To millions of Anchorman fans around the world, the news that Will Ferrell’s blow-dried, self-mythologizing, jazz-flute-playing newsman Ron Burgundy is coming back to the big screen in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is a veritable ticket to Pleasure Town. But if things had taken a slightly different turn along the way, we might now be talking about the Anchorman Broadway musical instead of the movie sequel. And no, that’s not a joke.
Ferrell and his frequent collaborator Adam McKay, who directed the original Anchorman in 2004, first started kicking around the idea of a sequel around 2008. But despite the movie’s growing cult status, the prospects looked iffy at best. With the original movie having grossed an unspectacular $84 million, Paramount Pictures wasn’t in a hurry to make a follow-up. Then in 2009, following Ferrell’s successful run as President George W. Bush in the Broadway show You’re Welcome America, McKay had one of those so-crazy-it-just-might-work ideas: What if they did the second Anchorman as a Broadway musical?
“We thought we could kind of do the old Marx Brothers model where we perfected it onstage for six months, got all the jokes tight, and then we shot it,” McKay says. The studio seemed open to the notion, and all the other castmembers were onboard.
“I thought it was a great idea because you could go even further into the craziness of it all,” says Paul Rudd, who plays ladies’-man field reporter Brian Fantana. “We were ready to go,” says David Koechner, who plays blustery sportscaster Champ Kind. “We were going to rehearse in the spring and run all summer, and that fall we were going to shoot the new movie. I was very excited.”
McKay and Ferrell got deep into brainstorming ideas. “We had our story arc, we were kicking around song ideas, we may have even contacted a Broadway producer at one point informally,” McKay says. “We even had a discussion about what we’d do at the end of the six months: Would we have a replacement cast? Would people come see it if it was, for instance, Alec Baldwin doing Ron Burgundy instead of Will?” The more they batted around the idea, though, the more daunting it all started to sound. “We had dinner with Josh Gad once, and I was asking him about The Book of Mormon,” Ferrell says. “I said, ‘I’m just curious: How long did it take for you guys to put that together?’ And he was like, ‘Well, we workshopped it for four years … ‘ We had no real idea how much work it takes to mount a musical.”
Alas, some Broadway musicals about sexist, mustachioed ’70s news anchors are just too beautiful for this world. In the end, the studio nixed the budget for the movie, scotching the musical idea. It would be two long years before Paramount would finally give McKay and Ferrell the green light for the movie sequel. Fans are obviously (afternoon) delighted about the prospect of Anchorman 2 hitting theaters on Dec. 20. Still, you have to wonder what might have been if Ron Burgundy and his news team had taken on the Great White Way. “I still think it’s a great idea and it would have been incredibly fun to do,” says Steve Carell, who plays thick-as-a-brick weatherman Brick Tamland. “It would have been crazy,” Ferrell says with a shrug. He laughs. “I think on some level we would have sold it on how bad it was.”
For more on Anchorman 2 and other fall movies — including The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the Tom Hanks thriller Captain Phillips, the next installment of the Hobbit trilogy, and many more — pick up the new Entertainment Weekly, on stands now.