When the comedy program Mr. Show with Bob and David came on the air in 1995, there was nothing like it. Created by comedians Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, it was full of dark, subversive and riotously funny sketches tied together with bizarre and brilliant segues reminiscent of Monty Python's Flying Circus.
For example, one of the most famous Mr. Show sketches featured Cross as the beleaguered host of a fictional radio program called The Pre-Taped Call-In Show.
Even though it seemed no one was watching it at the time, fans in the know would pass around videotapes of Mr. Show like a forbidden treasure. Its influence on American comedy was enormous, and some of the regulars on Mr. Show have gone on to huge careers. Sarah Silverman and Jack Black, for instance, or Tom Kenney, who you might know as Spongebob Squarepants.
These days, Cross is well known for his role as the "never-nude" Tobias Funke from Arrested Development. Odenkirk plays lawyer Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad.
Though Mr. Show was hailed by critics, HBO buried the program in a Monday midnight slot for its fourth season. It did poorly in the ratings and was canceled.
"We were in the midst of shooting our final shows at the time," Odenkirk tells All Things Considered host Arun Rath, "and all the air went out of the enterprise."
Fifteen years after Mr. Show went off the air, they have a new book of old scripts that were rejected by Hollywood. It's called Hollywood Said No: Orphaned Film Scripts, Bastard Scenes, and Abandoned Darlings from the Creators of Mr. Show. Odenkirk and Cross.
On getting the news that 'Mr. Show' would move to midnight on Mondays
Odenkirk: Everyone — the writers, the actors — everyone involved and certainly David and I just felt like "Ok, this is over." Even though we hadn't even aired yet. And I remember about a month and a half, two months later I was getting gas at a station and a guy pulls up and is getting gas and said "Bob Odenkirk! I'm a huge Mr. Show fan! I thought you guys were gonna do another season!" I mean like, he had been looking for it, and it had been airing, and he'd completely missed it. So even our fans couldn't find us. And then the video tapes came out, and eventually the DVD box set, and that started to sell well on Amazon, which surprised HBO. They were so shocked that anyone would buy this show.
How the duo's 2002 movie, Run Ronnie Run, went wrong
Cross: We assumed it was going to be a collaborative work in which we'd have kind of the same amount of control that we had on our show. Like what made us successful enough to get to do this movie. And in part, we were rewriting it and rewriting it and making it each step of the way a little bit less Mr. Show and more kind of that 90-minute comedy movie that was popular back then.
Odenkirk: Once it was done shooting, we were out — completely out, like totally frozen out. That's where you make a movie, in editing. So it's hard for us to say, "Oh, it's a great movie, and they all screwed it up," because maybe in the end it wasn't so great anyways but we don't know, because we didn't get to make it.
On negative representations of Hollywood executives
Cross: Trust me, none of those guys see themselves ever as that person. That goes with agents — anyone on that side of the carpet in Hollywood will often read something that they are part of an amalgamation of that kind of character, and they'll go "That's great! Hey man, I love your take-down of the typical agent. They make me wear this suit." We've heard that line a couple times. But nobody ever sees themselves, they don't! And one thing I want to make clear, and we mention this early on in the book, in the preface I believe, Bob and I in no way feel like we've been victimized, that you should feel sorry for us. Oh boo-hoo, we're putting this out here so you can go, "Look how great these guys were, Hollywood's idiots!" We don't feel that way, we don't want to be perceived that way.