From public access to network sitcom

Co-creator Dan Milano talks about the long, exceedingly strange trip of "Greg the Bunny."

Topics: Television,

On Wednesday morning, just hours before the new Fox sitcom “Greg the Bunny” would go before viewers for the first time, co-creator Dan Milano talked to me by telephone from his Los Angeles office.

How did this show get started?

It was originally a show on public access called “Junktape,” that two of my friends and I put on, Spencer Chinoy and Sean Baker. We wanted to host bizarre film clips that we had, that we’d edit into these weird montages. Like we would edit the Vietnam scenes in “Forrest Gump” along with the jungle scenes in “Predator.” And we would make Predator hunt Forrest Gump, and just show bizarre clips from documentaries. Greg the Bunny was the host, because none of us wanted to appear on camera. Then we started using Greg to interview people in public, and we attracted all this fan mail. People just loved the puppet. So the Independent Film Channel asked us if Greg could become their network bunny, their corporate icon. And we were ballsy enough to say that we didn’t want him to be their icon, but that we did want to do programming for them. So they let us do a bunch of short films and vignettes in which Greg would do little movies and Warren the Ape would do trivia about the movies they showed on the network. After two years of that, we shopped Greg around Hollywood and [co-executive producer] Neil Moritz, who mostly does movies and had never really done TV, bought the idea from us.

Now, how did the sitcom wind up being the backstage story of a TV show?

Spencer and I are obsessed with neurotic comics. We are obsessed with Woody Allen and Albert Brooks and Garry Shandling, and “The Larry Sanders Show” is one of my favorite shows of all time. We knew that if we were going to be exploring egos — and since puppets are usually associated with kiddie shows — we should do a “Larry Sanders” type thing.

You play Greg’s voice?

I like to say I “handle” Greg, and I handle Warren the Ape as well. And, traditionally, all the “handlers” do the vocals as well as the physical performing.

Do you use anything to help you? Like, say, helium?

Gee, no. Just coffee and cigarettes, although I’m seven days clean on the cigarettes.

How did you get such a great cast?



Everybody came out of the woodwork. Our casting tapes are treasures, because we have so many wonderful actors who auditioned and it was so hard to turn some of them down. I think people just wanted to be a part of the pilot. I think what Eugene Levy [who plays director Gil Bender] was really attracted to was that, as he said, “I couldn’t tell by the script who is a puppet and who is human. And I think that’s great.” We wanted Sarah Silverman from the get-go, because I was a huge fan of her stand-up and of the stuff she did on “Larry Sanders” and “Mr. Show,” which is one of my favorite shows. We knew we wanted someone like Eugene [Levy]. He’s one of my idols and it took me weeks just to calm my nerves around him. We kept saying we wanted a “Seth Green type.” We were trying to discover some new, young kid, but then finally we just said, “Well, let’s talk to him.” He and I hit it off and decided to do it. He made the decision to join us within eight hours.

One thing I noticed was that the puppets have a lot of the better lines. The humans act more as the straight men.

We tried to give it an equal balance in the scripts, but I think the puppets have an unfair advantage because they’re puppets. I seriously think that if you have a human and puppet both say a line, especially if it’s a straight line — like one that comes from a neurotic place — it’s going to be funnier coming from a puppet because you don’t expect it. You don’t expect a puppet ape to talk about his ex-wife.

Do Greg’s eyes switch back and forth from buttons to real eyes?

They do. There’s no real logic to it. Unfortunately we decided — after shooting a bunch of episodes that are not airing in the order that we shot them — that he would go under the knife and be given peepers. Personally, I love the buttons and I always have. I think they’re deconstructive and they’re so cute. But the network got a little nervous. They wanted people to invest emotionally in the character and connect with his eyes.

Is it weird to be making fun of a network while working for a network?

It’s really enjoyable. It’s really great that we can bite the hand and it’s really cool of Fox to let us do that. By the same token, we’ve tried not to be so inside Hollywood that we alienate some viewers. We try to make a certain percentage of “Greg the Bunny” be about the making of the show, but most of it is about the characters’ daily lives. The stories aren’t always going to be behind-the-scenes. But with a character like Sarah Silverman’s, who is a network executive, we can have a lot of fun. We’re developing her character more and more. We have one episode coming up that’s all about her and Warren the Ape.

What’s it like for you to see Greg on network TV?

Gosh, I could go off on the whole dream-come-true thing. It’s so much fun to be doing this. But it’s also strange to be coming from public access and independent cable where you have so much creative freedom to a world of structure. But it’s been a trip to make sure the material doesn’t suffer while adapting to a new format.

Are you happy with the way that’s working out?

Yeah, I am. But if people like the show, I want to tell them to keep watching, because if we can get this thing picked up and do another 13 episodes, they’re going to be so much better. Mainly because we’ll have learned from our mistakes, and because everybody gets brave if they have a hit. You’ll see the show evolve, if it works.

It seems like shows get less and less chance to evolve lately.

Everybody’s nervous, and money is tight. So, yeah, they pull things right away. And this is the kind of show that is a water-cooler show. You have to go to work and someone will say, “Did you see that puppet show last night?” and you’ll say “No, I don’t want puppet shows,” and they’ll say, “You know what? Check it out, because there’s a monkey on there and he has a conniption fit, then he gets drunk and throws up in his car. I think you should watch it.”

Carina Chocano writes about TV for Salon. She is the author of "Do You Love Me or Am I Just Paranoid?" (Villard).

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>