You don’t expect to see this in the conference room of the posh Rittenhouse Hotel, located in a high rent district off of Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square.
But if you watch the actors in Franklin & Bash, their new show on the TNT channel, the behavior should not come as much of a surprise.
In the show, Meyer is Peter Bash and Gosselaar is Jared Franklin, savvy, smart-alecky lawyers used to working the streets of Los Angeles.
To paraphrase Muhammad Ali, Bash likes to float like a butterfly, using his smooth professional manner to win over judges and juries, while Franklin stings like a bee, bucking authority whenever the opportunity presents itself. The one-two punch is what has made them successful legal eagles.
But they decide to take their act –along with a paralegal (Dana Davis) and a neurotic researcher (comic Kumail Nanjani) to a large law firm populated by eccentric, Eastern philosophy-oriented managing partner Stanton Infeld (Malcolm McDowell), his annoying nephew (Reed Diamond), and a gorgeous attorney (Garcelle Beauvais). Within minutes of their attention-getting arrival, it’s obvious the firm will never be the same.
And within ten minutes of watching Franklin & Bash, you wonder if TV lawyer shows will ever be the same. With rat-tat-tat dialogue, quirky characters (both lead and supporting) and witty pop culture references, you may think you are watching an oddball mashup of L.A. Law and a screwball comedy from the 1940s. Which is a good thing.
“The show lives or dies based on the characters’ friendship,” says Meyer, after offering the excuse of “too much coffee” for his candy-throwing antics. “You have to believe they are buddies.”
And you do, just as Meyer, best known as the star of the Garfield films and Robot Chicken, and Gosselaar, formerly pretty boy Zack Morris of Saved by the Bell and Detective John Clark on NYPD Blue, are.
Did they know each other before Franklin & Bash shot the LA-based pilot in Atlanta a few months ago?
“We met for 10 minutes at an airport ten years ago during a layover,” says the increasingly loquacious Meyer. “We talked about X-Box.”
According to Gosselaar, “We both have similar backgrounds, and similar work ethics.”
Both are 37 years old. Both were raised in Southern California. Both have been working steadily since they were 12 years old.
They say the show may often seem improvised, but it is not. It works, they say, because of the people behind-the-scenes.
“The blueprint comes from (producers/writers) Kevin Falls, who has won three Emmys for West Wing and worked on Sports Nite and Bill Chaise, who did Dirty Sexy Money, Shark and Hawthorne,” relates Gosselaar. “These aren’t people sitting around a frat house saying ‘Let’s bring out a beer bong’ and having them do handstands.
“It’s hard to make things look like two characters are talking. All we are doing is taking the edges off the lines, rounding the edges off of those lines. So we’ll just pad things here or there. At times, it’s too much. Writers are very particular about the writing. But on this show, we don’t say ‘We can’t do this’—we always try it first.
“We talk about the arc and the characters and where they come from. In Atlanta (during the production of the pilot), we’d film all day and instead of going home to our families, we’d go back to the hotel and go over the next day or two’s work and embellish it.”
Meyer’s experience working on the show has been different than what he’s been used to on TV before.
“There are some things they riff on,” he says. “There’s a thing in the pilot where we say ‘Would you sleep with Scarlett Johansson?’ Well, first it was Taylor Swift, but that was creepy. We threw out a bunch of them (examples) and that one stuck.
“There are little buttons we get to play with. And when you go over it the night before, you figure out what you can riff on the next day. Since it’s all being shot digitally—not on film these days—they can cut it easily. A lot of the friendship and banter keeps it fresh. As an actor, it’s a lot interesting than saying the same words all day.”
Another thing that is different about making a show for TNT (the show was originally slated for TBS) is that the schedule is very tight. Often, two shows are even being shot at the same time. But that can also have its advantages.
“The schedule is tough,” says Gosselaar, who had previously worked on TNT’s lawyer drama Raising the Bar with NYPD Blue creator Steven Bochco. “Breckin, he wasn’t used to doing nine pages a day, which we do typically.”
“On a film script, you know what the character is going through. You know what happens in the beginning and what happens in the end. On a TV show, you’re really making choices based on the pilot and you don’t know what will happen down the line. So you’re making choices on that, and you’re not 100 percent sure how to approach something.
“I really enjoy TV. You see a lot of film actors doing TV now because the work is just as rewarding. There’s not that stigma of being attached to TV as there was 10 years ago.”
Working with his character is one of the highlights of co-starring in Franklin & Bash, according to Meyer.
“You get to take a character into the unknown,” he says. “Knock on wood, if the show goes on for a bit, I have ideas where I think I know where it’s going. But there is an opportunity that it goes where we don’t know. They can totally change it up. It could just be called Franklin next season, you know.”
Gosselaar gives Meyer a nasty glare.
One of the things that Gosselaar and Meyer also like about the show is the guest stars and cast it has attracted. Among those making appearances in its first season are Fred Willard, Jason Alexander, James Van Der Beek, Harry Hamlin and Beau Bridges.
“All they had to go on was the pilot,” says Gosselaar. “The list of guest stars is not only a testament to the writing, but also how the industry perceives our show.
“Either that or there are a lot of unemployed actors,” he adds jokingly.
And, of course, getting Malcolm McDowell to play your boss is nothing to sneeze at either.
“Malcolm McDowell still has the work ethic we do, which is amazing for the legend he is,” states Gosselaar.
“Yeah. He’s 280 years old,” discloses Meyer.
“Yeah, he’s been working 200 years in this business,” maintains Gosselaar.
“He was teaching Gandalf how to act,” retorts Meyer.
“He’s everything you’d expect him to be,” relates Gosselaar. “He’s brilliant, he’s crazy.”
“Goofy and scary, too,” adds Meyer.
“Everyone who plays a regular role on our show does it so very well,” says Gosselaar.
“Thank you,” adds Meyer with a smirk.