Having grown up watching crime procedural shows, it’s hard for most of us to think of an America without the typical crime scene investigation. But imagine a time like 1875, when forensics was in its infancy, and a Harvard-educated sheriff shows up in an unruly Kansas town intent on introducing science to capture the marauders plaguing the town. That’s the idea behind Hulu Original Quick Draw, a comedic, improvised Western created by Nancy Hower and star John Lehr that debuts on Hulu and Hulu Plus today. We spoke with Nancy and John about how they went from comedies about grocery stores (Ten Items or Less) and jails (JailBait) to a sitcom set in the Old West, and the new challenges that that presented.
HULU: Supermarkets… Prisons… the natural progression is the Wild West. How did that happen?
JOHN: It’s natural, like you said. We just followed it. We’ve been in some different locales.
NANCY: Yeah, we have.
JOHN: We liked the idea of history. We wanted to go back in time. The idea of doing our style of comedy with an historical context seemed exciting. It seemed fun.
HULU: Why specifically the Old West?
NANCY: I think John has always talked about doing a Western. Funnily enough there was an episode of Ten Items or Less where we started with a Wild West open, and I’m sure that was coming from John, and he has always been like, “Let’s do a Western! Let’s do a Western!”
JOHN: It’s a huge genre. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that there’s a lot to mine there. The idea of taking all these dramatic narratives and spin them comically, like Blazing Saddles, seemed like a good fit for us. I think we’re really good at being ridiculous but playing it for real. You can do that in a Western
NANCY: You don’t know what happened back then. You don’t know how people would react. You can make it weirdly more grounded by putting it in a “here” space. We couldn’t have done one without the other…
HULU: Which lends itself to the improv…
NANCY: Yes! In an extraordinary situation, people acting super ordinary is funny to us.
HULU: Do you choose your guest stars based on their improvisational background?
JOHN: Definitely, that’s important. We also end up picking really strong actors. A lot of our actors have never improvised before, but they’re sometimes the best because they don’t try to be funny. It’s not a competition, which sometimes improv can become. You know, “Look how witty I am!” To have an actor stated in the part makes it really great for an improviser like me to play with them because they’re not going to back down.
NANCY: We like to mix “straight” actors, meaning people who don’t do comedy, with comedians so it doesn’t become a mental “I’m going to out-joke you.” We want it to come from the heart rather than the brain.
HULU: Who are some of the guest stars we can expect this season?
NANCY: Bob Clendenin. Amazing.
JOHN: Tim Bagley. Harry Lennix. Frangela [Francis Callier and Angela V. Shelton]. Robert Cuthill.
HULU: Where are you filming? I know that on Ten Items or Less you shot in an authentic supermarket.
JOHN: We shot at Paramount Ranch which is in Agoura Hills just north of Malibu.
NANCY: It’s where they shot Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
JOHN: And a bunch of Westerns. John Wayne. It’s one of these places that have been around forever. If you walked around it you’d be like, “ This looks familiar to me.” Yeah, it’s weirdly in L.A., but 22 degrees in the morning but 95 degrees in the afternoon. It’s this weird disparate temperature change, but it’s awesome. You’re walking around an Old West town dressed like that. It’s fun as hell.
HULU: What’s the Harvard connection?
NANCY: My brother went to Harvard so I get to rib him about it 24/7.
HULU: We love the idea that Harvard people are constantly telling you they’re from Harvard.
NANCY: But we’re also hoping that people from Harvard actually watch it. We think it will be a fun thing. We wanted a highly educated guy. We wanted a school that actually was around back then, so it was probably Harvard or Yale. And we loved the idea of this guy constantly name-dropping.
JOHN: We discovered by accident that forensic science and criminology were in its infancy right around that same time, so we thought that was awesome. Let’s bring this in, this Sherlock Holmes-ian, CSI of it all. So the guy had to go to school somewhere so we thought Harvard.
HULU: Was the intention always to bring it to Hulu?
NANCY: Yeah, pretty much. The intention in the beginning was to do a passion project and at the beginning we didn’t know where this would sell, so we put up our own money, which we never do.
JOHN: Lately we work with other producing elements who give us money for a pilot presentation to bring into a network.
NANCY: This was like, let’s just do it and as we were doing it, we had met with Hulu on an earlier project which we almost did with them and it didn’t work out so we ended up going to NBC but we thought that this was a great place to go back to. Hulu was the first meeting we made and in that meeting, we were like, “We have to do this here.” We could do all eight episodes. We weren’t going to have to go through the whole pilot process. We can actually have people watch it. That was our main thing. When our agent first saw it he said, “This is the funniest thing we’ve ever seen you do. Now how do we get it to a place where they actually will play it?” Because everybody’s branding. It’s not made for a specific place. It was a passion, and we were lucky enough to have these guys go, “Yeah, we’re in. We like what you do.”
HULU: What if you find some old product placement, like Coca-Cola, from the 1800s?
JOHN: Hey, man, we’ll do product placement!
NANCY: Levis, Jack Daniels, we’ve already talked about it. Wells Fargo.
JOHN: A stagecoach is expensive!
NANCY: We did that with Ten Items.
JOHN: It’d be fun to do a scene where the guys are wearing the first Levis, like, “what are these?”
HULU: You gave a shout out to Geico at the Upfronts. What were you guys [Ed. Note: John was one of the Geico cavemen] drinking in the water that you guys are all on such funny shows now?
JOHN: [laughs] Just water. Regular water. I don’t know.
NANCY: I had vodka.
JOHN: Nancy had vodka. We did a thing at the Upfronts. We discovered this old recipe book from the 1800s of drinks, mixology. Weird, crazy drinks like gin and pine where you fill a tub full of gin and put a pine log in it and they would serve that in saloons. So we’re doing this ancillary thing where we’ll have a drink for each episode and there will be a word in each episode and you can have a drinking game so that every time you hear a word you can take a sip. We were talking about that at the Upfronts. The drinks were so bizarre. Some of them were weird.
NANCY: Some of them had raw eggs. We’re hoping you guys are going to watch it and make the drink…
JOHN: Get hammered…
NANCY: …bring your friends and start drinking.
JOHN: Nothing better than a drunk audience.
NANCY: I used to do this with Sopranos. You’d make a big Italian meal and have everyone over. We’re hoping that people will do that for us.
JOHN: We learned a lot of people watch Hulu with their friends. Some people by themselves at their computer, but some people in groups. It’s cool.
“Quick Draw” premieres on August 5th with new episodes airing every Monday on Hulu and Hulu Plus.