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On Aug. 13, 2009, Reno 911! co-creator and star Thomas Lennon broke the news to fans that Comedy Central had canceled his rockumentary show after six seasons. “Won’t be wearing the shorts again,” he tweeted.
But as it turns out, Lennon was wrong. In early 2020, he donned his khaki shorts once more to begin filming new episodes of Reno 911! for mobile app Quibi. The seventh season debuted May 4, nearly 11 years after the show came to an end on Comedy Central. Though the streamer — which has struggled to attract subscribers during the four months since its launch — doesn’t disclose viewership, it says Reno 911! is a top-trending show.
The road to a Reno 911! revival was a long one that started and ended with the same man: Doug Herzog. The veteran television executive originally ordered the pilot from Lennon, Kerri Kenney-Silver and Robert Ben Garant while he was at Fox and, afterit failed to land a series order, revived the project at Comedy Central. By 2019, he was working at Quibi, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman’s $2 billion streaming startup, and he called the show’s creative team with the idea to bring it back in installments of less than 10 minutes. There was no hesitation. “Reno is essentially a sketch show,” says Kenney-Silver. “If you could write a perfect show for Quibi, this would be the format.”
Reno 911! follows a group of odd-ball police officers who are made more charming by the actors who bring them to life, many of them improv performers who had worked in the same comedy troupes over the years. But in the decade since the show had ended, they’d all moved on: Wendi McLendon-Covey was starring on The Goldbergs, Joe Lo Truglio on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Niecy Nash was the busiest of them all with roles lined up on Never Have I Ever and Mrs. America. But the only impediment to getting the band back together was scheduling. “We had Niecy for two days,” says Kenney-Silver, “so that was a little tricky.”
She admits that she was “certainly nervous the night before” about what it would be like to return to these characters and the show’s loose, improvised style of filming. But on the first day back, it all clicked into place. Notes Kenney-Silver: “Everyone mentioned how surprised they were in themselves. … ‘Oh, all those years in between, I’ve actually grown as a performer.’ Now I can step into this without so much terror when it comes to improv.” They were out in the desert filming a funeral scene with Nash in costume as recurring character T.T. while a Dixieland band played and, as Lennon recalls, “It felt like no time had passed and, somehow, a lot of time had passed.”
But the actors aren’t the only ones who have changed. Not long after Reno 911!’s return, nationwide protests erupted following the police killing of George Floyd. The reckoning over the country’s history of racism prompted many Americans to reconsider how much power should be granted to the police. Because Reno 911! was created to skewer crime TV like Cops, Lennon says it has always looked at policing through a critical — albeit humorous — lens. “We did episodes where we beat up the milkshake man. It was sort of like a Rodney King-type scene, and then all the deputies went to prison,” he says. “We’ve always been talking about these issues, but I think because we’re doing a sketch show, it sort of slipped under the radar.”
Seventeen years since Reno 911! first aired, the show is getting one form of recognition that long eluded it. It’s been nominated for two Emmys, outstanding shortform comedy or drama series and outstanding actress in a shortform comedy or drama series for Kenney-Silver’s turn as Deputy Trudy Wiegel. “I definitely cried and squealed and ran around the house,” says Kenney-Silver. “To get that kind of validation as an actress for the first time at the age of 50 was really huge.”
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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