Legends of the fall
With roots in UCLA basketball and ‘The Simpsons,’ this animated show wants off the bench
What makes UCLA teammates Josiah Johnson and Quinn Hawking different from other benchwarmers?
There’s a pause over the phone. The kind of silent, anticipatory gap in TV shows when two people look at one another, then look back at the questioner, and burst into laughter.
Johnson, 33, and Hawking, 34, the creators of new Comedy Central show The Legends of Chamberlain Heights, finally said through chuckles, “We liked to get really drunk.”
“We love having a good time,” said Johnson. “We like making people laugh. We like making people feel good about themselves. That’s kinda where the term for the show came from, ‘legends.’ In college we used to refer to all of our friends as legends, so at UCLA that became the thing.”
Johnson and Hawking were Bruins from 2000-04 and 2001-04, respectively, and were both part of the UCLA team that went 22-12 and reached the third round of NCAA Tournament in 2002. Legends is an animated series about the adventures of three high school freshmen who warm the bench for their basketball team and will tackle race, politics and more with a big infusion of comedy.
“We’re prepared for some backlash,” said Hawking. “We do say a lot of things that some conservative people might think are a little bit crazy. We also come with the approach that we’re equal opportunity smashers. We go hard on every race, whether it’s white, black, Latino, Asian. We go hard on everybody, and just try to find humor in it, because we really do hope this show can bring people together, as opposed to keeping [on] separating everybody.”
When Hawking and Johnson were playing basketball at UCLA, they tossed around the idea of making TV shows and movies. After college, the pair started working in sports television, and as they learned how to shoot, and edit, writing and producing became second nature. Hawking and Johnson are producers for ESPN and NFL Network, respectively. The duo is joined by Brad Ableson, a longtime artist for The Simpsons, as well as Michael Starrbury, a writer for 2013’s The Inevitable Defeat Of Mister And Pete.
The look of the characters? Think Futurama with duller colors and harder lines. And the roots of The Legends of Chamberlain Heights go back to the pair’s LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant puppet skits, posted to their JerseyChaser.com. The videos brought them so much attention that Nike sponsored the skits as commercials.
And their basketball roots go even deeper. Johnson’s father Marques was a member of UCLA coach John Wooden’s 10th championship team and an NBA All-Star. Hawking’s dad coached at Cal State Fullerton and also coached UCLA’s leading scorer (Don MacLean) at Simi Valley High school. “When you’re around the world of basketball, you find yourself among a lot of different characters, so by the time we got to UCLA — even though we were relegated to the bench — we were never going to be satisfied being quiet benchwarmers who were just happy to be on the team.”
Benchwarmers can become crowd favorites because they’re the most relatable in terms of talent. For Johnson and Hawking, their time to shine wasn’t during cleanup duty when the Bruins had an insurmountable lead, but when the cameras panned to the bench. Johnson said that he and the S— Crew — the term of endearment the UCLA benchwarmers used to refer to themselves — set the framework for other benchwarmers such as those with Monmouth basketball, who gained national fame with their elaborate celebration routines.
Expect to see those kind of antics in the three main characters of Legends. Grover is the best player of the group, but lacks confidence. Milk is white and has integrated himself into black culture. Jamal is a big fella with a Charmin-extra-soft voice and a killer sense of humor. Hawking voices Jamal, while Johnson handles Grover and Milk.
“We decided it would be funny if it kind of followed our experiences at UCLA,” Hawking said. Episode 1 focuses on a house party that Grover, Jamal and Milk are trying to get access to — the most clichéd high school experience one could think of — but the catch is that they can only gain entry to the function if they bring drugs. This sends the trio on a humorous mission.
The show has already been assured of a second season. “We strive for greatness,” said Johnson. “And we’re going to be touching on a lot of different social issues. So with this being an urban animated show, it really affords us the opportunity to help speak to the black community and help speak to minority communities in way that other shows on air can’t do.”
The Legends of Chamberlain Heights premieres following South Park at 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 14.