Kevin Heffernan & Steve Lemme Explain Why 'Tacoma FD' Is on Fire
The loveable firefighters of Tacoma FD are on a hot streak, led by the truTV show’s creators, Kevin Heffernan and Steve Lemme. The duo also write, direct, executive produce and star in the comedy as Chief Terry McConky and Captain Eddie Penisi. Not typos by the way. Those are their names.
Tacoma FD has ranked among ad-supported cable’s top five comedy series and to date, Season 2 has reached 11 million viewers and counting. The network wants to keep the fire burning and has ordered a 13-episode third season. Coming off the exciting news, we sat down with Heffernan and Lemme, who also collaborated on the Storm Troopers movies, to talk about the series’ success.
The two-part firefighter’s ball just aired, and you brought in actual firefighters for the episodes. Tell me about that experience.
Kevin Heffernan: We collected all these stories from firefighters, and they have all these great elements from their jobs and life. One of things they talked about was this firefighter’s ball. While laying it out, we had all this funny material. We thought, why not split this into two episodes? We put together this cliffhanger, which was a departure from what we were doing with the standalone episodes. We got to accomplish a lot because it covered all the characters and we could spend time with the story arcs. It really was a culmination.
Steve Lemme: We’re also limited by our tight budget. We’re shooting a ball. Those balls are supposed to be hundreds of people. They’re big, rowdy affairs. We were looking at the situation where between extras and wardrobe, we could only afford to have maybe 40 people there. We didn’t want it to be one of those situations where it was just totally lame. We started tossing around ideas like inviting real firefighters. We had a bunch of real Los Angeles firefighters. We said come down in [your] Class A uniforms, bring a date, dress up for the ball, and we’ll pay you.
We had Los Angeles firefighters, as well as our friends from the Tacoma Fire Dement. We’ve met them several times now. A bunch of them, probably like 10 or 12, decided to road trip down. Some of them brought dates. They came in their Class A uniforms and made a vacation out of it for about a week or three days of acting. It was cool to get those guys in there. Bill Heffernan [Kevin’s cousin], who is a firefighter in West Haven, Connecticut, is also our technical consultant. He came out and got a lot of screen time.
You’ve gotten a stamp of approval from firefighters. The show has really proven to have substance behind it, it's not just a comedy parodying being a firefighter.
Kevin: One of the goals we had was authenticity. People call bulls--- on the situation, then it undermines the show. We went to great lengths to reach out to firefighters and get the real stories. See how things really work. A lot of the shows on TV that are firefighter shows are more of the hour-long dramas. There are a lot of sweaty guys, crying. Nobody really does the station hijinks, which I think is what is endearing to the real firefighters. We definitely wanted to stay true to that. My cousin, who has been a firefighter for 25 years, is on set with us all the time. He immediately says, “That guy wouldn’t talk to that guy this way,” or, “That wouldn’t happen.” We listen to that. We try to follow through with that. It seems to resonate with the firefighters. They tell us we’re really capturing that element of their lives. It makes the show more authentic.
The firefighter’s ball episodes also teased the thought that Terry and Eddie might get separated with one going off for another opportunity. What do you make of their friendship?
Steve: It’s funny that you ask that. These characters are shades of our real personalities. A lot of those things in those episodes are things that bother us about the other guy in real life. I chew my gum like a horse, and Kevin can’t stand it. We spend a lot of time together, so he has to endure it. I wear my socks and flip flops at the same time. That drives Kevin and a lot of people crazy. On the flip side, I’ve seen Kevin’s ass-crack so much in my life. I don’t want to, and he doesn’t care. He has gone on to accept that his ass-crack is going to show. He doesn’t realize it’s the rest of us who don’t want to see it. That drives me crazy. We’re essentially work husbands. We’ve known each other since college. We were in Broken Lizard, and then he and I toured together almost a decade doing stand-up comedy shows.
Now we have this TV show. We thought it was a fun way to incorporate our pet peeves. I think there is the possibility that one of us can get promoted, and they might separate. It’s something to investigate as the show continues. We’re talking about an episode now where possibly Eddie gets to become a chief. I think we have so much material built up for this show. Between our personal relationship and the awesome stories we’ve heard from firefighters that make it pretty easy to arc the evolution of these people in this world.
