Stephen Merchant, co-creator of “The Office” and “Extras,” returns to HBO this fall in his own star vehicle, “Hello Ladies.”
Loosely based on Merchant’s stand-up act chronicling his trials and tribulations in the dating world, Merchant and co-creators Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (the U.S. “Office”) presented the new series to the media at TCA’s summer press tour.
“[HBO] were the ones who suggested to me this could work as a sitcom,” Merchant explained about the origin of the show. “I hadn’t really thought about that.”
But once the idea came up, he ran with it and seized on telling the story of “a loser in England, who’s also a loser [in the U.S.]” — a character played by Merchant himself who runs counter to the “Love, Actually”-style fantasy of a nerd who becomes a stud when he crosses the pond.
“I think there’s a common fantasy that Los Angeles in particular is exotic and there’s a glamour here,” Merchant added about the show’s Hollywood setting. “We grew up waching those shows like ‘Moonlighting’ where there’s something about [L.A. at] night that’s sexy. [The character] is trying to buy into this fantasy and it never quite comes alive for him.”
Merchant doesn’t consider his comedic approach to be inherently British and points to a strong strain of geek comedy in America as well, including significant inspirations Woody Allen and Bob Hope. “They were always kind of underdogs who were using wit or something else to battle their way through,” Merchant said. “It seems like there’s a lot of network TV — the ‘Friends’ cast are very beautiful and I guess they come out as winners, but American TV is shot through with losers. None of the characters on ‘The Big Bang Theory’ are studs and that’s a huge show. Maybe there’s a veneer of optimism about American TV comedy, that might be the difference.”
Merchant also shot down any concerns that his increasing levels of fame and fortune might lessen the credibility of — or inspirations for — his unlucky in love character. “People ask me, ‘Do things change when you become well known or get on TV?'” he revealed. “Not really. [I’m just] getting rejected by a better class of woman. I still feel like even as we were writing the show, things were happening in the dating world that we could come in the next day and write them straight into the show.”
“Hello Ladies” premieres Sunday, Sept. 29 at 10:30 p.m. ET on HBO immediately following the final season premiere of “Eastbound and Down.”