Lehr and Hower of ‘Quick Draw’ on Making a Hulu Comedy

Western-series creative duo dishes on developing for digital
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Quick Draw premiered on Hulu last August, becoming one of the streaming service’s first original series. The comedy Western—from John Lehr and Nancy Hower, creators of TBS’ 10 Items or Less— ranked among Hulu’s 10 most watched series throughout the summer and earned a renewal in November. It’s 10-episode second season premiered Thursday on Hulu. Lehr—who stars in the series as a Harvard-educated forensics expert serving as a sheriff in an Old West-era Kansas town—and Hower spoke with B&C about developing a digital comedy series, executive shakeups and horse pee.

How was developing Quick Draw different from developing a comedy for a cable or broadcast network?

John Lehr: As far as the differences go, 10 Items or Less was one of those shows that when it went to Hulu got a following and started getting a lot of attention. Your shows never die on Hulu and Netflix and places like that. Hulu called us in and said, “Look, our viewers really like 10 Items. We are moving into original shows and would you guys be interested?” We were like, “Absolutely.” At the same time we were developing this Western, and it was just a work of the heart. We did not have any specific places we were going to take it. We always shoot something just to get it on its feet, and we went out to the desert to shoot this thing, and as Nancy started cutting it together, we were like, “Oh my god, this is perfect for Hulu.” We took it in and they bought it in the room.

Nancy Hower: I think because we came in with a really good sizzle reel and we had already plotted out the whole season, they basically said, “Okay, we’re going to pick up the whole thing.” That stopped us dead in our tracks. We wanted this thing to be seen. There’s nothing like making a pilot, spending two years on it, and it never gets seen by anyone.

As much as it’s a Western, is it also a send-up of the procedural genre?

Lehr: That’s the genre that’s getting parodied. It’s so much fun to do, because back then the quote-unquote science they had was at times so ridiculous. For example, they used phrenology, which was just looking at the bumps in a person’s head and being able to decipher whether they were a criminal or not. There’s hundreds of these, and we’ve sprinkled them throughout the show.

There are a number of improvised comedies on TV. What’s the comedic advantage of working that way?

Hower: Some of the dialogue that is said in improv you couldn’t write. Things that happen while you’re shooting the scene—the horse pees on you—this stuff really goes down. Our thing was that if we’re going to do an improv, let’s really do improv, not, “Hey, this is what you’re going to be doing tomorrow,” and you sit around in your hotel room writing in your head what you’re going to say. If you make the scene funny enough as far as the situation goes, the things that will come out of it are just much more original and exciting.

Hulu doesn’t release viewership numbers, but they obviously liked the show enough to bring it back. What kind of indication did they give you as to how well it has performed?

Lehr: They were so surprised at how the show came out of the gate because of marketing and things they did and sustained the audience and grew the audience over time, which is very rare. We got an indication of that because our Facebook started blowing up and there started to be fan sites right away, and Tumblr pages, things that we hadn’t really seen before. They don’t really give out specifics, but they started to say things like, “Hey you guys, you broke our viewership record on this date.” They made it very clear that if we were on network or cable this show would be a hit. You never know what’s true and what’s not, but we started to hear it from people in all areas—from production to accounting to ad sales. That’s when you start to believe the press.

There have been changes at Hulu since the renewal, with [former head of originals] Charlotte Koh leaving and [new head of content] Craig Erwich coming in. What have your conversations with Hulu been like since then?

Lehr: There’s no question in my mind that this show would not be on the air if not for Charlotte Koh and Andy [Forssell], the former CEO. That said, this transition, from our point of view has been super smooth and super pro, because you never know, man. We’ve been through this—10 Items or Less survived like 10 regime changes. A new regime can come in and they’ve got their own thing and their own people. That has not been the case for us. It has felt very organic, which kind of surprised us. On paper, we’re kind of a no-brainer. We come in on budget, we deliver everything on time, we’re getting good numbers, and we’re a totally different show than what’s out there. Their basic message to us has been “Keep doing what you’re doing,” which is fantastic.

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