Fred Armisen sang a song about Catalina Island, we think, to warm up the TCA crowd to talk about Documentary Now! – his comedy series nod to Eagles documentaries and such, for IFC. “We just love soft rock,” Armisen gushed moments later, onstage with fellow series creators/SNL alums Seth Meyers and Bill Hader. “It’s so bold in its gentleness.”
Each episode is a nod to a different docu, rather than flat-out parody. “If we did our job right, people would be flipping through their channels” and think it’s a real documentary, Hader told reporters. “And then they’d see me and Fred.”
Initial episodes also include their take on Grey Gardens and The Thin Blue Line, shot with guidance from creators of those docus as to how to set up shots, what lens to use and other touches.
While shooting their version of the socialite mother and daughter feral-animal hoarders of Grey Gardens, only one animal was allowed on set at a time. When the animal handler brought in the raccoon “we were on the raccoon’s time,” Hader joked. Added Meyers: “I had a conversation with [EP/director] Rhys Thomas where I said it would be great to have a possum. It’s great to work on a series where that’s an actual conversation.”
You probably won’t see them do a Ken Burns spoof anytime soon. It’s been done a lot already, they said, including on SNL. And The Jinx happened too late for them to do for the first batch of docus.
One reporter wondered if the series would work for viewers not familiar with Grey Gardens, for instance. “It’s not dependent” on that knowledge, Meyers insisted. “This is a time when documentaries are having a moment; they exist on so many streaming sites, and even places like ESPN are so documentary-friendly,” he said. He hopes people who see their Sandy Passages docu in the series are then inspired to watch Grey Gardens. “Circle of life,” he joked.
The SNL alums also agreed it’s a great time for TV comedy. “So many more places are doing comedy. IFC has been such a great home,” Meyers said. “If we were in an era of three networks, this would probably be a tough sell.”
But the money’s not huge, though they got a lot onscreen. At least one TV critics thought so, marveling that “production values are so high” and wondering about the series’ budget.
“The answer to the possum question was, ‘We can’t afford it,’” Meyers said.
Meyers, Hader and Armisen also write and EP Documentary Now! which is produced by Broadway Video and exec produced by Lorne Michaels. The show is also exec produced by Rhys Thomas and Broadway Video’s Andrew Singer.