Back in the fall, Adam Scott gave the world “The Greatest Event in Television History” – which turned out to be an Adult Swim special where he and Jon Hamm recreated the opening credits to ’80s detective show “Simon & Simon.” (The entire special is on YouTube, but you have to pay a small fee to see it now; it’s on AdultSwim.com for free. UPDATE: And now the complete sequel special is embedded below.) It was a complete goof – inspired in part by a classic “Late Night with David Letterman” bit I’ve embedded below, in part by Scott and Hamm’s mutual love of classic opening credits sequences – and successful enough that Adult Swim commissioned a sequel. Tonight at midnight on Adult Swim, brace yourselves for Scott, his “Parks and Recreation” co-star Amy Poehler, and Poehler’s former “SNL” castmate Horatio Sanz in a shot-for-shot remake of the season 4 credits to “Hart to Hart.”
I spoke with Scott yesterday – he was in New Orleans, on the set of, as he described it, “this really cool, kind of an Oscar-type movie for next year called ‘Hot Tub Time Machine 2′” – about the origins of the first “Greatest Event,” the challenges of bringing the ’80s back to life, and what he misses about those lengthy main title sequences, which now mainly exist on cable.
Where did the idea for the first special come from?
Adam Scott: Jon Hamm and I were emailing YouTube videos back and forth, as friends do these days, and we got caught up in sending each other opening credit sequences from when we were growing up, and topping each other with ones we hadn’t seen in years, jogging each other’s memories. After about an hour of this, we sent each other “Simon & Simon” at the exact same time. We were like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s crazy.’ I emailed and said, ‘We should do a shot-for-shot recreation of this,’ and he was like, ‘Yes.’ Just a couple of days later, I accidentally pitched it to Nick Weidenfeld, I said, ‘It’s an internet video or something,’ and he said, ‘Why not do it for Adult Swim, and we’ll give you more of a budget?’ And then I had to go back to Hamm and say, ‘Hey, remember that thing I said as a joke we should do? Well, we’re doing it, and I sort of included you casually, and he was game, and so we did it a few months later.’
At what point did it become more than just the actual re-creation, but this more elaborate behind-the-scenes parody?
Adam Scott: That came from Weidenfeld, he said we needed to fill more than just one minute. We had to fill one of their 15 minute slots on Adult Swim, so I thought back to something that inspired me so much as a teenager, which was this bit that Chris Elliott did on Letterman back in the day called “Chris Elliott: Television Miracle.” It just blew my mind growing up. It was tone-wise so perfect and captured the self-important making-of documentaries. The conceit is that Chris Elliott is a special effect animatronic robot, and whenever he comes on Letterman, it’s a really complicated process of engineering. It was just brilliant, George Takei hosted it. It was back when Letterman would have that film festival once a season. Michael Keaton and Michael J Fox would come on with those short films that they made. It was amazing. I can’t believe that something that great was on television. So the behind the scenes thing was greatly inspired by the Chris Elliott short on there, and the tone of it. It just really caught my imagination as a teenager, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for years. I just thought, ‘Maybe we can fill the time with this self-important EPK-type making-of thing.’
How hard was it to recreate these opening credit sequences? Were there certain parts that were more difficult than others?
“Simon & Simon,” there were pieces that I think we did not recreate. One was a simple shot of a road sign that said San Diego on it. We didn’t have the bodies to go down there, but in the time there, we didn’t have the camera to go down to that sign at the Mexico border. So we just used the original one. And then the tractor bursting out of the burning barn, we didn’t have the money. We had the pyro and we had the barn, but we just ran out of time and money, and it was going to be too dangerous. The barn was in the middle of this dry field, and we may have burned down Los Angeles. So those two shots, we did not recreate. It was heartbreaking. But in “Hart to Hart,” everything is recreated.
And is it, for the most part, in the same places where the originals were filmed? How did you figure out where to go?
This is mostly a credit to my wife Naomi, who produces them. She finds out where all these things were shot. There are ways of doing it, just doing lots and lots of research. “Simon & Simon,” we found, when we’re walking out of the hotel and he’s dumping water out of his boot – all of these things are half a second long, so it’s a little ridiculous to talk about them – but we used that hotel in Santa Monica where they actually did that, and then we drove by it the other day, and it’s been shut down and condemned. So we got right in under the wire on that one. In a lot of cases, stuff has changed. There are trees where there weren’t trees before, and we just have to deal with it. We try and find as many original locations as possible. Sometimes, there’s absolutely no record of where something is, so we just search around until we find something that can approximate it.
How did you decide on “Hart to Hart” as the follow-up?
I think we just watched everything and tried to find something that had the most spectacular and fun and ridiculous opening credits. It was just such a fun one. There’s so much fun, flashy stuff to do in it. Me, (co-director) Lance Bangs and Naomi and Paul Scheer all thought, “Before we move on and try to do something different, something that matches Simon & Simon in its 80s-ness is a good thing to do.”
And how did you land on Amy as your co-star? The special suggests you have an… interesting working relationship.
I think fans of “Parks and Rec” will be interested to get a peak inside our process and how we work together. I just asked her, and I will say from the very start I was clear with her that making these things is a huge pain in the ass and had to warn her, ‘Are you sure?’ It’s five tough days of driving around trying to get all these shots. But she was totally game, and great.
You said before that you want to move on and do something different. Do you mean something that’s not a credits sequence remake, or something from a different period?
I’m not quite sure yet, but I think the action-detective thing, we should try to find something else to do (instead).
Obviously, Adult Swim considered this enough of a success for you to keep doing them. What did they tell you about the response to it?
I think it did pretty well, and I think something like this definitely lives online a bit, too. And people seemed to like it. They immediately wanted us to do more, and Mike Lazzo, who runs Adult Swim, is super cool, and he has this motto with us: the weirder, the better. To hear that from a TV executive is not only refreshing, but inspiring and fun. Working for them is a joy.
“Parks and Recreation” is a rare network show these days to have any kind of notable credits sequence, but it’s still really short compared to the kind of thing you’re recreating. What do you think the business has lost in not having them anymore, with few exceptions?
As a kid, I loved the opening credit sequence. It primed you for the show. You got to see all your favorite characters, and the fact that it was the same thing every week, at least season to season, the repetitive nature was great. It puts your brain into the mode of this is what you’re going to watch. I think there’s a real art to it. When we did “Simon & Simon,” when I saw it on YouTube, I got a visceral charge from it, I remember being so excited as a kid getting ready to watch the show. There’s a genuine tribute aspect to these things as well. These are shows that we all love and we want to tip our hat to them. It’s ridiculous, what we’re doing, but I don’t think we’d be going to all this trouble if we didn’t love these shows. But I kind of miss the opening credit sequence. It gets you emotionally in place for the show. I think the “Parks” sequence does that as well; it’s a really good one.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com