You mention having all this material, which is good considering truTV renewed the show for Season 3. Has what’s been going on in the world the last few months impacted the show’s creative planning?
Kevin: We’re still trying to figure out how to tackle that. We start our writer’s room for Season 3 coming up. We’ve been gathering a lot of stories. There are certainly narrative things and production-wise things in terms of what we are able to do, when it comes to things like crowds. We’ll probably have to stay more in our fire station. We’re debating that right now. It’s funny when you talk to firefighters how they’ve been living the last few months, they do have stories about their station getting quarantined or wearing masks full-time on the job. We’re going to try to incorporate that stuff into the season without being too heavy-handed because we are a comedy. It will be light but definitely address the last few months.
Fans have also been enjoying the Talkcoma FD type of after-show. Although seeing you guys without the trademark 'staches took some getting used to.
Steve: It has actually become a problem to be totally honest. What we realized is we’ve had mustaches many times in our lives now through Super Troopers and Tacoma FD. When you shave them off, you look weird to everybody and look weird to yourself. As a guy looking at yourself, you look weaker and your upper lip looks longer. The amount of space between your nose and lip looks a mile wide. Your upper lip looks thin suddenly. Nobody looks good when they shave their mustache. Even if they didn’t look good with the mustache, they look worse without the mustache. At least for a couple of weeks. What we’ve done is this really awkward thing where we present ourselves with our big bushy mustaches. Then we immediately shave them and show our horrible, weak upper lip. It never gets corrected.
We’ve seen Marcus Henderson (Granville “Granny” Smith) rocking the mustache, kind of graduate into this club of sorts. Is Eugene Cordero (Andy Myawani) at this point like, “What about me?” Or is he happy not to have it?
Kevin: We’ve talked to him about it and debated. We’re like, “Eugene, can you grow a mustache?” He says he can, but I’ve never seen it. Lemme, have you seen Eugene with a mustache?
Steve: No, I haven’t seen him with a mustache, but I think he has a pretty good beard stubble, shadow situation. Better than I’ve got, which leaves me to believe he could do it.
Kevin: I’m not opposed at all to it.
You’ve built quite the guest star list early in the show's run. With the series growing in popularity, is there anyone on your bucket list you want to have on?
Steve: It’s also another COVID question. We want to bring back Joey Pants, who played my father this season. But it’s going to be different protocols for bringing people on an airplane. They would have to be quarantined, so that’s not really practical. First and foremost it would have to be someone living in Los Angeles. We’re talking about it. We do have new characters that are going to come into the station. We have some things in mind. On Week 13 of Talkcoma, we interviewed the current UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic. He just defended his title about a week-and-a-half ago. He is also a firefighter in Ohio and a big fan of the show and Broken Lizard. He even texted me that he watched Super Troopers 2 before the fight in the locker room to relax. We want to keep talking to him. We probably want to pair Eugene and him to see what happens.
Is there a time estimate of when the show will go back into production?
Steve: We’re writing now. The idea is to start shooting November 30, which is the Monday after Thanksgiving. We’ll do a block where we will do three episodes before Christmas. Then that will give us a chance to reset, take a couple of weeks off on our end. On the network end, we can do some troubleshooting because we will be in the COVID environment, so we’ll see what we can do better. Then we’ll shoot the final 10 episodes into the new year. I think they’re targeting June for the Season 3 premiere.
Will Talkcoma FD continue on as well?
Kevin: We’d love to. It was fun. The show was a second thought since the network was losing some sports programming. We pitched the idea to them, and they loved it. We started doing it by the seat of our pants. It has really caught on. People are really connecting by hearing the stories behind the show and things like that. I think we won over the network, so I think they will let us do it again.
We’re at the tail end of Season 2 right now. What can viewers expect from the final episodes?
Kevin: These last ones are pretty out there. As the season goes on, things get a little crazier. The last two are very thematic. We have our fire. Every season we were allowed, budget-wise, to attack one fire. This next episode will be that. We go to fight a fire at a haunted house. It’s very fun with elements from horror movies. Then our last episode is our Christmas episode, which will air in September. We visit all the things we love about Christmas specials as we were growing up. So we popped that into the finale episode, which is a lot of fun. They get progressively more out there.
Tacoma FD, Thursdays, 10/9c, truTV
Talkoma FD, Thursdays, 10:30/9:30c, truTV