Interview: 'Lethal Weapon' Producers On Toilet Bombs And S*** We're Too Old For

In 1987, the movie Lethal Weapon paired Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the first of four buddy cop films. It made Gibson a star, proving he was more than just Mad Max, and Glover made "I'm too old for this s***" a catch phrase that has lasted the decades. For 2016, Fox introduces a new Riggs and Murtaugh for the small screen, played by Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans respectively.

Matt Miller created the TV incarnation, with producers Dan Lin and Jennifer Gwartz. McG directed the pilot. At their TCA panel, Lin said the show wouldn't interfere with any future movie plans and that they were considering incorporating the characters Leo Getz and Lorna Cole, played by Joe Pesci and Rene Russo in the films, later in the series. We spoke with Miller, Lin and Gwartz at the Fox party for the Television Critics Association. 

It's only a matter of time before someone in the writers room pitches a bomb on the toilet. Would you be open to that?

Miller: No, not on the toilet. That sequence in Lethal Weapon 2 is brilliant. It's a great sequence because it checks all the boxes. It's comedic. It lends itself to a genuine emotional moment between the two guys and it's got an action component to it. So for me that's the ideal sequence that encapsulates the two guys in the Lethal Weapon franchise. It's the second movie but it's a brilliant sequence. So we have some stuff that may be kind of similar but honestly, we haven't been using the first four movies and trying to steal and plot. We're all fans and now we take that information and forge our own path.

So it's not the danger I think it is.

Miller: No, no because we're all fans of it but I didn't hire writers that were like, "Why did you change his wife's name in the backstory?" People have to be fans but it's not Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones where we feel like people are going to go nuts if we change one story point or one thing. We take the spirit of the original and then we forge our own path.

Lin: We're looking for a fresh spin on the movies. The characters and underlying concept is the same but we're trying to put a fresh spin on what's been done before.

We only got to see Riggs and Murtaugh solve four cases. Is this a chance for you to invent 22 new cases they can solve?

Miller: Yeah, yeah, yeah, hopefully more than 22. Absolutely, it's new cases every week and how these guys come at it from their different perspectives. It's great. It's super fun.

Gwartz: Absolutely. That would be the plan. Certainly there's the procedural element that we will have a case of the week in addition to a series long arc/mythology that will kind of dig deeper and touch both Riggs and Murtaugh's backstory. But yeah, in an ideal world, you'll get to see 22 cases being solved by them, one a week.

Lin: We're hoping they'll talk about the one liners, the crazy things they do, not necessarily what exactly was the case of the week?

You do hope they talk about one liners?

Lin: There's certainly some funny comedy between the two guys.

Gwartz: And heart. Matt said it and we've always talked about this. It's about two men who are broken in different ways. One literally, physically, had a heart attack and is recovering from that both emotionally and physically. The other one who figuratively is dying of a broken heart and has no will to live. People have a lot of pain in their lives and you hope you come to these characters and even though they're on a case, you're relating to them emotionally and there's a connection there. I think all of these shows at the end of the day, you want to walk away with some sort of emotional connection.

With one-liners, everyone knows "I'm too old for this s***" from the movies so you want to avoid that. Plus you can't say that on Fox in primetime. Do you have a version of that or how will you give your Riggs and Murtaugh catch phrases?

Lin: We talked to [Lethal Weapon director] Dick Donner before we did the show. Dick said to us, "There's a difference between humor and comedy." I didn't understand the difference. He said, "Humor comes out of real situations. Comedy is really just going for the joke." We're leaning much more towards humor, real situations. Even in the pilot, you saw how Riggs interacts with Murtaugh's family. He's totally a fish out of water. We try to create those moments and through those moments hopefully we'll have a few one-liners.

When you think about what cops get into on the job, what are some things you would like to see Riggs and Murtaugh face that are maybe a little smaller than a movie would require?

Miller: Well, we're doing a season-long kind of mythology with this cartel moving into Los Angeles, but that will be a season-long story. We have 22 hours to tell that story or however many episodes we do. The second episode deals with a next-gen weapon that's been stolen and hit the market. Any one of our stories, no matter what the A story is, it always has to land on our guys in a very personal way. So whether it be a SEAL that's out there and wreaking havoc and it puts Riggs vs. the SEAL in question, or an episode like Murtaugh wants to go back to the old neighborhood that they lived in before Trish made a lot of money and they moved to Sherman Oaks. That lends itself to an A story. We always want our A stories to connect to our guys in a very personal way.

Gwartz: Without saying what the cases will be, I can certainly speak to generally we want to take a look at and portray what feels real and grounded. Issues that touch people living in Los Angeles and crime stories that feel real.

Lin: It's also a way to showcase Los Angeles. We're in so many different locations. The pilot went to Griffith Park, Long Beach. The idea is to show places in L.A. either in a new light or places that people haven't seen before.

Gwartz: And issues that touch us every day that we see in the news, whether it's immigration, the drug cartels, politics, corruption. We want to present something that feels real, grounded and also relatable.

Not a lot of shows get to shoot in L.A. How did you make that work?

Lin: Unfortunately, we did not qualify for the rebate but we felt like L.A. itself is a character of the movie, it's a character of the show itself. Luckily, graciously Fox and Warners allowed us to shoot in L.A. even though we didn't qualify for the rebate.

