TV critics attending Summer TV Press Tour 2014 wanted to talk to the cast and crew of Fox’s new Mulaney about its similarity to NBC’s long-running comedy series Seinfeld. In the new multi-cam comedy, from NBCU and originally developed for NBC (the network passed on the pilot), former Saturday Night Live writer John Mulaney plays a fictionalized version of himself — a standup comic trying to take his career to the next level. Martin Short co-stars as a comedy legend and now game-show host, for whom Mulaney works; Elliott Gould plays his wacky next door neighbor. Nasim Pedrad, Seaton Smith and Zack Pearlman round out the cast. Mulaney is exec produced by Lorne Michaels, David Miner, Dave Becky, Jon Pollack, Andrew Singer and Andy Ackerman.
Exec producer/director Ackerman, perhaps best known for his work on Seinfeld after directing nearly 90 episodes, was asked to discuss the new series’ many similarities to that long-running NBC comedy. After turning to Mulaney and murmuring, “You’re no Jerry Seinfeld,” he turned to TV critics and said, “This is a cast I’m really excited about… I had the privilege to work with that great cast, and I see so many similarities in terms of the chemistry. And we have an opportunity to take John’s voice, and what he’s doing I’m really excited about…and if I have any small percent of [Seinfeld’s] success I’d be thrilled.”
One critic noted the similarities between the two series “seem so pronounced.” Ackerman responded that the comedy also drew on, and learned from, Garry Shandling‘s comedy series, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and Abbott and Costello. The challenge is to use Mulaney’s voice, he said, to “try to do something different.”
Mulaney was asked how the show came about. “I just watched Seinfeld and copied it,” he snarked. “It’s on all the time, so it’s easy.” Then he said he thought it would be “cool” to do a comedy that drew from the sitcoms he grew up on “with my sense of humor – my sensibility…Two years later we’re here (with) an updated version of an old-school sitcom with maybe a weirder bent to it, and I hope I accomplished that.” He described his comedy style as a ” little cynical but hopeful as well…I always face the day with a smile, and then various things happen.”
“It’s pretty ridiculous, isn’t it?” Mulaney said when asked about getting Gould and Short for the cast.
“Lorne Michaels asked me to come and meet John — and I love John,” Gould explained.
“The difference is Lorne asked Elliot to meet John, and he asked me to read for John,” Short joked.
Mulaney’s SNL colleague Pedrad said she worked with Mulaney whenever she played Arianna Huffington on the NBC late-night series’ Weekend Update segment. “I had great fun on that,” she said. “There’s nothing like that show, and I was lucky to be there five years, but at some point you have to leave, and I can’t think of a better reason to leave than this particular show and this cast.” Mulaney, in turn, said he had particularly enjoyed writing for Weekend Update. “You’re right into the barrel, into the camera, writing pure jokes.”
Throughout the Press Tour, the legion of actors cast in the role of Scruffy Bearded Best Friend on various programs have each been asked their thoughts on this trend, and to explain what it takes to make a good Scruffy Bearded Best Friend. “Grow a beard, and be a best friend,” advised Zach Pearlman, who secured the part on Mulaney. “It’s strange that I keep seeing me in different TV shows,” Pearlman acknowledged, adding, “It’s funny that everybody caught on to the same trend, but I’m happy to be part of it.”