each other good notes. But sometimes we do lead each other down the wrong path too.
O’Brien: I did that with Freedman one time. The line was, “Kids like pizza” and as a joke, I dared her to say it as a schizophrenic person, and she did it, and nobody laughed, and then she only had those two takes, and they moved on. I was like, I’m so sorry dude, I’m so sorry. She was a good sport about it, but sometimes yeah, it can backfire.
Colloton: One time we were filming a scene about Ms. Snap having a realization that she’s the worst teacher ever and Ian Roberts suggested, “Why don’t you say you’re the weakest link?” And as soon as I said it on camera, I realized it was just a joke, not a real note. So we give each other a hard time.
O’Brien: We should do something with this footage we have of us fucking with each other.
Colloton: We’re pretty good at getting through scenes, but sometimes we get in a silly mood and we can’t stop laughing. There was a line in the first season that was something like, “You pooped your pants” and she couldn’t get it out, so we just had to cut the line.
Do you ever pull from real experiences you had as a student in school?
O’Brien: Everything is pulled from real life experiences. Katy Colloton and I had very mature haircuts as kids. We looked like bizarre newscasters at eight and nine years old. I always had a way too mature pageboy bob haircut. But that was something we incorporated. That’s one example of many that we pulled from.
Who would make your dream cameo?
O’Brien: There are so many. Carol Burnett would be amazing.
Colloton: Dick Van Dyke is a big hero of mine. This makes us sound so old-school. But once I was on the phone with Katie O’Brien and she spotted him at Patty’s Diner. So I grabbed my dog — don’t ask why I grabbed my dog — and ran over there and accosted him for a picture in the parking lot. I was so excited I couldn’t deal with it.
O’Brien: And there are so many female comedians that we would love to have on the show. Amy Poehler.
Colloton: Yeah, we have a dream female comedian list. And I just want to add, I would love to have Tony Hale on the show because I just think he can do no wrong.
O’Brien: Every character we come up with, whether they are male or female, Colloton pitches Tony Hale.
Colloton: We can change the gender, it’s fine.
O’Brien: No we can’t. Every character, she pitches Tony Hale.
Colloton: I just love Tony Hale. I think Tony Hale and O’Brien’s character would be so great to see on screen together. I think I’ve tweeted him about it, but it’s fine.
What does the future look like for you?
Colloton: We’re still writing the last ten episodes of the second season and they’ll air this summer. We’re hoping for more seasons. We love the show so much and would love to watch the characters grow and mature. I think there’s lots of shocking developments in season two the audience will be surprised by.
O’Brien: The show is not like any other show. It’s created almost exclusively by women, female directors, producers — the writers room is predominantly women. Something we are really proud of is that we were able to explore a lot of things that other shows couldn’t because we have so many women on staff. We have an episode on breast feeding, on slut shaming. There’s a plot about female students getting into science and math.
Colloton: Yeah, I hope that people will find that in our show there’s something for everyone. There’s dumb humor and genre stuff, but also always a smart message behind every episode that people can relate to.
The new season of Teachers airs Tuesday nights on TVLand at 10/9c. You can catch up on the show here. Teachers will also be streaming on Hulu, and will be available to download on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox, PlayStation, and Verizon.