Exclusive Interview: Alan Spencer on ‘Bullet in the Face’ and ‘Sledge Hammer’
I actually grew up a fan of two Alan Spencer properties without really knowing it, because I didn’t pay attention to such credits as a kid. “Sledge Hammer” was my favorite show. I got it. It was ridiculous that he was in love with his gun, and I already knew the rogue cop movies it was satirizing. I also loved the movie Hexed, which came out in the wake of the ‘90s erotic thriller boom and played dark comedy with sex and violence.
Spencer is back with the new IFC series “Bullet in the Face,” about a German spy who has a shootout with an American agent, and ends up switching faces with him. The first season DVD is out this week and we got to speak with Spencer by phone about the new show and his classics.
CraveOnline: Is “Bullet in the Face” a very different tone than “Sledge Hammer” was?
Alan Spencer: Yes and no. “Sledge Hammer” was done in the ‘80s. It was actually written pretty much at the end of the ‘70s, 1979. Yeah, because I had more license and more freedom as far as the things that I was allowed to present. “Sledge Hammer” was originally developed for HBO after I wrote it as a screenplay. The screenplay would’ve been R-rated and the show for HBO would have been in that same sort of tone.
So when it went to ABC it was toned down but it was still outrageous, but the violence level was higher and the graphic nature of it was more extreme, what I wrote than what was presented. So it was just logical to me doing a show now that the violence would be as unrestrained and graphic as anything that you see in a movie or on the nightly news. So I was taking advantage of liberties now.
Now it doesn’t even seem out of place because TV is so violent.
Yeah, but not comedy. The PTC, Parent Television Council, listed all the violent shows on TV and we were the only half-hour in there. I was saying usually characters don’t die or get shot in sitcoms, just jokes die.
If “Sledge Hammer” started as a film script, did that become the first three episodes? How did you expand on it when it went to series?
The introduction of the character was somewhat the same but no, it went off in different flights of fancy. In the original screenplay, before Sledge Hammer had a female partner, he had multiple partners that were always getting shot and killed before he got the female one who survived. I changed it quite a bit for the TV show. It went off on different tangents.
Movies and TV are very different. In the sense of “Sledge Hammer” I think it got to be more ambitious and I got to do more things with it and go in different directions, so it was actually more fun to do as a TV series initially. You could spoof other movies and get into the characters and their inner lives. That’s how it was different.
Did you love cop movies when you spoofed them, and erotic thrillers when you did Hexed and do you love spy movies?
I love all those things. Somebody asked me why I’m drawn to things with guns in them. I couldn’t answer that. He said, “Everything you do involves guns. Usually a woman pointing a gun at some point.” That’s certainly in my DNA. When I was a kid growing up, I was a latchkey kid. I spent a lot of time by myself so I couldn’t relate to domestic sitcoms where people are sitting around a dinner table.
My favorite show growing up was “Get Smart” and that I could relate to because similar to me it was a guy that lived alone and he’s screwing up a lot. It featured a lot of mayhem and guns and adventure and derring do and danger, so that to me was a normal sitcom to me. That’s what a half hour comedy looked like to me.
It’s strange how these things that you watch as a kid form a perspective of your taste and your own slant in life. I’m sure you find that about yourself too, right? The things you watched growing up probably influence all your taste, don’t you think?
I certainly watched a lot of the ‘80s action movies growing up and the Airplane and Naked Gun comedies.
TV is very influential. We’re all under the influence of it and that’s probably why the PTC and so many organizations are always policing it, because young minds are impressionable. That’s part of the debate that goes on, nature vs. nurture and whether TV and movies influence real life as far as a young person acting out on things that they had scene. Sir Alfred Hitchcock said, when somebody performed a copycat murder apparently inspired by Psycho, they asked him how he felt about it and he said, “The person should be tried for murder and plagiarism.”
It’s going to be an endless debate about this stuff. As I said at the time doing the show, when random acts of violence happen with increasing regularity, they’re no longer random. We are a comedy and in a way satirical. Nevertheless when you show this stuff, people do take it very seriously, and probably because young people are watching it or they could be exposed to it.
We have real gun problems now. How quaint was “Sledge Hammer?”
That was edgy back at the time because the guy was truly in love with his gun. He spoke to it and he was expounding right-wing views. Eddie Izzard actually correctly called the show when I met with him, he said, “That was like Stephen Colbert as an action hero” and that’s kind of true.
So you had people that agreed with Sledge Hammer as well as the other side that was laughing at him. I was able to win some arguments with broadcast standards with “Sledge Hammer” because I said, “Well, listen, every time he pulls out his gun people are yelling to put it way. In my own way, this is the most responsible show on TV. Show me a ‘Magnum P.I.’ or ‘Hunter’ or ‘Miami Vice’ when anybody pulls out a gun, whether anybody says, ‘Put it away.’” They couldn’t argue with the logic of that even though it probably makes no sense.