Interview: 'Rush Hour' Producers Bill Lawrence, Blake McCormick And Steve Franks

There may be an unprecedented number of television shows based on movies on the air simultaneously: Limitless, Fargo, Bates Motel, Damien and the just ended Minority Report and Hannibal with the upcoming Uncle Buck and shows like Lethal Weapon, Rambo and The Expendables in development. Add to that Rush Hour, based on the Jackie Chan/Chris Tucker series.

CBS's Rush Hour stars John Foo and Justin Hires as Detectives Lee and Carter. The pilot tells how Lee comes to Los Angeles and works with Carter at first grudgingly, but ultimately agrees to stay as partners. A new development is Carter's chief (Wendie Malick) flirting with Lee. The series was developed by Bill Lawrence and Blake McCormick, with Steve Franks joining the team as producer. We go to speak with the trio after their panel for the Television Critics Association. Rush Hour premieres March 31 at 10PM on CBS.

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Rush Hour Interview: Bill Lawrence, Blake McCormick and Steve Franks

There have always been shows based on movies, going back to MASH, but why do you think we're seeing so many now? 

Bill Lawrence: People love movies. No, the answer is the battle for network TV right now. First of all, 70% of a TV show is quality writing, directing, producing, editing, just a good production. The other 30% is getting people to turn out and even check it out in a landscape with 150 scripted shows. I watch a ton of TV. Do you watch commercials?

I haven't watched commercials for decades. Once I had a VCR I recorded shows and skipped over them.

Bill: I haven't watched commercials for a long time. NBC used to be able to go, "Hey, this is no big deal. We'll just put promos on TV." When I did Spin City, your entire job marketing your show was to call up and say, "How many 18 second spots, how many 30 second spots did we get?" because those commercials would determine, because everybody watched them, whether or not our show does a number next week. I don't watch commercials and I love TV. Every network goes, "Man, if I can find a title that makes people smile and have a spark of recognition, they go, 'I want to check that show out.' And the show then delivers, I'm going to get an audience that otherwise I would not get."

I love movies and it's been a good thing. I'll get to see a lot more than one Rush Hour. I get to see a lot more than one Limitless. Hannibal was great. I was excited about seeing more Minority Report but they don't all work.

Bill: Well, that's got to be it. The show's going to survive or fail on its creative merit past the first episode, but I think what IP means now is a chance to at least in a world that it's hard to grab anybody's interest. Look, I'm going to watch Lethal Weapon if it's on TV next year. I know it's being developed. I love that movie, that title. Nobody needs to sell me on a commercial. I'm going to seek it out and see if they did a good job. That's why IP exists right now. I wish, I think Steven and Blake do too, that you could go back to the days that TV created stars and you didn't have to start by going, "Which big actor or actress do I have to get in this or what big title do I have to do?" Network TV, I think that's part of the battle. They're the only ones that your fate is still determined almost entirely by arbitrary ratings.

Blake McCormick: It was interesting because you take something like Limitless or Minority Report. Those are very, very unique and specific stories. The Rush Hour movie was very classic formula already, so it's not like we had to take this very narrow, specific idea and translate it. It's just buddy cop comedy, two guys who clash but make it work. That's just fun. It's been working for a long time.

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There are echoes of the plot of the movie in the pilot.

Steve Franks: Oh, there was outright theft, right?

Did you ever toy with having different plots for the pilot?

Blake: For the pilot, we knew it was going to be, it almost had to be: cop from Hong Kong comes to L.A. for what he believes is one case and ends up staying. So within that structure, we knew that there was certain points that we had to hit. We liked making it more personal in giving Det. Lee a sister that was the reason that he came, making him a guy who had his family in Hong Kong who's then gone and he came here for that reason. Pilots, you've got to hit certain beats. We knew that that was the basic structure we needed to work in. We thought that we were able to make the characters both on the page and in terms of the performers bringing what they brought in, unique from the feature.

So even details of the case he comes to consult on, the theft of Chinese merchandise.

Blake: Yeah, that was an element from the feature. We made it the statues. We thought they were a little more interesting and had potential for damage, and we knew we wanted to stage a fight around those. We thought that was a good way to make it a balanced relationship where it wasn't just Carter is in L.A. and he knows all the moving pieces of this case and Lee is just a guest. We wanted to give Lee some inside perspective on the case and know things that Carter didn't know. So we thought using some Chinese historical artifact was a good way to do that.

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You probably can't incorporate Rush Hour 2 where they got back to Hong Kong, can you?

Steve: If we can get some more money out of Warner Brothers we will. Season two! Actually at one point we do go to Hong Kong but we do it with a purchased stock film that says Hong Kong.

