Paul Feig on His '8-Year Campaign' to Make 'Other Space'

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Paul Feig first made his mark on TV with Freaks and Geeks, the cult favorite about a bunch of social rejects on an impossible adventure: high school. Now, after nearly 20 years, a series of hit movies, and executive-producing credits on award-winning series like The Office and Nurse Jackie, Feig has created another show about lovable losers on a seemingly hopeless mission. Other Space premieres on Yahoo Screen on April 14.

A comedy set in space, Other Space stars Karan Soni and Bess Rous as the hapless siblings in charge of a ship that gets pulled into a parallel universe. Their crew — filled with comedy veterans like Neil Casey, Joel Hodgson, and Trace Beaulieu — must navigate the unexplored territory in search of a way home… or at least some intelligent life forms. (There really aren’t many on their ship.)

Watch the first episode:

Feig actually came up with the idea a decade ago, tapping into his childhood love for two genres that are rarely paired. “I am a big sci-fi fan and I’ve always wanted to do a sci-fi show, but I do comedy,” Feig tells Yahoo TV. “I really wanted to do a sci-fi comedy, and the problem with most sci-fi is that when they try to be funny, they just make fun of it, make it a parody. I love sci-fi too much to do that.” As a result, it took awhile for the world to catch up to the idea of making Other Space a reality.

So, what’s the background of this thing?
I had a development deal with Imagine TV about 10 years ago, and sold the idea to NBC. I wrote it and they really liked it, but they didn’t know what to do with it. Network TV wanted to have two half-hour shows back-to-back that complement each other. They didn’t know what to pair it with because they didn’t have any sci-fi comedy, and they ended up not even making it.

So what happened?
As happens when you write something for a network, they still owned the property, and it drove me crazy because I really loved it and felt like I wanted to make it. I loved everything from the title on down, and launched basically an eight-year campaign to get it back. I finally got it back when I was in postproduction for The Heat. [The network] finally released it back to me, and it just happened that right around then I got a call from my agent saying that Yahoo was looking to put real money into a couple of actual shows. So I fixed [the script] a little bit, because it was 10 years old, and sent it to them and they jumped right on board.

Related: ‘MST3K’ Creator Joel Hodgson Talks Bad Movies, New ‘Bots, and ‘Other Space’ in His Reddit AMA

This show definitely has a Lost in Space vibe. Were you a big fan of that series growing up?
I obsessively watched Lost in Space as a kid. I was a Star Trek fan, a huge Star Wars fan, the original Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers [in the 25th Century]— anything that was sci-fi that was on television, my next-door neighbor and I would watch it. There was a show called Quark with Richard Benjamin that I thought was hilarious. It was an outer space garbage man, and that was a big influence. We thought it was hilarious and then it was gone, and that was before I knew about show business. As a kid, you think, “that’s a hit show,” but then it’s gone and you later learn it was a huge ratings disaster. Then there’s a show in Britain called Red Dwarf; it’s a true sci-fi comedy. All those things really interested me.

You’ve worked in TV for a long time, so you bring that to the table along with the obsessive sci-fi love.
My work on The Office influenced me, too. I hadn’t originally designed the show to be documentary-style shooting, but having worked on The Office that long, I realized it’s the best way to do TV comedy, because it allows you to go fast and gives it a real energy and allows it to feel very real. So I retrofitted it for the new version. In the fourth show, you discover why the show was shot that way: The spaceship used to be part of MTV Global — it was a floating reality show and there were all these invisible cameras floating.

There are a lot of little sci-fi references in the first few episodes, like having to shoot an evil presence out of an airlock, à la Alien.
It’s never kind of a direct kind of thing, but it’s definitely little homage-y moments, mostly because there’s tropes from sci-fi that work. Going out an airlock is an effective way to get rid of somebody. What we had a lot of fun with, too, is the idea of being 100 years in the future. The whole thing about the collar balls instead of ties and the fact that the guys wear dresses.

I love things that are unexpected twists, like in the pilot you didn’t expect that they were back in training, and then the whole thing with Dave Franco and Matthew McConaughey in the second episode. That to me is part of funny sci-fi — surprises and conundrums, problems you’ve got to figure out and left turns.

And then there’s Joel and Trace, who starred in Mystery Science Theater 3000, another fan favorite. How’d that happen?
I have always been an obsessive Mystery Science Theater fan, and became friends with Joel years ago, and then through Joel I met Trace. They were both on Freaks and Geeks, a couple of times each. Joel played the salesman in a clothing store, and Trace was one of our teachers. And I was putting this together, I thought if I could get them in this that’d be awesome, and I wrote these roles for them. Back years ago when I wrote them, I definitely wrote the voices for Trace. I never thought I could get Joel.

What’s your favorite terrible sci-fi movie?
That’s funny, there’s so many bad ones. I think it was Battle Beyond the Stars, and it came out right after Star Wars came out; it was something they rushed into production. It’s the worst. I think it might have been a Japanese movie, but then they shot scenes with American actors.

I’m still a Star Wars fanatic. The first two — that and [The Empire Strikes Back] I think are just perfect movies. I was a big 2001: A Space Odyssey fan; I always loved that. I loved the old ones, like The Day the Earth Stood Still. I love sets with models and special effects. I think people thought when they announced that we were doing the show, we’d do cheesy models. The people who did all the effects for Battlestar Galactica did [the models] for us. It was really important for us that they’d look awesome.

What kind of design did you want for the ship?
I like lots of detail in the spaceships. Anybody who designs art for spaceships, we’re all heavily influenced by the imperial cruiser from Star Wars and that kind of thing. It started with 2001 also, that kind of hyper-detail, semi-dirty and weathered. The biggest influence for me was that moment in Star Wars when they walk up to the Millennium Falcon for the first time, and we in the audience are like, “Oh my god, that’s so cool,” and Luke goes, “What a piece of junk.” We didn’t play it up because we didn’t have the budget for it, but the cruiser is actually a s—ty ship.

Other Space premieres on Tuesday, April 14 on Yahoo Screen.