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Home » Why ‘Jury Duty’ Showrunner Cody Heller Almost Cut That Soaking Scene

Why ‘Jury Duty’ Showrunner Cody Heller Almost Cut That Soaking Scene

Years after she released her series “Dummy” on the now-defunct Quibi, Cody Heller decided to go into her next project without expectations. In doing so, she’s had her mind blown by the positive reaction she saw online as people received her latest work, “Jury Duty.”

Starring James Marsden, the documentary-style comedy takes one unsuspecting civilian and puts them through a series of pranks. The catch? He doesn’t know everything is fake. The entire case is fake — the judge, courtroom, bailiffs, and all of his peers are all paid actors and everything this team of “jurors” experienced is carefully orchestrated by Heller and her team of writers.

It’s a months long process from development and pre-production that sets the stage for the series, which would go on to become a success for Amazon’s free streaming platform, Freevee. (Freevee declined to provide specific ratings numbers but directed Variety to a JustWatch report that showed “Jury Duty” as the No. 1 streamed TV show for the week of April 17-23, beating Netflix’s “Beef” and “The Diplomat.”)

First, Heller needed a main character — an unwittingly honest protagonist who could be funny enough to enjoy the chaos unfolding around him (and possibly even take part in it at points) and could also be nice enough that he made audiences admire him. The showrunner wanted a “hero’s journey” and Heller took certain steps to ensure that the experience wasn’t “something that traumatizes or embarrasses or shames him.” That’s where Heller attributes a large part of the show’s magic — in her hero, Ronald Gladden.

“It really is about finding an amazing person. Alexis Sampietro, the producer who found him, is unbelievably talented and just found the perfect person. He just went above and beyond our wildest hopes,” Heller said of Gladden.

Heller adds: “There are so many things that the internet and TikTok have really clung onto and been this moment. Honestly, so many of them are things that were not scripted whatsoever. The ‘Bug’s Life’ thing, that was not scripted at all. We actually thought that he was going to be kind of freaked out by Todd (played by David Brown) and then just seeing him take him under his wing like that? The makeover was completely initiated by Ronald. Literally not scripted at all.”

Courtesy of Amazon Freevee

In walking this acrobat-like tightrope of trying to keep their jokes clean and also pulling the strings to keep their very large production under wraps, some of the planned pranks didn’t make it to light. But there were moments that Heller worried could’ve potentially gone too far — including a wild “soaking” scene in which James Marsden agrees to jump on a hotel bed in order to simulate a sex scene between Jeannie (Edy Modica) and Noah (Mekki Leeper).

“When I pitched it, I don’t think anyone had heard of soaking and I was like ‘No, I’m telling you it’s a real thing,’” said Heller. “I have been trying to get soaking into something I want to say like 10 years now. I don’t remember how I originally found out about soaking but I just found it to be so interesting and hilarious. That was an example of something where originally in the room I was like, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny to get this guy to jump on the bed?’ But then it did become a thing about consent and I was like wait a second because that would have been a hidden camera thing.”

So, she came up with a plan to protect themselves from any foul play potentially happening.

“I don’t feel comfortable allowing this guy to be participating in what he thinks is a sexual act and then film so even if he had offered to, we were going to have Edy who plays Jeannie say, ‘actually, I really want Marsden instead.’ So we were never going to allow him to actually do that,” Heller continued.

The scene almost didn’t make it onto the show as Heller considered the fact that the main character wasn’t a part of the scene. But, as viewers saw, she had a change of heart.

“Ronald doesn’t always have to be there as long as this spirit of ‘He is the star of a sitcom that he doesn’t realize is going on around him’ [is there]. So other scenes can can exist,” she said.

Courtesy of Amazon Freevee

Despite coming up with a well of original content, it’s not lost on Heller that she isn’t the first creator to come up with this type of show design. Since the show began airing, she’s earned a few comparisons to Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese’s 2003 reality series, “Joe Schmo,” which ran for three seasons on the Spike Network. Heller admittedly “really liked” the series when it was first around. But, when she signed onto “Jury Duty,” she aimed to etch her own space in the genre that stood on its own. In doing so, she made several changes to the format.

“I think the key difference for me was, I wasn’t interested in seeing the behind the scenes during the actual show. This was before I even came on as showrunner, this was already built into the premise of the show that Lee [Eisenberg], David [Bernad], and Todd Schulman had come up with, which was, it is like as if Jim from ‘The Office’ was a real person and didn’t know,” said Heller. ” I wanted to avoid scenes of actors being like, ‘Oh, do you think he knows?’ or producers coming in. I liked having a little bit of it in Episode 8 to just show a taste of how this was made. But for me, I really thought, wouldn’t it be cool if you’re watching it and the whole thing is just you’re in the show?”

She adds: “It’s really interesting because this is so different. For all of those type of shows, it’s really about a couple hours at most, where they’re believing this false reality. This was three and a half weeks of having to maintain this fake reality for this person. So a lot of the things that we a lot of what we had to do was what we called the ‘reality bank.’ So making deposit deposits into the reality bank, which would mean five hours of absolutely nothing interesting happening. Just people in court talking regular, boring court stuff. And the more money we put into the ‘reality bank,’ the more we could take withdrawals and be like, ‘OK, now, a crazy thing is gonna happen today.’ Because we had built up this reality bank, it helps to make it feel real, and I do think a second season would be possible.”

Amazon Freevee has not yet announced whether the series would be renewed. Though, Heller already has a few plans. “Obviously, it would have to be a whole different universe,” she says.

“You couldn’t just do jury duty again, because then people would be like, ‘Wait a second.’ But I do think that it’s possible. I do think there’s a million different worlds that this kind of thing could exist in.”

“Jury Duty” is currently available for streaming on Freevee.

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