TNT’s new show Franklin & Bash premiered Wednesday with television veteran Mark-Paul Gosselar (Saved By the Bell, NYPD Blue, Raising the Bar) and Breckin Meyer (Road Trip, Robot Chicken) as the titular lawyers who get recruited to a big-time law firm. It’s a legal drama with a bigger emphasis on comedy lightening the mood with a stellar supporting cast that includes Malcolm McDowell and guest stars Fred Willard, Jason Alexander and James Van Der Beek. North by Northwestern sat down with the two stars in a roundtable interview alongside a DePaul student to find out more about the show.
How did the show come together?
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: This came on, TNT didn’t make a straight offer but they said take a look at the script and see if you like it. Really good writers, Bill Chase, Kevin Falls, I knew their history. They said it’s a legal drama, and right away I was a little turned off by that, but they said read it, it’s funny, it’s got elements of humor in it, so reading it I saw that, saw that structure of the legal drama and saw that it was laced with humor, and then I saw the relationship that the two guys had, and I thought that was really strong. They had a guy in mind, a particular actor in mind, and I didn’t see how we could have chemistry. He was a lot younger than I was, but I didn’t see how that was going to work, so I had some trepidation. Then that actor fell through and they brought up [Breckin Meyer's] name. We had never worked together, but I thought this is what I was thinking, this is the sort of relationship that as you’re reading you have in your mind that this could work. Cut to us having a read together, to kind of see if we had chemistry, and I guess we had chemistry together.
When you got on set was your relationship natural right away?
Breckin Meyer: Yeah, I think it was. We learned the script really early on, we both work in similar ways which is we show up knowing our stuff.
MPG: Which, believe it or not, is not common in our industry.
BM: No, but if you show up knowing your stuff then you don’t have to worry about the lines, then you can worry about the relationships and the characters. We had a real quick shorthand with each other, but that was the one thing that was real important to the show, you have to believe these guys are buddies. Friends don’t crap on each other and then instantly apologize; they riff with each other and move on. Usually it’s not that one is funny and the other is straight. It’s not like that, if you’re funny, chances are your friends are funny. We didn’t want it to just be suave guy and silly guy, we wanted to have them be good complements to each other.
Was that an appeal to doing the show, that you sort of episode to episode switch those roles?
MPG: Yeah, we’ve read tons of scripts where it’s like you’re the A and he’s the B. To me that’s boring, I don’t want to be pigeonholed into playing the setup man.
BM: Because by episode three you’re tapped out, you have nowhere to go.
MPG: So I think this keeps it fresh, this is more realistic. There’s times where he’ll go off and I have to reel him in, and there’s times where I’m off in my own little thing and he brings me in.
Where do you see the tone going in the future? Do you think it will be consistently funny or do you think it will go darker at points?
BM: I don’t watch a ton of legal dramas. I don’t watch Law & Order, but I knew Boston Legal, and when they gave it to me my agent mentioned to me that it’s similar to that in tone, but what I liked about it was I was reading this drama and I would have these laughs. It was never like these laughs took me out of the show, it didn’t go out of the realm of realism, but what I liked in our first 10-episode run is that there are, there’s an episode where my dad comes back and it’s more serious. It’s not a huge departure or anything, it’s just another side of Jared Franklin. He battles with his dad and it sucks for him so he’s not constantly making jokes about it, and you get to get inside the character a little bit.
MPG: I think we did a good job in the first season of doing that, where we didn’t clearly define what our show tone was. It is a legal drama, there are elements of humor, but the ratio of that was fluctuating throughout the season, and I hope that stays because as actors it keeps us motivated, it challenges us. That episode with Beau Bridges as his father was a more serious episode but still had really good elements of humor. The episode with James Van Der Beek and I was probably one of our more emotional episodes with Peter Bash, but still extremely funny.
How is the 10-episode arc on TNT different from being on a network? Do you think it’s better that you’ve shot the whole season and it gets more of a chance to succeed on the air?
MPG: Well, we’d be much richer if it we were on broadcast network, because you’re doing 22 instead of 10, not going to lie about that, that would be a great perk. But, given all that, I would rather have the show exactly where it is on TNT because they’re so creative in their approach. My experiences in network television is that it’s much more corporate and less about allowing the actors, writers, and producers to create something. You have to fit a certain paradigm that they have in mind for you. With TNT they hire the best possible people, give you the best possible stories, and they give you your notes but let you produce something, and that allows us as actors and all the other people on our set to be artists. It feels like on TNT they allow that to happen, there’s not the shotgun blast, it’s a more precise shot with their shows because they don’t have the funds to produce 18 pilots that they’re going to weed through during upfront week.
BM: There’s two new pilots, there’s us and Falling Skies.
MPG: So you can see where their attention goes. They still have their flagship shows like The Closer, but now they can put a lot of their energy and resources into these two shows that they’re promoting for the new season, unlike network television where they’ve got seven that were weeded out from 18, so it’s a much more boutique feel.
Have you guys ever had a living experience like the man cave that Franklin and Bash live in during the show?
BM: I lived with Seth Green, we do Robot Chicken together, he was doing okay with commercials and stuff back in the day, he had a washer and dryer. I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have heat or hot water, so I ended up squatting at his house for three months to six months, and that’s the closest I’ve ever come to a man cave. Seth letting me squat at his house and letting me use his washer and dryer until I booked Clueless. Then I moved out on my own like a big kid. [To Mark-Paul] You didn’t go to college did you?
MPG: No, but when I was doing Saved by the Bell my cousin lived with two other guys, a man cave kind of thing. It was close by the set and I lived quite a ways away from the studio, and I would just crash there.
BM: So you’ve experienced the man cave, yes?
MPG: Yeah, the sort of fraternal buddy thing. And they lived in Westwood too, so we had the whole college thing.
How was working with Malcolm McDowell as the head of the law firm? Your characters know what they’re doing in the courtroom but at times he just comes in and shows you how it’s done.
MPG: He’s the alpha male.
BM: He’s Miyagi McDowell, absolutely. Knowing him from [A Clockwork Orange] and all that stuff, he’s a living legend. He shows up on set and he’s exactly what you’d hope Malcolm McDowell would be. He’s devilish, intense, scary, super funny, super sweet, the first thing he does is ask about your family. He’s so cool, and we work similar to the way he does which is show up knowing your stuff and ready to have fun. He loves his job, he’s been doing it for 800 years, and he still loves showing up on set. We’ve been doing it for 20 and so do we. We all get along real well, he just brings things to it, every time I see that pilot moment where he says [adopts Malcolm McDowell voice] “D’you like strawberry jam?”
MPG: That was his line.
BM: Yeah, it came out of left field. It was great because it is so random, and that’s just the way he wanted to do it.
MPG: He gets the humor of Franklin and Bash, and he’s one of our biggest supporters. It’s a fun set to work on. I know it’s cliché because you hear it from a lot of productions, but it does feel like a family. We all want to be there and we all want to work, it’s the best way to work.
BM: I highly recommend guesting on our show.
MPG: We’ve got some great guest stars this season. Danny Trejo, Jason Alexander, Tom Arnold, Fred Willard. They all took a leap of faith that this show would do well and that was a testament to the writers and producers that they could get these people. We would sit there and sort of brainstorm about who we wanted, and we would say could you try Jon Voigt? He’d just come off Lone Star and he didn’t want to do television, but we’re ambitious about who we want on the show. Hopefully that’ll translate into success for the show. We want to do it for a while. We’re having fun.