What are the cases of the next episodes after the pilot?

Steve: I think what we were looking for, and this is where we start at the beginning, is what's the most fun situation we can put these guys in and we started with action pieces and worlds that we wanted to play in. So we blow up an armored car on the freeway. We have this Quantao gang come back into our world and create all sorts of havoc in a couple of episodes. We're playing with the history of the characters. So for us it was all about let's use these iconic L.A. places. Let's naturally dive into those worlds and let's see fight scenes in places we've never seen them before. In the abandoned zoo, we have an amazing chase and battle that happens in these 50-year-old abandoned lion cages and up the feed tunnels. It's really fun and spectacular. We're always going to have a decent, solid bad guy. We're going to be one of the only shows, especially on this network, that can deliver the long extended action piece. So we're going to lean into that in a big way.

Blake: Also the way we look at this season was how can we do a one hour action movie every week? This isn't your average crime show where it's like okay, dead body, how do we figure out whodunnit? It's like okay, let's start with a massive, amazing bank robbery. Let's start with a witness we have to get to a courthouse and we realize right away there are a dozen soldiers trying to kill this person. What's a situation where our guys have to get from point A to point B across the city in 45 minutes, semi close to real time? Basically just wanted to come at it as each week is a different action movie.

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So you did start by thinking of action set pieces. In some of the movies there can be a sense that you're waiting for the next action scene. Did you make action the priority?

Steve: What we did is we didn't want to do your standard "hey, they're in an abandoned warehouse and now we're going to fight the bad guys and they all come from 10 different doors?" It's like how can we give a fresh spin on that. Most importantly, Blake and I both don't come from action filmmaking. We both come from where world where this is "oh my God, we're playing in this sandbox?" For us, it was like: what's the most fun we can have with our action pieces? Especially once we get into these worlds and into these cases. So the chase across town with the soldiers chasing after them, we're going across skyscrapers and swinging across ziplines. Let's have a fight scene inside a school bus. Those are the things we aim for and we've got Jeff Wolfe, who's the most amazing stunt coordinator who brings these things to life in such a phenomenal way.

Blake: I also think we manage to, week to week, find some interesting personal aspect of any given case for one of our two guys. Whether it was something that they had a tie to from their past, or whether it was a person needed to be protected who was a sympathetic character that they felt obligated to put their life on the line for. Within all that action, we also I think found some nice ways to connect the guys personally to it. We got two really talented actors who are able to really sell those moments extremely well.

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Brett Ratner says they're still developing Rush Hour 4. What would happen if there's a new movie and the show concurrently?

Bill: That would be great for us. Whatever he wants to do, I'm down.

Blake: The unofficial way that we've always looked at it, and I don't think we would ever address this on the show, is that these are the younger versions of the characters. So there's no continuity that we would have to balance.

Bill: Then the movie would be a time jump? Is that what you're saying?

Blake: Yeah, there's a time machine. It's in the third episode.

Steve: Yes, I think that if we got Jackie Chan ever to come on the show, it would be the greatest meta weirdest thing. There's 100 Doctor Whos, right? I doesn't matter.

The same year Rush Hour came out, CBS had a show I loved called Martial Law. Did that pave the way for being able to do martial arts and action on TV?

Steve: We actually have been stealing stories from Martial Law the entire season.

Blake: He is 100% kidding. I don't think I've ever seen an episode of that show. I just remember Arsenio Hall was on a show with Sammo Hung. That's the extent of my knowledge.

Steve: You know, there's actually been a couple of attempts to do a variation of Rush Hour and this actually is Rush Hour. These guys are not those guys in a great and wonderful way. As we learn about John Foo and the sort of physical marvel that he is. There's a sweetness to Justin. We're able to push those buttons and sort of operate that. We have something that's familiar and nice and yet unique and stands on its own and is as warm as engaging as Bill hopes something to be that has that familiarity.

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John Foo speaks better English than Jackie Chan still does, so we do understand the words coming out of his mouth.

Steve: And he's masking a British accent. That's the amazing thing about this guy.

So are you playing different culture clashes than the movies were?

Bill: I think the biggest thing is not a lack of understanding each other, the words that people are speaking, as much as it becomes about who they are and how they became the people that they are and how they approach not only law enforcement and their life, but their own personal moral code. The interesting thing that these two guys have done is at the end of the day, I think they grow to love each other because they aren't that different. They both care about their family. They both care about doing what's right at any cast.

And the romance with Wendie Malick's character is something new.

Steve: That's something that happens because she's Wendie and there's this energy that is drawn. I think every male character that comes on our show is somehow caught up in the tractor beam that is the sexuality of Wendie Malick.