Just hours after they wrapped work on this year’s Emmys, “Jimmy Kimmel Live” head writers Molly McNearney and Danny Ricker were already back at the office, crafting tonight’s regular show.
“We’re very tired,” McNearney told IndieWire on Monday morning. “We had material due at 8:30 this morning, for tonight’s monologue. We were still at the party at 3:30 in the morning. I kept looking at my phone going, “All right, material is due in five hours… OK, now it’s due in four hours…”
Added Ricker: “I considered wearing sweat pants to work today.”
Though groggy, McNearney and Ricker were enthusiastic about the reaction to Sunday night’s awards telecast, and the generally high marks that Jimmy Kimmel received as host.
“I’m hyper critical of these things,” said McNearney, who is also married to Kimmel. “After Jimmy does anything, it sounds terrible, but I will evaluate and re-evaluate everything — ‘Oh, we shouldn’t have done that, or we should have done that!’ You feel this guilt when he does something and doesn’t deliver, you feel responsible for it. I can honestly say last night I did not have a single regret for any of the choices we made or any of the jokes he did. I felt like everything went well, and I’ve never felt that way before.”
McNearney and Ricker took a few minutes to recount how the memorable bits, surprises and jokes came together for this year’s Primetime Emmy telecast – and what had to be cut for time. Some highlights:
Jimmy Kimmel flew to Miami in a whirlwind, one-day trip to film former Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush (who played the Uber driver for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, as her “Veep” character Salina Meyer) in his taped opening bit.
McNearney: The Jeb Bush thing was a random, last minute decision… Because it’s an election year, Jimmy thought it would be funny to have some kind of political figure in there. He thought Jeb would be the perfect fit because he’s somebody who’s in between jobs right now. Originally Jimmy pitched having Jeb Bush in the audience that night to “cheer him up.” And then we were going to put the offer to have him in the audience and sit him near John Voight.
And then Jimmy thought, we should put him in the cold open, which would be a better use of his talent. We were delighted by his performance.
Ricker: Politics aside, we all fell in love with him a little bit. He did us a big favor there.
McNearney: It was less than a 24-hour trip. He flew all the way to Florida to get that shot.
Ricker: They shot it right outside Jeb’s office. I’ve never seen Jimmy pursue a celebrity for a bit harder than Jeb. Luckily Jeb agreed. Jimmy was exhausted from Emmy prep and he had a charity event, but hopped on a red eye with our crew and flew out there. It’s exhausting to work with Jimmy because that’s how he works.
McNearney: He never takes a goddamn break!
The Kimmel producers checked with Julia Louis-Dreyfus with the Jeb Bush idea before they reached out to the former Florida governor.
McNearney: Julia Louis-Dreyfus was very excited that Jeb was participating. When we shot with her a few days earlier we floated the Jeb idea and she was very excited. She and Tony Hale, it was the only time in the cold open where I saw Jimmy get a little nervous. After his first two takes, he admitted he was intimidated by how great Julia and Tony are. Their comedic timing is impeccable.
Ricker: Everyone in the cold open, we’d go on these shoots and you’d realize why they are Emmy-winning actors. We had our little script ready and they improvised stuff and their performances made it so much better.
As Kimmel and James Corden shot a “Carpool Karaoke” parody for the open, the “Late Late Show” host won the “Jimmy Kimmel Live” team over with his charm.
McNearney: James Corden was just the nicest, most likable guy. That was annoying! Our whole crew fell in love with him. So we’ll be working there next.
Ricker: When he came out to present an award and he said that Jimmy was being a good host, that was the moment I fell in love with him. He did not have to do that.
McNearney: Most people are too competitive to do that kind of thing, but he was really sweet.
Kimmel nixed singing a contemporary song with Corden, in favor of parodying Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” video.
McNearney: That was fulfilling a fantasy of Jimmy’s to play George Michael and be in that video. We pitched a bunch of songs for that, mostly current songs, like Beyonce and Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. Jimmy came back with that song. What? That was the song he wanted? But it worked great.
Ricker: We’re going to run some bloopers and outtakes on that video from the show tonight.
Yes, Kimmel’s mother Joan made many of those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – with plenty of help from the catering staff.
Ricker: Joan could have made all 7,000 and she would have made them for a month straight.
McNearney: Joan is the type of woman that at every family birthday party makes 600 cupcakes even if there are only 12 people at the party. At Easter she makes everyone bring home two pies. She loves to bake. I think that’s where Jimmy learned how to be a good host and take care of people.
Ricker: [Her sandwich] started a big debate in the writers’ room. We discovered she puts both peanut butter and jelly on both sides of the bread and puts them together, which no one had ever seen before. Except for Jimmy, who thought that was the way you do it.
