Childrens Hospital is a terrible place to get your kid treated, but the satirical series of the same name has become a reliable source of irreverent laughter and a welcome outlet for mockery-starved fans of shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “House.”
Originally developed for TheWB.com and then migrated over to Adult Swim for its second season, “Childrens Hospital” remains slightly under-the-radar, or at least more under-the-radar than you’d expect for a show that stars Rob Corddry, Lake Bell, Erinn Hayes, Rob Huebel, Ken Marino and Megan Mullally, Malin Åkerman and Henry Winkler, with an impressive assortment of guest stars including Jon Hamm, Ernie Hudson and Nick Offerman. Airing on the Internet or late-night cable will do that.
“Childrens Hospital” — named for Dr. Childrens, hence the editor-thwarting lack of apostrophe — returns for its third season on Thursday (June 2) night with its usually high quotient of fake blood and genre-tweaking wackiness. If you’ve ever watched a medical drama before, it won’t take you long to catch on.
I got on the phone with series creator and co-star Corddry to chat about what viewers can expect.
HitFix: You guys started with short episodes in your first season and then almost doubled the length to 10-to-12 minutes for Season Two. When you broke stories for this season, did you find yourself comfortable in that range?
Rob Corddry: Yeah. I was very fond of saying, after our first season, that I would never do this for television, just because I didn’t think this kind of show would sustain itself past five minutes. It seems like 11-and-a-half minutes is about the ceiling for this kind of comedy. But other than that, the format and the tone haven’t changed at all, just the number of pages we have to turn in.
HitFix: What ended up being the secret to actually pushing it to 11 minutes, rather than five?
RC: There was no secret, really. Finding out how many pages that was. You know? 17 pages. That’s what we found out makes an 11-and-a-half minute show. That’s really the secret. Beyond that, it’s just doing the same exact thing we’ve been doing, not really worrying too much about anything else.
HitFix: But if I told you the secret that, say, 35 pages equaled a 23 or 25 minute show, what would be keeping you guys from doing that?
RC: I don’t think it would be funny. I think that if you do a show that long, you have to have some kind of sense of story and arc and character development and that’s not really what we’re about. We’re about jokes-per-minute and I think that would, after too much time, get kind of relentless.
HitFix: And you never find yourself with stories that feel like they could be potentially longer?
RC: Yes. We may even do a two-parter next season, but we’re still just talking about that right now. We do have definitely more of a story in these episodes this season, but it’s kinda an experiment. I don’t know. I definitely think there’s a middle ground, but the story serves the jokes, not the other way around.
HitFix: You say that story isn’t the show’s strength, but I watched the full second season in a marathon over the weekend and I was struck by how, in that context rather than week-to-week, you actually do see story and character arcs, at least somewhat. So is that something you somewhat think about?
RC: You know what? To be honest, I think that was kinda a mistake. This coming season, there’s nothing in terms of a continuing story arc throughout the season. As a matter of fact, if we found out that two characters were dating for more than one episode, we would change it. You know? These two already dated last episode. Let’s put them in long-term relationships with somebody else. Continuity’s just something that we actively avoid.
HitFix: Well sure. It’s not a show with continuity, but there’s still an institutional history or memory that the show maintains.
RC: Sure. There’s a traditional format that we follow and we don’t like to break that too often. You’ve got to be able to count on something, right? You can’t have a show that’s just about jokes. Also, I’m really enamored with the universe of “Childrens Hospital” and the show outside of the show, the show that’s been on for 17 years and that started in the late ’60s and is covered by this fake news shows. That is really fun to me and there’s continuity in that. We use it when we need to, but most of the time, if you free yourself from having to concentrate on storylines and stuff, you can get away with a lot more in terms of jokes and absurdity.
HitFix: I know this is going to sound geeky, but you mentioned the long-running TV show and the documentary crew following them. Do you view that Season 2 episode as being canon or was that meant as a one-off joke episode? I really couldn’t tell.
RC: [Laughs.] Yeah, um… No, actually our finale this season is another episode of “News Readers.” And our first episode, there’s a classic TV show open, like on “E.R.” which presents the names of the actors playing these characters, as there were on “News Readers.” Like the character who plays Blake Downs is Carter Spindel.
HitFix: I just wasn’t sure if that episode was the truth of what’s happening on this show or *a* possible truth of what’s happening on this show that you guys thought might be amusing for one week.
RC: Exactly. No, that’s definitely not a one-off. That is… canonical.
HitFix: In addition to the behind-the-scenes episode last season, you guys also had the “live” episode. What other “stunt” episodes do we have coming up this season?
RC: Well, there’s one show that takes place entirely in the ’70s. It’s sorta our lost episode from 1976, an episode that only aired once back in January of 1976 and we’re reairing again after “finding it.” And, as you probably know, “Childrens Hospital,” the TV show that’s been on for 17 years, was based on a play from the ’30s called “Childrens Hospital.” It’s sort of like “Our Town” or “Spoon River Anthology” and we have our doctors, the actors, perform that play in front of the Adult Swim cameras.
HitFix: This leads eventually to the inevitable radio production?
RC: That would be very boring, but every year somebody pitches “The lights go out in the hospital and the whole episode is completely in the dark.”
HitFix: How much of the writing process for you guys is like that, is like, “I love this stunt convention from this show, let’s take it on”?
RC: That’s fun, but really my favorite episodes of “Childrens Hospital” are what we call the “normal” episodes, with just a standard A, B, C story, just your everyday medical drama show.
HitFix: What does last season’s “Do the Right Thing” episode count as? Was that a normal episode or a stunt episode?
RC: It’s interesting you should ask that, because we’ve had arguments about that episode. I say that that’s kinda a regular episode, even though it’s shot differently. David Wain would call that a more gimmicky episode.
HitFix: The Rosie Perez-style closing credits for that episode are tremendous.
RC: Yeah, that’s enough to make me call it an out-of-the-ordinary episode. On the DVD, which was just released last week, we have an extended video version of those credits. That was the last thing we shot last season, our last scene, which was fun.
HitFix: I know Jon Hamm is back in the premiere, following up on last season’s finale twist. Did the delay on ‘Mad Men” production let you guys use him a bit more? And who else can we expect to drop by this season?
RC: Jon Hamm is a really good sport and very game for this sort of thing. He’s a very busy man and we only had him in for an hour. Sarah Silverman’s also on. Alicia Silverstone. Jesse Plemons from “Friday Night Lights.” Michael McKean. We’ve got a lot of good guest stars this year.
HitFix: A couple of those people sound like they come from outside the improv-trained backgrounds of your usual guests. Who has surprised you?
RC: Ernie Hudson was really good. He was a lot fun. Bruce Davison does a bit this season. He plays the narrator in the sorta “Our Town” episode and he’s great. He’s super-good and that was a lot of fun.
HitFix: Looking at the season as a whole, back at press tour in January, you said that this season was going to be more like “House” and less like “Grey’s Anatomy.” How does that play out?
RC: Well, it’s only because I started watching “House” before and during the writing of this current season. I just found myself more influenced. We made fun of “House” last season, but we didn’t really do a great job, because I’d never seen “House” before. But now that I understand the formula of that show, it shows up a lot more.
HitFix: In what way? How have you come to “get” the kernel of “House”?
RC: It’s just that there’s a mystery you have to solve and the answer is never what you think it has to be initially and then, of course, he has his epiphany because somebody says something off-hand that triggers some kind of inspiration. We have a lot of fun with that.
“Childrens Hospital” returns to Adult Swim on Thursday, June 2 at Midnight.