Last night, Will Ferrell donned his burgundy suit, pasted on the familiar mustache, and dropped in on Conan O’Brien’s TBS show to play a little jazz flute, insult the host, and make an announcement: “As of 0900 Mountain Time, Paramount Pictures and myself, Ronald Joseph Aaron Burgundy, have come to terms on a sequel to Anchorman.” Ferrell’s announcement was greeted with cheers in the studio and equally enthusiastic response on the Internet, where the long-gestating project had been presumed dead for a good couple of years. After the jump, we’ll take a look at Anchorman 2‘s long journey to fruition.
Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s screenplay Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy was so strange, so comedically out-there, that it was a genuine long-shot to even get made — and probably wouldn’t have, had Ferrell not fronted Old School and made it an unexpected blockbuster for DreamWorks. When the studio went to Ferrell for a follow-up, he proposed Anchorman. Surprisingly, they bought in — with co-writer McKay directing (his first feature) and TV comedy guru Judd Apatow producing. Thanks to the endlessly quotable screenplay, Ferrell’s gonzo leading performance, and a killer ensemble cast (including Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Vince Vaughn, Fred Willard, and David Koechner), the movie was an immediate comedy classic and a monster hit — grossing more than its $26 million budget in the opening weekend alone, racking up worldwide box office of $90 million, and becoming a frat house perennial on DVD.
Talk of a sequel started circulating in 2008, as McKay and Ferrell were promoting Step Brothers; McKay told Collider they were “dying to do it,” which Ferrell confirmed in his own interviews. Even then, they indicated the project was at least a couple of years from happening, and true to their word, they spent the next two years on the action/comedy The Other Guys. While that film was in postproduction, McKay turned to Anchorman 2, which he intended as their next collaboration. Rights for the sequel had reverted to Paramount, but the filmmaker and the studio came to a stalemate over budget.
Here’s where having a cast full of people on the verge of stardom gets tricky: gathering them back up for a sequel six years later is a markedly more expensive proposition. According to Deadline, Paramount was willing to green-light the movie for $40 million, but McKay was asking for something closer to $70 million (right in the neighborhood of what the studio had just approved for Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator). That $30 million delta was the sticking point; Paramount didn’t think it would prove profitable enough, though its projections seemed to be based mostly on the original film’s grosses, which the sequel would certainly top (a la the Austin Powers series).
“So bummed,” McKay tweeted on April 29th. “Paramount basically passed on Anchorman 2. Even after we cut our budget down. We tried.” Ferrell was similarly discouraged, telling Entertainment Weekly, “Well, you know, yeah, it’s a little peculiar. On the one hand, [we were] being begged to do a sequel for such a long time, and then we finally came up with a concept that we liked, we talked to all the guys, and everyone was up for it. And then to get the reaction we got, yeah, it’s slightly puzzling to us.” Fans attempted a Twitter campaign to keep the movie alive, but it was no use; a year later, Ferrell told journalists that the final word from Paramount was “We’ve run the numbers and it’s not a good fit.”
Burgundy followers would get even more upset as details of the aborted project leaked out. Most intriguing among them: that McKay and Ferrell, who had mounted the actor’s one-man George W. Bush show on Broadway back in 2009, were planning Anchorman 2 as a musical — complete with a run on the Great White Way. “We were going to do four months on Broadway and then jump right into filming,” McKay told CHUD’s Devin Faraci. The idea of an all-singing, all-dancing Channel 4 Evening News team is tantalizing on a conceptual level, but this was also a logistical masterstroke: the Broadway run would allow the filmmakers to test out the material in front of a live audience, working out bits, trying out jokes, and basically getting the script into fighting shape before putting in front of the cameras (just as the Marx Brothers used to do).
So Anchorman 2 seemed permanently stalled, owned outright by a studio uninterested in making it; Ferrell was confirming its death just a couple of weeks ago, saying the he and McKay were turning their attention to a follow-up to Step Brothers. Now comes this surprise announcement on Conan, though details are still sketchy — no word yet, for example, on if the plan for the Broadway run is still in place, or exactly who will be returning. Deadline’s Nikki Finke reports that McKay (obviously) and producer Apatow are in, and that Carell, Rudd, and Koechner will return; Carell tweeted yesterday, “Watch Conan tonight. You will be glad that you did,” while Christina Applegate (who we really hope is involved — she doesn’t get enough credit for the success of the first film) went even more enigmatic, tweeting a link to the Conan video without comment.
Point is, details will presumably creep out over the next couple of weeks; what we know is that the film is a go, with a projected release late next year.