Odd-couple comedy bridges genres, draws marquee players to precinct with a twist
It’s a single-camera comedy set in a police station that pairs a wildly silly comedian with an actor renowned for his dramatic intensity. It’s produced by NBCUniversal’s studio arm for the Fox network by showrunners who are known for delivering upscale NBC hits. Yet “Brooklyn” is one of the most anticipated newcomers for the 2013-14 season, a sign of how much broadcast networks are willing to stretch to reclaim some of the creative buzz from cable and digital competitors.
Fox is betting big on the chemistry between stars Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher, and the ability of “Brooklyn” co-creators/exec producers Dan Goor and Mike Schur to field a broadcast-TV-sized hit.
“I don’t think the distinction between cable and network sensibility is that great anymore,” says Schur. “ ‘Smart’ and ‘popular’ do not have to be mutually exclusive.”
Fox entertainment chief Kevin Reilly billed “Brooklyn” as a classic workplace comedy in introducing the network’s fall lineup to advertisers last week. The show has a tough 8:30 p.m. assignment: launching the network’s Tuesday lineup in tandem with another new entry, the Seth MacFarlane-produced “Dads.”
The plethora of police-centric dramas in primetime was a major reason why Goor and Schur decided on a law-enforcement setting. A generation has passed since Barney Miller was on the beat for ABC, and “Brooklyn” creators saw great potential in tweaking contempo TV copshow formulas.
“We felt like we could take advantage of a (TV) vocabulary that everybody is familiar with and use it for a different purpose,” Schur says.
Goor adds: “Writing a police comedy in a station in New York means you’re dealing with a really funny, diverse group of cops and criminals and witnesses. it’s a fun way of exploring a world that is easy to explain to viewers. You don’t need much exposition.”
In fact, Samberg got that shorthand right away when Goor and Schur were courting him to star as Jake Peralta, the brilliant but inveterately goofy detective. Braugher plays the precinct’s hard-nosed new captain, Ray Holt, who is determined to whip Jake into shape. Samberg took the cue, summoning HBO’s “The Wire” for motivation.
“We pitched the character for five minutes and he says to us, ‘I get it, I’m the comedy McNulty,’ ” Goor says, referring to the maverick detective played in The Wire by Dominic West.
Samberg’s immediate calculation only proved their theory about the pervasiveness of TV cops in pop culture. “He instantly had a better way of summarizing the character than anything we’d come up with,” Schur says.
Recruiting Samberg was a coup that made Brooklyn a frontrunner for a pickup early on. He’d been chased for sitcom roles ever since his star began to rise on Saturday Night Live nearly a decade ago. Samberg threw the U.S. TV biz for a loop last year, after leaving SNL, with his decision to go across the Pond to topline six episodes of the BBC3 laffer “Cuckoo.” When he got back home, the pedigree of Schur and Goor and their many mutual associations in comedy circles made it an easy decision for him to sign on with them. Schur is an alum of “Saturday Night Live” and “The Office” and creator of “Parks and Recreation,” on which Goor (also a vet of “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” and “The Daily Show”) has been his top lieutenant.
“Seeing what they had done with Amy Poehler and how great her show turned out was too good to pass up,” Samberg says. “If (‘Brooklyn’) ends up one-third as good as ‘Parks and Rec,’ I’ll be psyched. … It just seemed to me that if I was going to commit to TV, the way to do it was with people who had already done things I really liked and respected.
Brooklyn’s embarrassment of riches grew when Braugher came onboard, bringing the perfect gravitas to balance Samberg’s loopiness. It was Braugher’s deft work in the TNT dramedy “Men of a Certain Age” that made Goor and Schur think he’d consider a comedy.
“It’s ridiculous how good of an actor he is,” Schur says. “We wrote jokes for him on the fly in the pilot, and he nailed every one of them.”
The A-team assembled for “Brooklyn” is already a key calling-card for Universal TV, which has been on a mission to extend its output beyond NBCUniversal channels. Backing a show for Fox with top showrunners and stars is a good way for Universal TV exec veep Bela Bajaria to convince the town she’s not merely shopping NBC rejects.
“There was competition for this show,” Bajaria says. “We just felt Fox was the right fit.” (Fox’s The Mindy Project also comes from NBCUniversal.)
Brooklyn’s finest now will begin the hardest job of all, executing another dozen or so episodes in the hopes of making America laugh come fall. Samberg notes that there’s a certain latenight TV work ethic that he shares with Goor and Schur that is energizing — even noble, in an oddball way.
“We all come from similar backgrounds, and we love comedy, for real,” Samberg says. “We’re not in this to get to syndication. We want to make people laugh.”