Emmy Talk: ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ EP on That Season 3 Cliffhanger, and Cheddar

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·Deputy Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
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Andy Samberg, guest star Dennis Haysbert, and Andre Braugher in ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ (Photos: John P. Fleenor/FOX)

As we enter Emmy season — nomination voting runs through June 27 — Yahoo TV will be spotlighting performances, writing, and other contributions that we feel deserve recognition.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is no stranger to the Emmys: Andre Braugher has been nominated twice for his supporting role as stoic Capt. Holt and stunt coordinator Norman Howell has earned two statues. But the Golden Globe-winning sitcom has yet to crack the Outstanding Comedy Series category. Will Season 3 be the charm? We talked to executive producer Dan Goor about the game-changing finale, which makes it more than worthy.

How early on did you decide that you were going to end the season with Holt and Jake in witness protection?
Dan Goor: It was an image that I had in my head from pretty early in the season, and then we sort of talked about it as a room and thought, “Oh, that’ll be cool,” then put up a card on a wall underneath 323, where it said “Finale,” that read “Jake and Holt go to witness protection.” Then we really sort of ignored it until the last half of the season. As we started to think about how we were going to get there… we also knew we wanted to do this Adrian Pimento arc [an undercover cop who returns, then has to fake his death]. I think it was Luke Del Tredici, who’s a great writer/producer on the show, who had the pitch that the Adrian Pimento arc leads to an arc that leads to witness protection.

Is that the kind of story you couldn’t have done earlier in the show’s run?
I think that in the beginning of the series, it would’ve been difficult to do because you’re really focused on getting to know your own characters so much. So bringing in any serialized story that was centered on another person coming in, I think, would’ve been something we probably would not have done. What we liked about Pimento was, not only did it feel world-expanding and like a fun thing to do towards the end of Season 3 after we’d already done 60 episodes with our guys and gals, it also impacted every other character in the squad. Any time you luck into developing something which, when you throw it into the world, causes ripples that affect everything, you just feel so happy because it’s like half of the work is done for you. Stories just suggest themselves.

New comedies often get a lot of the buzz, but seasoned comedies, when they’re as consistently funny as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, deserve it. What are the advantages of being a comedy in its third, now going into its fourth, season?
Thank you so much for saying we deserve recognition, and I hope it’s noted that that’s the official policy of Yahoo. I think that the advantage of being on the air for a while is that the fans really know the characters, which totally broadens the type of jokes that you can do. They also appreciate the characters, and so I think that they’re laughing at a higher level of joke. It allows you as a writer to come up with really nuanced things, like a tiny detail that Holt eats plain, tasteless nutritional bars wrapped in white wrappers. An audience member who knows Holt knows why that’s funny.

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And you get payoffs like seeing Rosa’s apartment that she has, of course, already demolished. How did you decide what that apartment would look like for her?
There were two kind of competing theories as to what her apartment should be like. One of them, the joke was it’s exactly what you’d expect, but even more so. Basically, a metal-lined box with no personality whatsoever. And the other, which seemed funnier, was that, when she’s at home, she has a softer side that still fits into who Rosa is, or who Emily is, depending on what her real name is. It seemed fun that even in that place there’s still an element of Diaz, with the safe room. Originally, we had talked about seeing her at her parents’ house, and then going to see her childhood bedroom and it was going to be pink walls covered with pictures of ponies. That sort of morphed into this.

I always appreciated the attention to detail from the production design team and prop master on Parks and Recreation. How important is that for you with Brooklyn Nine-Nine?
Elizabeth Thinnes is our head of the production design team and Chris Call does our props, and every one of these departments is so fantastic at what they do and they add so much to it. There’s nothing that heartens me more than going on, let’s say it’s a restaurant set, and picking up the menu, and the menu actually has the name of the fake restaurant that we came up with and a fake menu on it. Every now and then you’ll see an actor pick up one of these props and utilize it in an improvisation or something.

I also have to say I was a writer at Conan, and at Conan, the writers produce their own pieces, and one of the things I learned really early on was that if you hire great department heads, as Conan had done and as we’ve had to do — not to sound like new age-y business talk — but there’s a synergy that you get more out of it than the sum of the parts. It’s great to say to all of these department heads, “So, this is what we’re thinking, but I’m sure you can come up with something even better,” and then have them come back with their designs, and inevitably, they’ve thought about it in a way that is better or different, and then the combination really becomes magical.

There are moments in the show that fans love to see — like any time Holt is appreciative of Jake. How do you parse those out as the series continues? You don’t want to use them too often so they lose their effect, but you want to give us enough that we do, occasionally, say, “Awww.”
That is always difficult. I think you feel it out a little bit. It’s exactly what you said, you don’t want to overdo it, but at the same time, you want to know that they really love each other. The thing about shows like this, and Parks and Rec at the time, is that we’ve created these shows where the characters like each other, and I think the fans like that the characters like each other. As a result, one of the more difficult aspects of coming up with stories is coming up with conflicts between characters who actually like each other and also not making it treacly that the characters are effusive towards one another. I think it’s always a balance of when and what the characters say to each other.