McNearney: We were expecting terrible backlash online!
Ricker: [“Top Chef” host] Tom Colicchio online said the peanut butter and jelly ratio was perfect.
Kevin Spacey’s cameo, eating one of Joan Kimmel’s sandwiches, was not planned – and no one knows how he got there.
McNearney: Jimmy wasn’t even aware until he came off stage that Kevin Spacey was in that shot. He just wandered into that room.
Ricker: We had no idea that was happening.
McNearney: None of us knew! We were like, “What? How is Kevin Spacey in this shot!?” It was great.
Ricker: I still don’t know the story of how that happened, but the writers were delighted. We probably should have thought of that! I think he was going to the bathroom or something and thought it would be funny.
The entire team fell in love with the “Stranger Things” kids, who passed out the sandwiches to stars in the audience.
McNearney: We want to adopt all of them.
Ricker: They probably all have lovely parents but we’re putting in adoption papers.
McNearney: They were all so excited and nervous, and we were all excited and nervous around them.
Ricker: They were star struck and I think all the celebrities were star struck to see them. Millie Bobby Brown was excited she got $20 for her birthday, and we were like, “Don’t ever get jaded or change!”
The “Jimmy Kimmel Live” producers aren’t quite sure whether Mark Burnett is mad at Kimmel, who teased the producer for his responsibility in building up Donald Trump.
McNearney: I hope he took it in good fun.
Ricker: I hope he took it in the spirit for which it was intended.
McNearney: Yes, that he’s the worst. [laughs] I’m kidding! It was the easiest way to blame Trump for being on television because it originated there with Mark Burnett. And we’re in a room where the whole industry is television, and to blame television for Donald Trump seemed like a good fit for that night.
Ricker: We definitely wanted to touch on the election, but to just do straight political jokes in the monologue wouldn’t make sense. So I think Jimmy was looking for a good way in.
McNearney: I hope he doesn’t hate us!
Kimmel and team were so confident that “Jimmy Kimmel Live” would lose the Variety/Talk category that they didn’t have another script ready for Matt Damon had they won.
McNearney: Matt Damon is the world’s great human being. He was not going to be at the Emmys! But Jimmy asked him, and that was about a month ago. The plan was, we were totally prepared for losing. We did not have a glimmer of hope that we would win.
Ricker: We were actually happy we lost because Matt Damon was standing right over there with all of the writers, and if we win it’s going to suck, what’s Matt going to do? So when we lost we said, “That’s great, let’s do this.”
McNearney: Yeah, we were actually glad that we lost because we were so excited for that bit.
Ricker: Matt came in, I don’t think he ran it one time with Jimmy all the way through, and I handed him a script and asked him if he wanted to go over his lines. He said, “Nah, there’s a teleprompter out there, right?” I said yeah. He just went out on live television and for the first time they did it all the way through and he was so fantastic.
McNearney: And he came back stage after and said, “Oh my God I’m glad I loosely went over that before because I couldn’t read the teleprompter, it was way too far away!” I said, “How the hell did you just give that performance without being able to see the lines?” And the apple was a great touch. We owe everything to Matt Damon.
Maggie Smith will eventually get her Emmy Award.
Ricker: There’s nothing Jimmy loves more than picking just a random, nonsensical target and digging in. We also wish Maggie the best it in the spirit of which it was intended.
McNearney: She doesn’t care! She didn’t see that!
Here’s what you didn’t see: Kimmel originally planned to do a bit outside, and McNearney had to scrap an introduction for Amy Poehler and Tina Fey that she was proud of.
McNearney: I’m really bummed, we had a great intro written for Amy and Tina. It was my favorite intro of the night, but they had to cut it, which was unfortunate. It was all about introducing, “These are two very funny women… they’d be funny if they weren’t women… they’d be just as funny if they were men!” It was just this funny, rambling thing about the way in which people introduce women in comedy. It’s just most annoying thing for women, just call them people in comedy!
Ricker: We also had this whole thing planned where we were going to go outside live and grab someone off the street and have them read an intro. But [executive producer] Don Mischer said we were running long and had to cut it. We had to let it go, but I think it’s for the best. Nobody wants to be an overly long awards show, so I think we made the right call.
McNearney: It kept it tighter.
Ricker: I gotta say, that’s a credit to Don Mischer. I’ve been impressed the both times that we’ve done the Emmys that they were able to bring a three-hour show in on time.
McNearney: Yeah, there are so many unpredictable elements on a show like that, and they manage to get it done on time.
Ricker: We were very lucky.