|“Sit Down, Shut Up” premieres in April on FOX|
A teeming crowd filled up Room 103 at WonderCon in San Franciso for a chance to interact with the cast and crew of FOX’s upcoming animated comedy, “Sit Down, Shut Up.” The show centers on a group of high school teachers who don’t care about teaching.
When moderator Ramin Zahed, Editor-in-Chief of “Animation Magazine,” stepped up to he podium he opened with a joke:
“Welcome to the anthropology of Star Trek.”
Zahed then introduced Mitch Hurwitz (“Arrested Development”), the show’s executive producer, who ran onto the dais as the crowd roared.
Hurwitz went on to say that they were just getting the first pieces of the show back from their animation house in Korea, and showed a short preview. “Prepare to be disappointed,” Hurwitz joked as the lights dimmed.
The preview highlighted the show’s unique style of animated characters with live-action backgrounds. Voice talent Will Arnett (“Arrested Development”, “30 Rock”) also appeared in the video.
“This show has pushed the envelope into another envelope,” said Arnett, dryly. “Because the envelopes are already touching.”
After the preview, Hurwitz introduced fellow executive producer Josh Weinstein (“The Simpsons”) and Will Arnett, who was cheered for so long the panel had to stop to let things die down. “I think that’s enough,” said Hurwitz, “let’s just do two hours of this.”
Next, Kenan Thompson (“Saturday Night Live”) sauntered on stage, also earning many cheers from the crowd. When Henry Winkler (“Arrested Development”, “Happy Days”) appeared, he was greeted with a standing ovation from the crowd. Finally, Tom Kenny (“Spongebob Squarepants”) bounded up on stage with great enthusiasm, and the crowd reacted in kind.
Hurwitz almost had the panel jump straight into audience questions, but Zahed had a few questions to ask first, beginning with how the show wound up with FOX.
“It was just a wacky show, and nobody wanted it,” said Hurwitz. But eventually FOX, with its history of putting animation in primetime slots, decided to bring the show to pilot.
Both the producers brought people they had worked with in the past to fill out the writing staff. Hurwitz brought people from “Arrested Development,” while Weinstein brought people he had worked with on “Mission Hill” and “Futurama.”
Zahed asked if moving from live-action to animation had presented Hurwitz with any challenges. Hurwitz responded that it wasn’t just animation that was challenging, but also the live-action backgrounds that they made their animators go out and shoot. And while it was easy to get shots from places like a school, there were other sets that required some more hunting. “One of our locations is Hitler’s bunker,” said Hurwitz. The animators eventually found a suitable background in their own offices, leading to more jokes from the panelists.
“They work in Hitler’s bunker? My God!” Hurwitz said.
On a slightly more serious note, Hurwitz commented on how the live-action/animation hybrid style helps with the show’s tone. “In a weird way, it also sets [the characters] in the real world. It helps us find the voice of it… There’s something real about it.”
Zahed then turned his attention to the actors. First in line was Will Arnett. “Huh? What’s happening?” said Arnett.
Arnett went on to describe his character, Ennis Hoftard, saying the man might teach English, but no one really knows for sure because he’s too busy chasing women and trying to stay physically fit.
Weinstein also commented on how the “students don’t matter to these teachers anyway.” The production even goes so far as to animate the kids without complete detail so as to better focus the audience’s attention on the teachers.
Before Keenan Thompson could talk about his character, more cheers from him erupted from the crowd. “I play the lady principal,” said Thompson. “Her name is Sue Sezno, because she says no all the time. She doesn’t really know what she’s doing, and she doesn’t care either. I like playing a lady, so it works.”
Winkler was next. He plays a German language teacher with no students. “I play Willard Deutschebog,” said Winkler, “which translates to ‘douche bag.’ He takes a pill to make sure his large intestine stays inside… He likes women, but he’d rather eat baloney. And I’m proud to play him.”
Tom Kenny explained that his character, Happy the school janitor, speaks a very angry Middle Eastern language that makes him sound, “Like he’s plotting a terrorist attack.” Kenny also plays a BBC-style narrator who calmly translates what Happy says, which “makes you realize he’s not so diabolical.”
The crowd roared with laughter, causing Hurwitz to jump in and say, “Write letters to FOX to tell them that joke works!” as apparently he had been having a hard time with executives “getting it.”
“Because that worked so well for ‘Arrested,'” said Weinstein with a grin.
Hurwitz commented on the new challenges animation is presenting him, saying it was especially interesting that they managed to do a show that wasn’t centered around a family, because “families fall into archetypes so easily. Television really traffics in repeating itself.”
The last question Zahed asked was for any sort of update on the long rumored “Arrested Development” movie. Arnett was the first to chime in. “We are dangerously close to confirming that we have read the rumors on the Internet.”
After the laughter died down, Hurwitz responded that there have been some difficulties getting the cast back together due to schedules. But there was one more slight problem: “…I haven’t written it yet. When we get as many pieces as we’re going to, we’re going to dive in and make it.”
The floor was then opened for audience questions.
The first woman at the mic begged Kenny to do his Spongebob voice. “I’ve been enjoined from doing any Spongebob at ‘Shut Up, Sit Down,'” Kenny said gravely. “But I’m gonna do it anyway!”
The crowd was delighted as Kenny literally shook his throat with his hand to make Spongebob’s signature laugh.
“What a retarded way to make a living,” said Hurwitz. “Good thing Henry doesn’t have any ridiculously famous characters.”
Winkler as The Fonz then threatened everyone bodily harm. “I want you to go home,” said Winkler, “and e-mail every human being in America. Tune in April 19, Sunday night, on FOX. ‘Sit Down, Shut Up.’ If you don’t do this, I will come down to your house and break your knees.”
“I went out to dinner last night with Henry and Will,” said Hurwitz, “And I told my wife it was like being out to dinner with Elmo and Batman.”
The next attendee asked if there were any New Media plans for the show. “What’s interesting about the broadcast television business is, that as much are we’re aware of New Media, how not a priority it is,” said Hurwitz. “You’d think they’d have cameras running at every writers meeting and rehearsal…” The networks are still run by the “old guard”, Hurwitz said, who don’t always understand that audiences are hungry for more content.
The next audience member asked Winkler what it was like to originate the term “jumping the shark.” “I am the only actor in the world who has jumped the shark twice!” said Winkler. “Once because of ‘Happy Days’ and once because of Mitch Hurwitz.”
“Because the show had to jump the shark when you jumped the shark,” said Hurwitz.
Kenny was asked what it’s like to build a character’s voice for animation. “You read that character description and look at that drawing and you just try to make that,” said Kenny. “Also, you try to please Mitch Hurwitz.”