Could ‘Jury Duty’ Get a Season 2? It Has ‘Infinitely Repeatable’ Concept for Future, Executive Producers Say
After a decade-long friendship, comedy producers David Bernad and Todd Schulman finally put together their hidden-camera comedy expertise to make Amazon Freevee’s viral success “Jury Duty.”
The executive producers of the overnight hit mockumentary combined their talents for the improvised-scripted sitcom. Bernad and Schulman began with the idea to hone in on sitcom genre tropes and create a story about an isolated individual amongst a cast of actors as they served on a sequestered jury.
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The two have had successful stints with unconventional comedy subgenres, most recently within the improvised-scripted sphere. Schulman worked with Sacha Baron Cohen on “Who Is America?” and Bernad teamed with Eric Andre on “Bad Trip.” Prior to “Jury Duty,” Schulman served as executive producer on “Borat,” “Bruno,” “The Lovebirds” and “The Dictator,” while Bernad executive produced “The White Lotus,” “Superstore,” “Uncharted” and “White House Plumbers.“
Since “Jury Duty’s” ending, audiences have embraced star and unknowing hero Ronald Gladden for his effortless ability to face whatever absurd trials the producers presented. But finding a non-actor whose warmth earnestly radiated off the screen wouldn’t have been possible without the vision of the two seasoned comedy producers. Bernad explained that while they centered on Gladden, they never wanted him to be a the brunt of a joke. “Nothing’s ever about Ronald, he’s not a target of anything. Ronald is just merely a spectator,” said Bernad. “He’s never made to look dumb. Never. That’s all on purpose. ”
Variety spoke to Schulman and Bernad about their breakout star, landing actor James Marsden, how they wanted to recreate “12 Angry Men” and if fans could expect a possible second season.
As you went through thousands of applications, how did you and the team decide on Ronald?
Bernad: Todd and I both worked separately in different camps of the genre. We both probably had different experiences in casting for the genre. At least for me, I wanted someone that felt like they had a story to be told. There was a long interview process, and you can tell he was someone with a kindness to him. The spirit of the show was always to kind of highlight a hero’s journey, and find someone that maybe needed the experience in a certain way.
Schulman: We have to give a lot of credit to one of our producers, Alexis Sampietro, who led that search and went through thousands of applications. Ultimately, one of the big factors was you’re casting your protagonist and so you want someone who’s immensely likable, and Ronald’s likability and warmth just jumped off the screen to all of us. Additionally, one of the ways this doesn’t work is if someone figures it out and in order to do that, you’d have to be quite narcissistic. Ronald seemed like a very humble, earnest guy, and so it gave us confidence that we’d be able to get through the entire shoot.
Bernad: When we sold the show, we wanted to end with a “12 Angry Men” moment. We always knew that was where the show was going. We felt maybe [we needed someone who] wouldn’t be so engaged in the process versus someone who’s “Type A.” The arc of the story is Ronald when he starts kind of not as engaged and by the end he’s sitting there fighting for the defendant to win the case. He just kind of fit all those qualities.
What did you look for from the initial questionnaire?
Bernad: Some of the questions were “What do you watch?” and “Are you a big comedy fan?” trying to kind of move away from anyone that might go “Oh, I love ‘Nathan For You,’” or “I love ‘Jackass,’” or “I love Sacha Baron Cohen.” He fit a lot of the technical means in terms of feeling like he wouldn’t recognize some of the “Parks and Recreation” performers.
If there’s a second season, have you guys toyed around with a different premise, something that isn’t a jury?
Bernad: Very loosely, yes. One of the initial premises of the show was it is a jury trial, but we sold it as every day you’re on trial, every day you’re confronted with situations and opportunities to make a decision. The show’s very specifically built where every episode someone brings a premise to Ronald and it’s Ronald deciding how he’s going to interact. All those [bits] were for the idea, “Can you then give [Ronald] the confidence to then be the hero in Episode 7?” I think we can take that same theme and premise and apply it to other areas outside of a jury trial.
Schulman: One of the reasons maybe the show has resonated with people is it’s all too rare to see being a good person celebrated. I think that’s an infinitely repeatable core concept, that core element of the show we can do again potentially in other worlds. I do think there are opportunities, but we haven’t gotten too deep into that yet.
When Ronald comes into play with the scripted content versus the improvised content, were there elements you had to immediately nix? Were there any improvised moments when Ronald was “up for trial” or were those entirely scripted?
Bernad: A weird moment [was] where we actually scripted that racist beat. It was gonna go down a different way, but amazingly, Ronald just went there for whatever reason — that’s why I love the genre so much because it’s so alive you really never know what you’re gonna get. But like the Cody storyline in Episode 3, or all the stuff with Marsden building to the self-tape to then him not getting the role, that’s all really scripted. The stuff that was not scripted that Ronald did, which is incredible, is “The Bug’s Life” and [Todd’s] makeover, and then becomes part of the storytelling. So those are all stuff that once Ronald did that, you have to adjust and start to have that play part of the edit.
Schulman: It’s hard to make any television, but it’s especially hard when you’re having to kind of reinvent it on a day-by-day basis. Nick Hatton, Jake Szymanski, Cody Heller and Andrew Weinberg, these people were there on the day-to-day and did a brilliant job of rolling with what they were encountering and pulling off a pretty special season of television.
When casting James Marsden, did the team have a certain celebrity in mind? Or was it always him?
Bernad: This is our third or fourth time working together, so it’s an easier phone call. But he’s brilliant with committed, dramatic, earnest comedy. He’s someone who’s overlooked for whatever reason. For me, he’s someone that would kill this, someone that is fearless, he was not afraid of what it was and was excited about the improv nature. That’s a big ask, to come in and basically improv for 17 days. We really didn’t think about other people. He was one of the first phone calls. We all had immense confidence he would nail the tone and be able to handle the rigors of what it is.
Schulman: We are so lucky that James said yes because the idea that an actor at his level was willing to spend 17 days where the cameras actually only focused on you like 5% of the time. James was sitting in a room for nine hours having to pretend to be reading a script, that is rare and that is special. From the very first time we spoke to him, he was really clear he would only do this show if it was a celebration of the person who was not in on it. As we’ve said, that was our intent, but certainly, I remember we had a call after we spoke to James like we really got to deliver on this because otherwise we’re gonna lose James.
Did you have any reservations about how to approach the pilot, knowing you were setting the series’ tone?
Bernad: We approached the tone of this with that same good-heartedness [as Ronald]. Ronald will always be looking at stupid behavior, people will be doing stupid things and Ronald will be reacting to that — and ultimately being placed in a position to be a hero. For me, the apprehension was more about how the fuck can we pull this off and can we do this for 15 days in terms of as a production, but I always felt very confident about the tone and what our like North Star was.
Schulman: Normally when you’re going off to make a pilot or TV show you’re confident, even if it’s not gonna be good, you’re gonna have a TV show at the end of it. Making this, there’s a possibility that you literally come back to Amazon, and you’re like, “Thank you again for all that money, but we don’t have a TV show.” So there is a level of apprehension. Absolutely. In terms of our intent, from the moment we pitched this as it relates to Ronald, I remember in the pitch we’d say, “The goal of this is at the end, our hero is going to be sitting on the couch with Ellen and the ‘celebrity’ and they’re all going to be laughing and telling stories about this.” This was never going to make it to air if the hero didn’t have a great experience and didn’t feel great about it at the end. So in that regard, we were always confident that that was where things were headed. But obviously, there are so many variables and making a show like this. There’s an immense amount of anxiety and nerves as you make the endeavor.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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