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Aug 19, 201312:00 PMThe Telegraph

The Premier Blog of the West

John Lehr Riding High In Hulu's 'Quick Draw'

Aug 19, 2013 - 12:00 PM
John Lehr Riding High In Hulu's 'Quick Draw'

Hulu

Deputy Eli Brocias (Nicholas Brown) and Sheriff John Henry Hoyle (John Lehr) keep the peace in "Quick Draw"

When you call Quick Draw a western – you better smile, pardner.

Indeed, John Lehr hopes you giggle, snicker and laugh out loud while you watch his spoofy sitcom, a semi-improvised mishmash that is by turns affectionately satirical and boisterously raunchy as it recycles the clichés common to TV westerns of yesteryear.

Currently available as downstreaming video on Hulu, Quick Draw follows the misadventures of Sheriff John Henry Hoyle (Lehr), a Harvard-trained lawman and budding forensic scientist who applies his book-learning about new-fangled crime-solving techniques to the task of maintaining law and order in Great Bend, Kansas, circa 1875.

Hoyle may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he’s a formidably accurate sharpshooter. Better still, he appears to know what he’s talking about — most of the time, at least — when he takes a scientific approach to solving mysteries and tracking outlaws. Every now and then, he actually  impresses two of his more skeptical acquaintances: Eli Brocias (Nicholas Brown), Hoyle’s dubious deputy, and Honey Shaw (Allison Dunbar), a frontier multitasker who does double duty as madam and salon owner.

Quick Draw isn’t Lehr’s first rodeo. He was the star and co-creator of 10 Items or Less, another improvised sitcom, which had a three-season run on TBS. And, no kidding, he was one of the original cavemen in commercials for GEICO insurance. But his latest project — which he co-created with writer-director Nancy Hower — marks his first attempt to ride tall in a Wild West romp.

And he was very eager to tell Cowboys & Indians readers all about it.

Cowboys & Indians: Let’s begin with the obvious question. Are you a fan of westerns?

John Lehr: Yes, I am. I grew up in Kansas, and my family is from Wichita and El Dorado — a little town outside of Wichita— which is why the show is set in Kansas. And I’m also a little bit of a western history buff across the board. And I also like science. So the idea of a western CSI really appealed to me, especially as a comedy.

The thing is, a lot of the stuff in the show actually is based on historical fact. Like, we have Cole Younger, who was of course an actual outlaw. And we have Belle Starr, who was kind of a famous whore — and outlaw. And we’ve got Frank James. But we also found some more obscure stuff. Like, we’ve got Nicodemus, which is in Episode 6. We found it while doing research — an all-black town, populated with freed slaves, which is not something you hear a lot about in westerns. So we send Hoyle there while he’s handling a murder investigation.

Also, some of the science Hoyle applies really is some of the criminal science of the day. Some of it was way off base. But some of it is startlingly close to where we are today. All of that was really interesting, and really appealed to us.

C&I: It’s ironic that Hulu also is offering episodes of Peacemakers, which was a rather more serious show about forensic science in the Wild West.

John: And I really hope they’re linking us to that. Because that would be a great combo.

C&I: Do you have favorite westerns?

John: While I was growing up, I saw a lot of the movies. But, really, most of what I tuned into as a kid were TV shows like The Rifleman and Bonanza. I was more into the episodic sort of thing, and following the characters over time. Stuff like Little House on the Prairie, and The Big Valley. And Have Gun Will Travel and The Lone Ranger.

C&I: You sort of tip your Stetson to some elements of those old shows. Like, back in the day, it was sort of obvious that there was something going on between Marshal Dillon and Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke 

John: Well, yeah, I always thought that while watching Gunsmoke. I mean, of course, why not? But you see, because we’re all really fans of westerns, we’re hoping other western fans have fun with this. We’re hoping people aren’t tuning in and rolling their eyes and saying things like, “Oh, that’s inaccurate, they didn’t really hold their guns like that.” It is a comedy, for sure. But it’s also a homage to the westerns we love. So you’re going to see a lot of the motifs from those shows in our show as well.

C&I: Funnily enough, Quick Draw and Hell on Wheels are the only new westerns being produced for television of any kind these days.

John: I know. Isn’t that incredible? And you know, I love Hell on Wheels. And you know what? If we get a second season, I am determined to have two things. One, I want a train. I want to be on that train. And number two, I want to have a cattle drive. With real cattle. We found a place that’ll rent you cattle to do a film. Longhorn cattle, about 50 head. So we’re going to figure out a way to do that. Because to me, there’s nothing funnier than comedians trying to herd cattle. That should be interesting.

C&I: Maybe you could get Anson Mount to sign on for a cameo as Cullen Bohannon.

John: Oh, God, I would love that. You know, we actually put offers out to a few old western character actors to do guest spots. But the thing is, nobody knew what the show was. And once they heard it was improvised, they were like, “Wait. What? I’m not doing that.”

C&I: Much like your last series, the sitcom 10 Items or Less, Quick Draw is largely improvised. If we had access to your outtakes, would we ever find discarded scenes where someone breaks character and says, “You know, this really isn’t working”?

John: [Laughs] Well, they’re there. But not as often as you’d think. It’s sort of like, Hulu asked us if they could have outtakes, to show footage of where we crack up in the middle of scenes. And we had to tell them: “We’re sorry, but we don’t really have those.” See, the amazing thing about improv is, people will stay in their character almost no matter what. People will crack up from time to time — but usually it’s at the end of the scene. They’ll laugh in delight at what’s going on, and what they’ve done. I think that’s because the characters are kind of built by the characters themselves. They inhabit them in a way that I think makes the comedy so much better. Because even though they’re doing stuff that’s totally ridiculous, you buy into their reality because the actor is so into it.

C&I: You strike a really offbeat balance in your character. Sheriff John Henry Hoyle often seems clueless and fatuous. But’s an amazingly good shot. And he actually does seem to know stuff about forensic science. It’s like, yes, he may be a blockhead, but at least he’s a competent blockhead.

John: That’s well said: “He is a competent blockhead.” Actually, for me, he boils down to book smart, street dumb. In social situations, he is just Awkward Central. He’s a little Sherlock Holmesian in that regard, but in more of a comedic way. But I think he was a good student. And the reason we made him a great shot was — well, when we were working on this, we loved the whole CSI aspect of the thing, and how here’s this guy with a Harvard background, and he’s kind of a smart ass, but he means well. All of that was kind of coming together. But we wanted to give him an attribute that made the town appreciate him. Because, otherwise, I think they would maybe get sick of him.

So we thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could give him sort of a super power?” And that’s why it happens — through no fault of his own, it’s nothing he’s done — he’s just this amazing shot. And I’m so glad we did that, because I think it really gives him another level.

And also — it gives us a chance to have some shootouts.

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