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ORLANDO, Fla. — Steve Carell is determined to lower expectations for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.
“It’s SO stupid. I couldn’t believe how stupid it is.”
And in a world of stupid and a cast of 1970s-era TV news buffoons, Steve’s character, the ditzy, naive TV weatherman Brick Tamland, stands out. “Unrelentingly dumb,” Carell says.
He’s being kind.
“It was the easiest movie ever, because I got to just stand there and look dumb. Empty every thought out of my head, and just blurt out words.”
The script doesn’t give Brick, a nitwit’s nitwit, much to say. But director and longtime Will Ferrell writing partner Adam McKay would stand off camera, and at the end of a take would say “Give me something extra. Just say something, anything,” McKay recalls.
Lines like, “Would you like to see the smile I use when I pose for photographs?” come out.
McKay made his directing debut with 2004’s Anchorman. He’s had time to figure out why the film, not a blockbuster hit in theaters, became a cultural phenomenon. The “news team” in the movie — the foursome of blow-dried anchor Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), weather dunce Brick (Carell), investigative reporter/ladykiller Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and racist, alcoholic loose cannon sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner) — are, to McKay, the new Marx Brothers.
“You’ve got the blowhard, misguided leader, Burgundy, who is Groucho. Then there’s the slick womanizer, Fantana.” He could be Chico Marx. “The out-of-control, high energy nut, Champ.”
That sounds a little more like the Three Stooges.
“And the naive, irrepressibly goofball? Brick Tamland is Harpo Marx. That’s obvious.”
The Legend Continues is set in 1980, as the unemployed news team is rounded up for a new venture — 24-hour news. And that presented co-writers Ferrell and McKay with a chance for satire, a more pointed commentary on the state of TV news.
“It was right in front of us,” McKay says. “News got dumber with 24-hours news. Babies in the wells, car chases, Pee Wee Herman in the porno theater. We decided to make all that Ron Burgundy’s fault.”
And another thing right in front of them? The birth of the green-screen weather segment, when weather-casters learned to stand in front of a blank, green wall and point to a map that was super-imposed behind them. Brick, of course, was going to have trouble with that.
“I first did green-screen stuff back when I was on The Daily Show,” Carell recalls. “And it was ... awkward. So I pitched that idea to Adam. Brick’s a weather guy, it’s 1980. Put him in this new situation with this new technology. Weathermen had to deal with this. I’m sure some of them reacted the same way. Well, maybe not the SAME way.”
One piece of the Anchorman phenomenon that’s changed in the past decade is its reception by TV news folks. Mocking airhead, over-coiffed TV news anchors, even in a period piece set in the ‘70s, was going to hit close to home for America’s chattering-on-TV-classes. Some newspaper film critics, such as Roger Ebert, dared to suggest that these idiots were based on notoriously dim TV personalities in their own market.
“Television journalists weren’t immediately enamored of it,” remembers Carell, laughing. “Maybe they took it personally. But they kept it at arm’s length.”
McKay noticed that, too. He thinks TV news, sports and weather reporters were hoping it would just go away.
“When it’s just an odd comedy with inside jokes about your business, and nobody sees it, you can ignore it,” McKay says. “But that didn’t happen.”
“These TV news guys, now they can’t get enough of us,” Carell jokes.
Or, McKay adds, “of us making fun of them.”