Given a career full of highs and some lows, Will Forte — whose Fox series The Last Man On Earth has received much acclaim and was recently renewed for a second season — has learned a lot of lessons. And during Wednesday night’s screening and panel discussion of the Fox series, moderated by Deadline’s Dominic Patten, Forte talked a bit about those lessons. The panel also featured LMOE executive producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, as well as co-star Kristen Schaal. It was full of laughs and a few F-bombs but also illuminating details about how the show came together. Forte also touched on the challenges of serving as showrunner, as well as how having already worked his two dream jobs, is subsequent career is just “crazy blessings.”
Although Forte has been working in television since the 1990s, running The Last Man On Earth was unlike anything he’d experienced. That’s in part because he originally wasn’t supposed to star in it. “When I met with [Lord and Christoher Miller], the plan was not for me to be in the show, it was just going to be a writing thing. I was gonna write it and then give it off to somebody, but I just fell in love with the premise and the character, so by the time we finished writing the pilot I was like, ‘Let me do it.’ “
That somehow transitioned into him running the show as well as starring in it, a huge amount of work. “I had no idea how much work it would be,” Forte said. “I usually came in shows that were in like the third season … they were already smooth-running machines. I never saw their first seasons, so I don’t know the struggles they had.” For instance, he told the audience, That ’70s Show “was a dream job,” in which he’d work from 10 AM to 5 PM with almost hilarious perks. “An hour after lunch for video games [was] built into every day,” he said. “It was crazy, it was so much fun. So I came in [to Last Man On Earth] and I was like, ‘Oh sh*t, where’s our computer games time?’ We had to actually work, and figure out who the characters were. So it was an eye opener.”
He added, “The whole of Season 1 was such a huge lesson.”
Forte also spoke about the show in relationship to his career, particularly over the past few years. He left Saturday Night Live in 2010 after eight season with the show, but just before he did so, the film based on his most famous creation flopped. “I left SNL right after MacGruber bombed, so it was not a great career move. But at a certain point you go, ‘It’s going to be a crap shoot, so whatever.’ ” He soon ended up co-starring in the critically acclaimed Nebraska, which he said “came out of nowhere.” “There was no reason to think I would ever get any acting job after [MacGruber],” he added. “I’m as surprised as anyone that I got that job.”
But if he has experienced missteps, he at least accomplished some of his dreams. “My goal in comedy was to work on SNL and at Letterman, and I got to do both those things. … I got to do my two dream jobs. All these [other] things are crazy blessings that came out of nowhere. I just got really lucky.”
Of course, these lessons also apply as he and the crew look back on the first season of Last Man On Earth. “Looking back, I think we might have taken a little more time, not much more,” Forte said. “We might have spent another episode with just the two of us alone [Forte’s character Phil Miller and Schaal’s Carol], and then another with Mel [Rodriguez] and January [Jones] and Kristen and I.”
But for Season 2, there is one thing they’ll be doing differently. Having found how much — often as much as seven minutes — ended up getting cut from Season 1 episodes, Forte indicated a major goal for the second season is simple: “write more efficiently.” All things considered, not bad.