For viewers Freevee’s Jury Duty went so smoothly it could be easy to underestimate what went into pulling off the documentary-style comedy series. In reality, the elaborate hoax may be one of television’s most masterful puppet shows of all-time. A completely controlled environment all set into motion to fool one person at the center of the series, Ronald Gladden. He was the lone real person at the center of a fake trial with a fake jury, judge, lawyers and witnesses. In addition to the dozens of actors in front of the camera, there were hundreds of behind the scenes crew required to execute the massive production. Think The Truman Show only this time it is set in courtroom.
During the series numerous puppet strings controlling every aspect of Gladden’s reality were revealed to the audience. But, for every string we saw many, many more were required to make it all work. Years of planning, writing, and rehearsal was only part of what went into making Jury Duty go off without a hitch – and that was just before the three plus weeks of 24/7 production. The most amazing part of it all is that with the endless number of strings being pulled, Gladden, did not see a single one, because if he did the thousands of hours put into Jury Duty would be all for naught.
Many people were surprised when Jury Duty earned four Emmy nominations including Outstanding Comedy Series, Writing, Casting and Supporting Actor (James Marsden). After learning what went into the highly entertaining and funny series it becomes more apparent why the noms were very well deserved.
Awards Radar spoke with showrunner & executive producer Cody Heller (Wilfred, Deadbeat) and executive producer Nicholas Hatton (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Who Is America?) about their work on the series for an exclusive joint interview where the puppet masters shared some of the detailed what went in pulling it all off. Below are some highlights from that conversation including their best and worst case scenarios for the series. (For the entire conversation which covered what they left out of series, their favorite moments on and off camera, and much more watch the full interview at the bottom of this article.)
“It was a really, really big undertaking,” explained Hatton. “It doesn’t look on screen. Like it’s a particularly big show. And I think a lot of the narrative, which has been very sweet coming out of the awards nominations has been like the, you know, the little show that could against all these big comedies and all that kind of stuff. And we take that as a compliment. But it was there was there are a lot of people involved in in making this thing. Success and like to say it takes a village to build an entirely fake village. And a lot of folks put in some really, really incredible work to make this magic trick look as seamless as it was.”
When taking on such and incredibly large gamble, one that has no built in safety net the idea of oa complete failure were a real possibility explained Heller. “The best case scenario was it would, we would get away with making it happen and getting through the three and a half weeks.” She continued, “And worst case scenario was like, I guess it will be a show about us trying to do this and failing and figuring out a way to edit that into something that’s interesting. There really was no fallback. And that was terrifying, but exciting. That is not normal for TV.”
Hatton compared the potential to failure to the 2002 film Lost In La Mancha, which documented Terry Gilliam’s failed attempt to make a film version of “Don Quixote.” While that may sound like a complete loss there was another end result that the producers really feared explained Hatton.
“I will say there is a worse outcome as well, which is, what if Ronald had a terrible time? What if we got through it, and he was just miserable and felt mad? When the reveal happens, he’s like, ‘Wait, so I’m the center of a joke to all of you and my time and my agency is less than?’ That truly would have been awful. I think for all of us was probably our biggest concern going into this was making sure that whoever our hero was would end up coming out of it, feeling good about themselves and about the experience. There are truthfully there are ethical considerations to doing this stuff. Hatton continued, “So the idea of making someone miserable whilst you’re making this silly stuff doesn’t seem to match with me. I’m very happy again, that Ronald is is well, that he’s happy that he enjoyed the experiment.”
“Everyone really did just fall in love with Ronald,” agreed Heller. “He’s amazing. He’s an incredible guy we could not have been luckier. He really did restore my faith in humanity. Ronald Gladden made me realize there’s still good people out there. Even the small little kindnesses of, like, taking responsibility for a clogged toilet that you didn’t clog. It’s silly, but that’s a small kindness that means a lot.” The series truly found moments of humanity in the least likely of places.
Heller was pleased to find that the kindness of this story extend beyond what you see on screen. Something which may be attributed, in part, to the setting. “Jury duty is like we say, ‘the great equalizer.’ Movie stars and people from everyday, everyone get called into jury duty. I think there’s something really special about the way that when people come together in real life, and are made to work toward a common goal,” said Heller. “Nine times out of 10 they really do form a little family and work well together. To see that happen, not only within the show but outside of the show, the fact that in real life, Ronald and the rest of the cast, they all keep in touch – many of the crew members have become like such good friends, we really did create this real family. I think for me, that’s been kind of the most satisfying part of all of it.”
(Of course none of this series would have been possible without the incredible work of the writers and actors. Awards Radar fully supports the WGA and SAG-AFTRA unions in their fight for a fair contract.)
Jury Duty is now streaming on Freevee and Prime Video.