When you have an ensemble as good as this show’s, I think it must be exciting and scary to have a storyline rely so heavily on a guest star, like with Dennis Haysbert coming in as Bob. He was so perfect. How did you land on that character?
I think to a certain extent we lucked out, because, although in theory it made sense that it would be funny to have Dennis Haysbert and that character would be funny, I feel like Dennis Haysbert just so totally hit it out of the park and his chemistry with Andre was so perfect and made for such hilarious moments, that even though they were doing what we wanted them to do, they did so much more.

When we had mapped out this arc, it was really important to us to have that episode 22 twist ending, which was that Holt’s friend has betrayed him. So a lot of our planning for the character, we were trying to balance not only comedy and what kind of character would be a funny adversary for them, but also what could we do that wouldn’t tip that his friend had betrayed him. It felt like making them so simpatico and so similar would sort of disguise that fact, and, at the same time, as we pitched on it and did two dueling Holt voices, it just seemed funnier and funnier. In some ways the story need and in some ways the comedy need drove the choice — but they kind of mutually drove the choice. Then we were talking about what type of actor and who would be perfect, and it was like, “Oh, you know, somebody kind of like Dennis Haysbert,” and then there was Dennis Haysbert and that’s amazing.

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The show also walks this line of being a comedy but having to deal with things like death threats, which has to be its own little trick. As viewers, we know that you’re not going to be killing off Holt or Jake, but we have to understand why they’re making such a bold move as entering witness protection. How did you know when you’d hit the right level of menace and could still add the comedy in there?
That is a thing that I think we’ve able to be more liberal with as the seasons have gone on. I think early on, in Season 1 and then halfway through Season 2, if you look at the moments where people are in peril, there’s much less comedy. It feels like, why are these guys joking around? Somebody’s going to die. I think the audience is more comfortable with them as cops — and with them as being good cops — and also understanding that it’s a comedy show. I feel like we have a little bit more leeway in terms of making them funny even in the face of danger.

In Season 1, we did a Christmas episode, and they were going after a person who’d sent death threats to Holt. We had a pretty tense scene in a railroad yard, and we’d written in a ton of jokes, but by the time we were done with editing, it really played as a thriller sequence, because we just felt like, are they really going to joke around? I mean, Holt’s life is in danger! Now I think we would have played that with more jokes. Not that we did it wrong then; I just think that we would be allowed to play it with more jokes now.

Obviously, heading into Season 4 with Jake and Holt in witness protection in Florida is a big change for the show. Why do you think it’s important to do that at this stage of the series?
I think that goes for the writers and the actors and also for the audience. It’s always fun to mix things up. We’re going to be in Florida for at least a few episodes, but obviously, it’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine and they’re going to end up being put back in Brooklyn. We will see how it turns out, but I’m trying to use this also to sort of change certain dynamics. Like, what happens to Jake and Holt when they’re in Florida and Holt is no longer technically Jake’s boss? How does that change their dynamic? That seemed like a fun thing to look at, and later in the year, I think we might experiment with them all being on the night shift. Who’s awake at that hour? Who do you have to deal with? What happens to a cop’s personal life when their spouse is awake during the day and they’re awake at night?

How are Scully and Hitchcock going to stay awake at night? Or, because they nap a lot during the day already, what if they’ll actually be more effective on the night shift?
One pitch also was that Hitchcock gets rickets almost immediately from a Vitamin D deficiency. It’s fun to imagine what happens to them. What happens to Charles, who has a kid that he adopted and now all of the sudden he’s on the night shift? I mean, there are all sorts of complications that seem juicy and fun to write to.

What will make the witness protection storyline satisfying to you?
That’s a hard question. I want every episode to be funny, and I want every episode to be juicy and interesting… If people came up to me halfway through the year and said, “Oh, the part where they’re in Florida was so great. I loved that!” Maybe that’s a lame answer, because obviously that’s what you hope to get out of every episode, that they were like, “Oh, that episode was great!”

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The big question: Will Cheddar, Holt’s Corgi, be in Florida with him?
Cheddar’s not in Florida. We’ve got to make it harder for Holt. We can’t give him his support network.

What can you tell me about filming that scene with Charles (Joe Lo Truglio) holding the possum that he thought was Cheddar? It was one of my favorite moments of the season.
In my office, I have three pictures of my family, I have a picture of [co-creator] Mike Schur and me from college, and I have a picture of Joe Lo Truglio holding that possum. It’s amazing, and he was amazing. For the 35 seconds or whatever of screen time that you see, he held it for six minutes or something. And he’s really petting it. It’s just foul. Joe’s amazing — he’s totally committed to it. Keep in mind that earlier in the year, he had to shoot a thing where a dog humped his leg about 40 times. It was hours of him being humped by an animal and then him holding one of nature’s grossest creatures, the possum.

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Anything else you wanted to add?
I just want to add and reiterate that Yahoo.com believes that our show deserves an Emmy.

Catch up on Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Hulu.

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