Gwartz: I think again, a lot of credit to the studio and to the network that this is a show that this show in many ways, Los Angeles is a third character. We really wanted to take advantage of, again, that noir film. I don't think there's a reality where you're shooting in Vancouver and that ever doubles for Los Angeles.

Lethal Weapon

Is there no straight man between your Riggs and Murtaugh?

Miller: Whereas in the movies, the Danny Glover character was the straight man, we have Damon Wayans who's a comedic genius playing that part. So he's certainly not the straight man. At the same time, Riggs is crazy and he's not the straight man either. We have two funny men but it's hopefully grounded in a lot of ways and very emotional in certain places.

Does Trish being a working woman create new dynamics in the Murtaugh family?

Miller: It creates new dynamics firs of all in the personal relationship between Murtaugh and his wife. It creates a dynamic where he doesn't have to work because financially they're taken care of. It takes that role reversal and that gender reversal of the breadwinner, his wife is the breadwinner. Trish makes the money in the house so he's responsible for why he goes back to work. It puts into question what does it mean to be a man for him in a contemporary way. But also because she's a very powerful defense attorney, it lends itself to A stories for us. We have a lot of A stories that will funnel through Trish and her world.

Would they ever deal with a conflict of interest where she has to defend a perp he arrested?

Miller: Or, even better down the road, have Riggs on the witness stand and have to cross-examine him.

In 2016 are you able to play with new indicators for the characters, like the screen saver on Riggs' phone of his wife and Murtaugh's high tech heart monitor?

Lin: I think it's really fun.

Gwartz: Yeah, that's very fun. In the development process, specifically with Murtaugh's heart monitor, that's a runner that continues through the pilot. We'd love to continue to use that in future episodes. That not only provided obviously pathos, but the comedy.

Lin: It makes the show feel modern. We talk about distancing ourself from the movie. The monitor comes from a character place where he has health issues, but it's showing it in a new light through technology.

Miller: All of that and we'll find out that Murtaugh has a pacemaker and all that kind of stuff. It will play into a much more contemporary version of them as cops but really it's still a character piece. Certainly we'll play into all the modern technology and things like that.

I was surprised you said you're open to including Leo Getz and Lorna Cole. Will those be season two characters?

Miller: I don't know. We'll have to see. We're going to bring in a female DEA agent in season one that's going to cause a little tension and sexual chemistry with Riggs. She's not named the same character as Rene Russo but a female DEA agent that will have some sexual chemistry. The Leo Getz is a little bit bigger character for us. We haven't quite figured out exactly when he's going to come in.

Would it be in the same capacity through a case as a witness?

Miller: It'll be through a case but what's the contemporary version of that guy? He was a money launderer in the second movie, but we have to figure out how does he fit into our world?

And how does he stay involved, which the movies struggled with.

Miller: Right, right, right. Also the easy thing is he's a hacker or he's something like that, but we want I think a much more contemporary version that feels organic on the show.

What I always loved about Lorna Cole was she was a match for Riggs. At that point Riggs had lost two women he couldn't protect, and here was a woman who didn't need saving.

Miller: Yeah, that's great. The DEA agent that we're bringing in has a little bit of that spark. We'll also have a little bit of a sexual chemistry between Cahill, played by Jordana Brewster, at Riggs. But ultimately he's a guy who's in love with a ghost. And I don't think he ever gets real peace until he dies.

And we're also, in 2016, in a world where women don't need saving.

Miller: Yes, exactly, damsel in distress, all that business.

You set up such a random loss with the automobile accident, it wasn't even that Riggs wasn't there to save her.

Miller: Right, he couldn't have saved her. There's nothing he can do, exactly.

How often can you do big action set piece like the F1 race in the pilot?

Miller: That was really big. We're going to try to do something that feels really big for television. That particular sequence required not just two full days of stunts and two units going at the same time, but it also required a lot of planning that you don't really have on an episodic. You've got to get the track, you've got to get the cars, you've got to do everything. That sequence is amazing but we're still going to do pretty big stunts for television.

Is part of the fun of television that you don't have to every week?

Miller: Right, it's more emotional, it's more character based. Some of our best act breaks are things that land on character. I think Riggs holding Murtaugh's baby is as powerful of an act break as we have in the episode. So it's things like that that will resonate.

Dan, you said the film department was gracious to let you develop Lethal Weapon as a series but there could still be a Lethal Weapon 5. That wouldn't be with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover though, would it?

Lin: I don't know. Those conversations are early and ongoing. What I meant by that was Warner Brothers had done a great job supporting both film and television at the same time. There's a version of this where the television show is like a Smallville and you sill have the Superman movies. Our TV show doesn't preclude doing a movie. Our TV show stands on its own as a standalone and can always continue on.

A few years ago there was talk about doing a remake or reboot of the film with a new cast. I thought they decided to do the series instead.

Lin: I hadn't heard of a reboot of the film but I know there were early talks with Shane [Black] writing the sequel Lethal Weapon 5 and I think he got busy.

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Lethal Weapon which premieres Wednesday, September 21 at 8PM on Fox.