By Jake Coyle
NEW YORK — Seth Meyers and Michael Shoemaker first began plotting “The Awesomes,” their new comic animated superhero series, in 2006, when Meyers was ascending to the Weekend Update desk at “Saturday Night Live.”
“Time-wise, this was a way better idea in 2006,” says Meyers. “That summer was glacial for Seth Meyers. I couldn’t get arrested in 2006.”
The summer of 2013, however, is an entirely different matter. Meyers is preparing to take over NBC’s “Late Night” early next year, leaving “Saturday Night Live” after the fall. (Soon thereafter, current “Late Night” host Jimmy Fallon will inherit the “Tonight Show.”) Shoemaker, who oversaw Weekend Update at “SNL” before leaving to produce “Late Night” with Fallon, is staying on to remake the show with Meyers.
So the timing for the long-gestating “The Awesomes,” which will debut on Hulu on Thursday, arrives awkwardly in the midst of the biggest transition of Meyers’ burgeoning career, a dive into the frenzy of late-night television. Asked in a joint interview how “The Awesomes” is fitting into their lives now, Shoemaker responds quickly: “Oh, not very well.”
“Mike and I always said ‘The Awesomes’ was our way to make sure we got to work together after ‘SNL,” says Meyers. “If we had any idea about ‘Late Night’ …”
“We wouldn’t have bothered,” chimes Shoemaker.
They kept at it, though, because the series is something of a labor of love, Meyers says. He and Shoemaker first met in 2001 when Meyers was hired as a cast member on “SNL,” where Shoemaker started in 1990. The two bonded in midtown trips to the comic book store, eventually coming up with the idea for their own funny, skewed gang of superheroes. After a brainstorming flurry, though, the idea receded behind the weekly demands of “SNL.”
“For a long time, the way we talked about it was, ‘It’s a shame nothing ever happened with ‘The Awesomes,’” laughs Meyers.
In it, Meyers voices the lead character Prock, whose unspectacular superpower (being able to pause time, which leaves him with a nosebleed) has made him the scrawny disappointment of his father, Mr. Awesome (Steve Higgins, an “SNL” writer and the announcer for “Late Night”). When Mr. Awesome retires, Prock vows to preserve his father’s superhero team. After they all desert, he’s left to collect more bizarre, unpolished talents.
Prock’s intrepid casting call mirrors that of “SNL.” Both Meyers and Shoemaker assisted in hiring cast members for the sketch show, many of whom voice characters in “The Awesomes.” Bill Hader, Kenan Thompson, Taran Killam and Rachel Dratch lend their voices to the 10-epidosde season.
“This would not have come about had Mike and I had not met at a place like ‘Saturday Night Live,’ which is a collection of really talented people, all of whom have their personality quirks and are very unique people, but who when you put the right group together do things that no other group of people can do,” says Meyers.
Hulu — which is co-owned by the Walt Disney Co., 20th Century Fox and NBCUniversal — has promoted “The Awesomes” as one of its marquee original series. The show was hyped recently at Comic-Con in San Diego, and Hulu has hopes that it will rival some of the high-profile original offerings from Netflix. While 2013 has been a coming-out party for Netflix originals, “The Awesomes” is Hulu’s first new original this year.
After hosting several award shows, including the ESPY Awards, the Webby Awards and the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, “The Awesomes” is Meyers’ most substantial project outside of “SNL” — it just happens to come months before a much larger undertaking.
“In the last six or seven years on ‘SNL,’ I tried to experience as many other things as possible, or dip my toe in because ‘SNL’ is not a lifetime appointment,” says Meyers. “I’m lucky enough to have a lot of different interests as far as what I found interesting about show business. I like hosting things. I like writing things. I like acting probably the least of all, but it’s fun to do things that way. (‘Late Night’) was both different than ‘SNL,’ but obviously I went into it with the people I sort of met from ‘SNL.’ When I think about ‘Late Night,’ that of all these options was the closest to ‘SNL,’ and I’m not that surprised that’s the path I found for myself.”
The two have spent the summer outlining the future of “Late Night.” Shoemaker says they’re mostly focused now on staffing: “When we’re done talking about ‘Late Night,’ we talk about ‘The Awesomes’ and vice versa.”
But their next undertaking, they hope, will come to fruition a little quicker.
“I don’t want people to think this is a pattern with us,” says Meyers, “that it takes seven years for us to finish things.”
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