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‘Black Monday’ Bosses on Finding ‘Internal Line of What Felt Appropriate’ for Premium Cable Comedy

Black Monday” co-creators Jordan Cahan and David Caspe have a storied history of broadcast comedies (“Happy Endings” for Caspe, “Breaking In” for Cahan, and “Marry Me” for both of them).  When they set out on the new endeavor of 1980s-set stock market crash comedy for premium cabler Showtime they knew they’d have a bit more freedom in style and structure but they didn’t want to completely alter their sensibility just because they could.

“Because the show was set in the ’80s there was all this language used that we find abhorrent now — and rightly so — but there were all these words bantered around…so we had to be very careful who we allowed to say those words,” Cahan said during the Showtime Television Critics Assn. panel for the comedy Thursday. “For example, our villains were allowed to say some of those words, as opposed to…our heroes — even though they had flaws.”

Cahan continued to point out that the tricky thing overall as figuring out how far they could go with certain things just because they were on premium cable. “It was finding our own internal line of what felt appropriate,” he explained. And for them, the answer was to never show female nudity.

“We are a comedy; we don’t necessarily want to contribute to that on TV,” he explained.

Similarly, Cahan and Caspe took care behind the scenes to reflect the world today, which led to making sure “that every different type of person who’s not just on the show but [also exists] in the world was in the writers’ room,” said Caspe.

On the storytelling side of things, though, Caspe admits having less boundaries allows them to “do weird episodes or weird tangents…which I think is why people gravitate towards watching some of these cable shows or premium shows.”

“Three act structure breaks out to three or four commercial breaks is still a helpful structure and is not dissimilar to a movie structure [in] plot beats and turns and how the story works. What’s great about doing a cable show is you’re not as beholden to that,” Caspe said. “We could use that as the rule to break when we wanted to break it and use it as the rule when it was helpful.”

And the 1980s setting has been key, though. The show utilizes stock footage from the real-life time period to depict period accurate New York. And the level of technology that was accessible during that time has become integral, as well. While Caspe joked that “we probably overuse mobile phones,” given how expensive and unreliable they were at the time, they do have an episode “where they get lost.”

Both executive producers shared that a lot of research went into the show to get such accuracy, pulling from news and events of the real time period in which the show is set — such as the O’hare spread — as well as from co-creator David Caspe’s father’s stories. Caspe shared his father was a commodities trader in Chicago and “used to tell me a bunch of crazy stories.”

“It’s shocking how many horrible stories my father has that he has incredible details of that he claims no part in,” he said, citing examples such as “As I was walking out, I saw all these prostitutes walking in…”

But, Cahan noted, they also wanted to “have fun with the era,” so they consider the show a “punk rock mix, messing with genres.”

“The trickiest part of that is finding actors who are world class in both parts of that — in drama and comedy,” Cahan said. “We are immensely fortunate to have the people we have on the show. … As the season moves on you’ll see a lot more of that.”

Black Monday” stars Don Cheadle, Andrew Rannells, Regina Hall, Paul Scheer, Casey Wilson and Ken Marino who all have to skirt the line of serious situations with high-octane humor.

Cheadle in particular pointed out that he ’80s setting plays really well into who his character is. But he also said Mo “has no ballast.”

“Mo is just all instinct,” he explained. “It’s trying to make a magic trick work on top of a roller coaster; that’s kind of how he operates.”

And for Hall, it was nice to get a chance to play a character who could go toe-to-toe with the men, she said.

“I applaud all of the women on Wall Street and in areas that are male-dominated before me. But the guys are so great,” Regina Hall said of her executive producers and co-stars. “They are so amazing at taking a situation and finding the humor in it so it is a commentary but it’s not preachy or judgement so we get to really laugh and enjoy it.”

“Black Monday” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime.

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