Joe Schmo: The Full Bounty is surprising because it has managed to be almost as good as the original 10 years ago, and because the show’s producers and cast were able to pull off the same prank 10 years later.
How did they do it? I talked to the show’s executive producers, John Stevens and J. Holland Moore, and several of the cast members, to get insight into their process and thinking as they approached remaking one of the best reality shows from the early years of reality TV.
- Ralph Garman, who plays the host and was the only returning cast member, said that when the idea to make a new series came up, he asked, “Can we make it crazy enough to be funny yet believable enough to work? That was my concern, and my surprise was that we were able to do it.” Garman added, “We’re just as proud of this one as we are of the first one … I know I’m here to sell the show so it’s hard to believe, but I genuinely think that … it has all the elements the first one had.”
- Chase Rogan, the show’s star, has a master’s degree but never saw the original Joe Schmo Show: producers made sure of that during casting.
- Two weeks before filming, promos for Ted featuring Garman started airing, causing some concern. Still, Garman joked, “I wish I was recognizable, and so does my agent.” He added, “I was pretty well disguised” with the beard and jacket.
- Rob Belushi, who plays Alan, said, “I was pretty nervous, because if he had seen the first 20 seconds of Sorority Row, he would have known me immediately: Amazed Frat Guy.“
- His costume was inspired in part by Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman, especially “Jake Montrose’s” lack of sleeves. Garman went to a wedding of a friend that Dog actually attended, and “he was at that wedding in a tuxedo with no sleeves on it.” Garman told me that he told producers, “I only have one demand, really: I never wear sleeves.”
- For host Jake Montrose, Garman said that executive producer John Stevens “came up with a brilliant character” and “all I had to do was learn the details and the rest was easy.”
- Cast members were not told each other’s real names, so they wouldn’t slip up and say each other’s real names. Only Garman and Lorenzo Lamas were known to the group.
- Lorenzo Lamas said he never saw the original and didn’t watch even after he was hired: “There wasn’t a lot of time” between rehearsals and filming, he said, calling it a “runaway railway train.”
Scripting and improvising
- The cast did table reads and rehearsals, and “worked for a few weeks just doing improv,” executive producer J. Holland Moore said. “We would just come up with scenarios that I would just throw at them to see how they react.” He tested the cast by “bring[ing] in other people and give them a back story and let them run with it.”
- The cast’s lines were scripted down to “some sentences. They really wanted me to hit ‘I have the sack of a 25-year-old,'” Lorenzo Lamas said, noting that Moore took him outside and asked him to use that line at one point during filming.
- How much of it was scripted? John Stevens said that “the whole thing is written with the marriage of scripted beats with the marriage of improvisation,” though the final “structure is pretty close to what we laid out.”
- Belushi said that, during production, “improvising 10, 12 hours a day is really fun. The higher the stakes, the better it is.”
- John Stevens said that “only 50 percent of it you have control over” and that “at any given point, the story would have to change, and the writers would be up through the night rewriting the scenes because the show had changed because he didn’t go the way we thought he would go. [Chase] would constantly surprise us, and that’s what was really exciting and exhausting.”
How they kept secrets from Chase
- Every morning, when Chase was being interviewed in a confessional by a producer, the rest of the cast and crew met to plan the day. “Everybody else snuck out of the house and went to the production office 300 yards away, which was scary because you’ve got nine, 10 other people tiptoeing through the hallways. It was stressful,” Stevens said.
- “We had to work together,” said Jo Newman, who plays Karlee. “We all had to be on the same page.” She also said that “when something goes unplanned, you could see the next morning these guy had been up all night, and they’d throw 20 pages at you.”
- No scripts were allowed in the house, of course. “It’s up to them to either use what we’ve written for them or to get to it on their own; whatever feels more natural. They were pros at it; they were great,” Moore said.
- Rob Belushi “sometimes we’d try to push him one way or manipulate him another way, and he didn’t really go for it, so we had to make those changes on the fly.”
- Chase often seems to be singled out for competitions or other things, and that’s both a product of the show’s focus (cameras filmed the others constantly but that footage was rarely used, because Chase is the star) and his character. “He’s a competitor, so he volunteers first,” Moore said, adding that “we were very mindful” to not unnecessarily single him out.
- In fact, a future challenge was “rigged for him not to win. We made it super difficult, physically. We had producers test it; there’s no way he could do this,” Moore told me. Yet Chase “blew them away … We were all just in shock, because he wasn’t supposed to win, and there was no way he was gonna win, but he’s so competitive,” he said. Belushi added, “he smoked us.”
- Moore said that The Joe Schmo Show “is a serious head game to play with somebody because he formed real relationships with these people.” Belushi noted that “Chico’s exit was re-written” because the original plan “would have really upset Chase because he has a real [friendship/attachment to Chico], and they changed it to be a little more based in the world that we created instead of some exploitation or manipulation.”
- “He’s a very grounded guy,” Belushi said. “I don’t think any of us every worried: oh, is he going to have a nervous breakdown?” He added that “Chase and I still talk and hang out and all that stuff. He was able to make that adjustment from Alan to Rob, and still have a real relationship.”
- Ralph Garman said, “I was surprised that 10 years later, we could still find a way to parody reality television. Real reality shows now are much crazier than anything we’ve ever done in Joe Schmo before.”