On “Better Call Saul,” Rhea Seehorn plays Kim Wexler, the character with perhaps the show’s highest moral compass. But on her latest series, “Cooper’s Bar,” Seehorn has gone in a completely different direction.
“I’m an absolute asshole in it; I am horrible, which is fun,” she says. Actually, the marketing deck for “Cooper’s Bar” goes even further than that, calling Seehorn’s character, TV executive Kris, the “biggest dick in Hollywood.”
“It’s incredibly different from Kim Wexler,” she says. “It’s definitely fun, when I’m am churning and wringing hands about Kim Wexler, to be working on these scripts for ‘Cooper’s Bar’ and thinking about Kris, somebody that steps over recliners and just screams and yells at people and has no tact whatsoever.”
“Cooper’s Bar” is an original short-form digital series produced for AMC that will be timed to run next spring around the Season 6 return of “Saul.” Seehorn is an executive producer and will direct some episodes as well as star as an awful Hollywood executive who’s a regular at the makeshift watering hole of a character actor, played by Lou Mustillo (“Mike & Molly”).
Mustillo, who has an actual Tiki lounge in his backyard, was the series’ inspiration. And yes, the low-budget production will be shot in his backyard tavern — where he, Seehorn and their buddies first came up with the idea for the show. They shot a pilot, which screened at SXSW, and AMC got interested.
“There’s lots of meta Hollywood stuff but it’s also about the gig economy, people trying to get by with multiple jobs,” says Seehorn. “And then at the heart of it is finding your own tribe, wherever you are. And this this group of friends that has each other’s back no matter what.”
Casey Washington, David Conolly and Kila Kitu also star in the series, which was created by Conolly, Hannah Davis-Law, Nick Morton, Mustillo and Seehorn. Evan Shapiro and Alfredo de Villa are executive producers.
AMC identified “Cooper’s Bar” as an ideal project for The Content Room, an ad sales initiative the company recently launched to focus on branded content, talent integrations and franchise extensions. The company had already been producing various short-form series that doubled as sponsorship opportunities for advertisers, including “Fear the Walking Dead: Flight 462” and two “Saul” offshoots that won Emmys: “Los Pollos Hermanos Employee Training” and “Ethics Training With Kim Wexler” (starring, coincidentally, Seehorn).
The Content Room got going last year with “Bottomless Brunch at Colman’s,” which launched during the early days of the pandemic and essentially began as a show shot at “Fear the Walking Dead” star Colman Domingo’s house as he mixed cocktails and talked over Zoom with celebrity friends.
Now AMC is going all-in on these shorts, distributing them on linear, social, online and AVOD/FAST channels. “Cooper’s Bar” is the first original series to come out of this ramped-up initiative.
“We always knew that fans love this extra content, they perform well and win awards, but now we know that advertisers love them too,” says Kim Granito, AMC’s exec VP of Content Room and integrated marketing. “This project definitely aligns nicely with our larger strategy. We love passion projects that come from our talent, because there’s a built in audience there. There’s a level of quality that comes along with them. And we know that it’s something that partners are interested in.”
Just don’t compare it to that infamous short-form programmer that quickly disappeared last year. “It’s a different game from what Quibi was doing. We are developing shows that hang with our biggest franchises, where we know that there’s an audience there hungry for more.”
The Content Room operates separately from AMC’s entertainment team, but the network’s programming execs are kept in the loop on these projects, and in the case of series offshoots like the “Saul” shorts, show creators and writers are involved. “A lot of these are passion projects that grow out of the show storylines they couldn’t necessarily fit in,” Granito says.
Marketing partners are then brought in where it makes sense, and their level of involvement depends on the property, she adds.
“For a show like ‘Cooper’s’ it sort of lends itself to certain brands, since it takes place in a bar,” Granito says. “So there’s endemic categories that you are not going to be surprised sneaking in on there. We’re not looking for partners to come along and help write this show. It’s has such a distinct, smart voice. But someone does want to be representative in that bar. Or, maybe there’s a car service company that wants to be delivering Rhea when she shows up at Cooper’s house. It varies. There are other shows that we have in development, travel shows, those likely will be a lot more collaborative, because a travel company will have priorities in destinations and other things. But for the most part, it’s not far off from what we do across our linear shows. The only difference is we have a lot more flexibility in in distribution and what shows we’re moving forward with.”
Seehorn said the “Cooper’s Bar” creators briefly considered turning it into a half-hour pitch, but ultimately decided to keep the short-form aspect. “It’s also fun that there’s an increasing number of places that these things can live too,” she said. “I do think it’s exciting what AMC is doing with these short form series because they can pop up anywhere.”
As for the final season of “Saul,” which will air over two halves, Seehorn is mum on “deep dark secrets” such as when the show wraps, if Kim Wexler is still alive, and if she’s still shooting. But she does confirm that star Bob Odenkirk, who suffered a heart attack earlier this year, is “doing amazing. And like I said, whether I’m in scripts or not, I get to read them and I can tell you that this season is insane. It’s going to blow people’s minds. I can’t wait for it to come out.”