Reno 911!: The Complete Series is out now on DVD. You can get all 6 seasons (88 episodes) with over 3 hours of bonus features and commentary tracks for 32 episodes for $46 (but you can find it for around $30 without looking too hard). The show started out as a straight up parody of Fox's wildly successful reality show Cops, but it soon morphed into its own weird parallel universe and eventually led to the movie Reno 911!: Miami.
The three creators of the series all played lead roles: Thomas Lennon played Lt. Jim Dangle, whose name was echoed by some inappropriately short shorts, Robert Ben Garant played redneck Deputy Travis Junior and Kerri Kenney-Silver played Deputy Trudy Weigel. All three came to fame on the MTV comedy series The State.
We talked to Lennon and Garant about the release of the DVD, why the show has so many fans in law enforcement and what happened after Lennon sent a pair of Dangle shorts to Iraq around the time that Saddam Hussein fell.
You guys go back to the 90's together.
ROBERT BEN GARANT: Yes, we've worked together a long time.
THOMAS LENNON: Actually, technically the 80's. Not to bum everybody out, but yeah.
RBG: We met in college. We met the freshman year at NYU in a comedy group, so we go back to '88.
TL: Not to be a bummer, but when we met the Smith's were still totally together. The Smith's were still good friends with each other.
I'm not sure all fans of Reno 911 know your history before the show. Turn them on to the old stuff.
TL: Ben and I met freshman year of NYU and then we joined a comedy group called The State, which ran for a couple years on MTV. Then we had another show called Viva Variety, which ran on Comedy Central. We went to Los Angeles and we were really struggling to get a pilot going. We tried a couple different things and we wrote a bunch of things and then we had a deal with Fox to do a sketch show for them.
RBG: We cast a sketch show. We cast a show that was going to be up against Saturday Night Live. This was was before MADtv. We cast people who could do imitations. Carlos Alazraqui came in with an imitation of Woody Allen, like Cedric Yarbrough came in with an imitation of Aaron Neville.
TL: He stuck a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup to his forehead, as if it was a mole, and sang like Aaron Neville. We're like, yeah, great. These are the people we want.
RBG: We wrote a bunch of sketches. We did a test read for the network of sketches. Pulled the plug after the sketch read, basically.
TL: They cancelled us in the room, which was amazing. They're just like, “Yeah, guys, that was funny, but you know what, this is not a good idea for a show. We're not gonna do the show.” They told us that in the room and we were a little blown away. We still had a crew and the cast. And we said, “Well, what if we just shoot something like for extra credit and turn it in?” Since it’s was for the 9:30 slot on Fox, why wouldn’t we do a parody of Cops, which was the show on at 9:00?
RBG: Cops was still new and really, really big.
TL: This is the year 2000, so this is getting on almost 15 years ago.
RBG: It turned out great. We really loved it and Fox did not love it so much. Fox thought it was a little, probably like bawdy for their network. So it sat on a shelf for years. Then Comedy Central asked us if we had something kind of cheap that we could do and we showed them that old tape of Reno 911! and they loved it. We’ve been doing weird sketch comedy for a long time and Reno was the first sort of bordering on mainstream thing that we ever really did.
"Reno 911!" has a lot of fans in law enforcement. Was that weird for you?
TL: We were nervous and people at the network were nervous as we started doing it. They're like, “Oh, cops are going to be mad at you.” Cops are going to be mad because you don’t seem like Starsky and Hutch cracking the case. You seem like real people and possibly even sorta dumb people. Many police officers have come up to me and told me it is the most accurate law enforcement show on television. And they weren't kidding.
I always thought it had to do with the fact that all the dialog was improvised. Ben and I wrote careful scripts of most things, but we never wrote down what anyone would say. Everything you're hearing is people saying it for the very first time.
RBG: We shot in a real police station in Carson, California, which has gotten better since we were there, but at the time it was a pretty rough crime-ridden neighborhood.
TL: Yeah, it was pretty intense.
RBG: There were a lot of gangs.
The cops there were a little leery of us at first. They let us shoot at their station because the sheriff had made an order that sheriffs need to be more open with the public and with the television stations. So they let us shoot there and, after about halfway through the first season, they got it. They really said that we weren't making fun of cops at all, that we were just sort of playing cops like normal human beings and they started to pitch us jokes.
I think early in the series Dangle describes law enforcement as “boredom, boredom, boredom, boredom, boredom, boredom, sheer terror, boredom, boredom, boredom.” The cops heard that and they said, “Oh, yeah, you get it. That’s exactly our week”. I think people can tell that we like cops and I think that that’s why the cops kind of like us.
Are there any thoughts about bringing these characters back in the future?
TL: Last week Ben and I did a sketch of Dangle and Junior for the Comedy Central Christmas Special and I gotta say it's like rolling off a log. It's very fun to play these characters.
RBG: Yeah, it was pretty fun. Every time we strap on the Kevlar, it makes me want to do it again. It was a really great group of people. The people in the show are still our very good friends. So, yeah, every once in a while we really start to think about it seriously.
TL: If we do it at some point, I wouldn’t be surprised if we did it like a True Detective or a Fire Walk With Me, more of a long-form kinda movie with episodes or something.
RBG: One case. One case.
TL: Yeah. One incredible case.
RBG: That we don’t crack at all.
TL: They didn’t really wrap stuff up that well on True Detective, so that'll be fine.
Any messages for Military.com readers?
RBG: We have a lot of fans in the military. We’ve done some USO tours. During the Gulf War, the one that we took down Saddam Hussein, Tom started writing back and forth with a sergeant who was a big fan. Tom sent a real pair of the Dangle shorts over there.
TL: To Baghdad, yeah.
RBG: Just as a “thanks for what you guys are doing” kind of gift. They started taking pictures of the shorts held up against Saddam Hussein statues, like he was wearing the Dangle shorts.
TL: They took the shorts to Uday's Pleasure Palace. Remember that? They sent me a PowerPoint of my shorts everywhere in Baghdad right after we took it. It was really one of the coolest things that ever happened, pretty much.
By the way, I've also sat in the shorts on Air Force Two. I sat in the President's seat on Air Force Two, in the actual shorts, so hopefully they Febrezed after we were there.
(NOTE TO OUR READERS: PLEASE SEND PHOTOS OF DANGLE SHORTS IN IRAQ AND WE WILL DO A SLIDESHOW!)