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October 3, 2015

'Commercial Kings' Rhett & Link On Being More Creative Than Spielberg

by Maggie Furlong, posted Jun 24th 2011 10:00AM
We've all seen those local small business commercials -- cheesy jingles, zany owners dressing up and yelling at the camera about why they're the best deal in town. Now we can see how those awesome bits of TV goodness get made.

Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings
'Commercial Kings' chronicles the process behind YouTube sensations Rhett and Link's business of making local commercials across the country (premieres Fri., June 24, 10PM ET on IFC). With a bevy of eclectic clients, the show manages to be even funnier than some of the ads they've become known for.

I caught up with childhood pals Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal to talk about what kind of commercials we'll see made this season on IFC -- including a shuttle for dog, a woman who speaks cat fluently and a war vet-turned-yoga instructor -- and they also shared a hilarious sneak peek of next week's episode.

Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams, eat your hearts out.

How do you guys explain to people what it is you do?
Rhett: I think everybody has a point of reference for those crazy local commercials that they see in their area, that they've probably seen their entire lives. You know, you're watching cable television late at night and see the local furniture salesman or used car salesman come on there, and he's wearing a chicken suit and saying something ridiculous, there's a ridiculous jungle that you can't get our of your head the next day ... those unintentionally funny local ads that never leave your mind. We actually specialize in making those for real businesses featuring real employees. We kind of tapped into that online, creating a series of local commercials for our YouTube channel, but they were all for real businesses. So many people latched into those, that IFC said they wanted to turn it into a show. You ask a lot of questions when you see a crazy local commercial ... mostly "How did this happen?" [Laughs] The show shows that process.

The commercials are really so great, but did you guys have to fight the urge to make things up a bit to make the show more interesting?
Link: You know, when we teamed up with IFC, it turned out to be a really good match because we were interested in not doing that. Rhett and I really wanted to preserve our process, and IFC was really interested in just documenting our process with a very small crew along for the ride. I think audiences get a little jaded with all the reality shows on today, because you're always questioning "Is this set up?" We made it a priority to maintain our legitimate, sincere process of going to a business and having to develop a concept while cameras are rolling, so within 48 hours, we've not only conceptualized, we've shot the thing.

What are some of your favorite commercials we'll see this season?
Rhett: We get started with the Holiday Hotel for Cats and the SuperShmuttle doggie day care on the premiere episode. We've already released the Holiday Hotel for Cats commercial online, but basically we go in and we meet Margaret, this cat lady who takes care of 50-75 cats at a time. This woman has surrounded herself with cats her entire life, and as a result, she has begun to communicate with them. Audibly. She makes these meow, mahhhhh, mewmew noises to the cats and they respond and come to her. So when she volunteered that information early on, we said, "OK, we've got to put that in the commercial."

Link: Also we picked a hot yoga studio -- basically doing yoga in torturous temperatures -- and we discover that the couple who owns the place, they're like pushing 70 years old. It all comes together when we learn that the husband, Bill, is a decorated war hero from Vietnam who told us, "You know what? I used to teach people to kill, now I teach people to heal." We can work with that! [Laughs] So we basically decide to turn Bill and Sandy, these 70-year-old zen-like yoga instructors, into two soldiers of yoga, complete with AK-47s, dressed up like Rambo, running around their backyard creating carnage, and adding lots of explosions in post. We had a lot of fun with that one.

All the clients seem pretty game for this ...
Rhett: Well, first of all, our services are free. [Laughs] We're giving them a free commercial -- all we need is their time and cooperation. We also have a proven track record for getting a lot of attention and buzz, which leads to business.

Growing up together, did you think this was where you'd end up?
Link: Yeah, Rhett and I have known each other since first grade and have always had that entertainer itch about us. So when Rhett's dad got him a video camera, we started making videos, like filming my dog but making it look like a nature channel show. Our instinct was always to take a camera and create something, and this is where it's landed us. It's kind of a dream come true.

J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg always talk about being kids with video cameras too, and they're in a very different place right now ...
Link: They're doing OK, but I would say that we are true artists. [Laughs]

Exclusive sneak peek at episode 2:
A local car wash owner makes it rain

Follow Maggie on Twitter @TheTVShowGirl

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