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Inside With: David Stern and Dan Powell, Executive Producers of Ugly Americans

Next in our series of interviews with the Americans behind Ugly Americans: the executive producer duo of David Stern and Dan Powell .

Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

David Stern: I started on The Wonder Years for the first three seasons, moved to The Simpsons for a few seasons, Monk, Oliver Beene... and a bunch of other stuff you probably haven't heard of. As far as Ugly Americans goes, Dan hooked me up with Devin Clark after they had created the web series "5 On," and I developed it from there.

Dan Powell: I was an Associate Producer at The Daily Show when Comedy Central hired me as a development exec in 2004. I bought 5-On as a web series in 2007 and wanted to figure out how to translate the basic concept to primetime, so I approached David after I found out he wrote my all-time favorite episode of The Simpsons ("Duffless", for the record). When the show got picked up to series, I talked to him about bringing me onto the production, and he agreed just to stop my pathetic groveling.

What do you do in your day to day roles on Ugly Americans?

David: I write and oversee all the scripts as well as oversee production.  

Dan: I help David with day-to-day oversight of the entire operation, but my focus is more on the elements of production from the table reads through delivery, so he can focus more of his attention on the writing, which naturally is what drives the show. Although I did co-write one of the episodes ("Treegasm", airing 3/14). Also, I embezzle petty cash, but that's not part of my official job description.  

Is the series wrapped up already -- are you in wait and see mode?

David: The first seven episodes are virtually wrapped up. But I am currently writing another batch of seven for hopefully a second order.  

Have any good stories from the production process?  

David: I have only good stories from the production process but none of them are interesting.

Dan: Since this is for The Apiary, I know a lot of the readers are familiar with Kurt Metzger, who voices our zombie character "Randall". Randall was originally designed to be this small, squirrelly character. But after we cast Kurt, we had to totally redesign the character so that the voice would match. I think he's definitely the heaviest zombie I've seen in pop culture (except for maybe that hillbilly zombie in "Zombieland"). It raises a lot of questions about how much Randall has to eat to stay that heavy, what with his flesh deteriorating at a rapid pace.

Another interesting nugget is that Kurt has such a disturbingly lewd vocabulary in real life, whenever we needed Randall to say something tasteless, we found ourselves going with what Kurt ad-libbed in the booth -- it was almost always more off-putting what was originally on the page.

Randall (Voiced by: Kurt Metzger), Leonard (Randy Pearlstein), Mark (Matt Oberg), Callie (Natasha Leggero), Twayne (Michael Leon Wooley), Frank (Larry Murphy)

How did you go about wrangling talent and staff for the show?

David: Anne Harris and JoAnn Grigioni were instrumental in casting the show. They're really tapped into all of the local talent in New York City. As far as the writing staff, I slogged through 150 scripts sent by every agency in town and whittled it down from there.

Dan: The voice talent was basically culled from the New York comedy community, though we were lucky to find Michael Leon Wooley ("Twayne") at a reading for Trey Parker and Matt Stone's forthcoming musical about Mormons. We were literally looking for someone who sounded like the plant in "Little Shop of Horrors", and then during Michael's audition we found out that he actually voiced that role in the Broadway revival. That was pure coincidence. Michael also played the voice of the alligator in Disney's "The Princess and the Frog", which was released after we cast him, and it was really surreal to hear the demonic Twayne's voice coming out of that lovable reptile.

Here's a question I hear a lot around my office which sounds like something I should ask, "What are your benchmarks for success?" The Jeff Dunham Show had ratings and got canceled, Michael and Michael has diehard fans and they didn't get renewed. What does Comedy Central want out of a new series?

David: I can't speak for Comedy Central but as far as I am concerned we've already won. I've got seven killer episodes produced and seven more on the way that I am really proud of. I'm having a blast and getting paid for it.

Dan: Comedy Central wants instant and immediate success and will settle for nothing less. Just kidding... (sort of). Seriously, having worked there for 5 years I can say that it's a narrow window to find stuff that fits the DNA of the brand, but is still successful on a ratings level. They sincerely want to deliver cutting edge comedy but, ultimately, it's a business that needs to deliver profits. Comedy Central will have their own benchmarks for success, and most likely it will be a combination of the ratings (vs. cost) and how the senior executives feel about it creatively. For our part, I agree with David -- we delivered seven episodes that we are thrilled with, and so we already feel it's successful. Obviously we hope the ratings echo that sentiment.

Is there a watch party people can attend?

Dan: Just a party in your brain when you watch the show. Our first season's seven episodes start rolling out Wednesday at 10:30pm EST, behind new episodes of South Park. Enjoy!

Ugly Americans Tonight 10:30pm / 9:30c
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