The Outrageous Comedy Will Ferrell and Adam McKay Couldn’t Get Made

‘Anchorman’ contains several laughs from Ferrell and McKay’s first screenplay
The Outrageous Comedy Will Ferrell and Adam McKay Couldn’t Get Made

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After their success on Saturday Night Live but before they hit it big with Anchorman: The Legend of Ron BurgundyWill Ferrell and Adam McKay had a dream to make a bonkers big-screen comedy. Some say the screenplay for the unmade August Blowout was one of the most hilarious they’d ever read — but that wasn’t enough to get a studio to pick up the tab.

August Blowout, which McKay and Ferrell wrote in the late 1990s, is most easily described as Glengarry Glen Ross set in a used-car parking lot. The best salesman on the lot, Jeff Tanner, had a lot in common with Ron Burgundy — a local hotshot who has it all, then finds himself down on his luck. According to Kind of a Big Deal, Saul Austerlitz’s history of the movie Anchorman, the movie began with Tanner talking straight into the camera, describing himself like he’s one of the hottest cars on the lot. He’s “rugged, sexy and American” and is “fully tricked out with all the features.”

How good is this guy? “I come with a confident handshake, an outstanding ass, a saddle in my bedroom, and except for some screwup by JCPenney, a near spotless credit report. And guess what? That’s all standard.” Like Burgundy in San Diego, Tanner fancies himself king of the town of Anaheim — a big fish ruling a medium-sized town. 

Lorne Michaels read the screenplay about a wild-ass car-selling competition, found it hilarious and brought it to Paramount. McKay and Ferrell staged a reading of the screenplay, enlisting Tracy Morgan, Tim Meadows, Harry Dean Stanton and Gary Cole to read different parts. The readthrough seemed like a big success until Paramount passed and greenlit David Spade’s Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star instead. 


Then McKay and Ferrell brought in another screenwriter to script-doctor their original — a former coworker by the name of Tina Fey. In their view, Fey’s version made the screenplay 25 percent better. Ben Stiller told McKay that August Blowout was one of the funniest scripts he’d read in a long time, but that only resulted in McKay getting a rewrite job on another screenplay. Even with Fey’s rewrites, the only answer they got was no.

August Blowout never got made, but the screenplay did impress Boogie Nights director Paul Thomas Anderson enough to get on board with whatever McKay and Ferrell did next. That would be Anchorman, a script that would repurpose a lot of the laughs from August Blowout. Ron Burgundy’s noticeable erection when inviting Veronica Corningstone to dinner originated in the car-selling comedy, when Jeff Tanner made an impassioned pitch to a young couple about an SUV. “This is a car for strong, willful men who like to off-road it and tame the savage land using only the rippling muscles and crackling bone that God gave him ... and then when their musk fills the air, make love to a hard-bodied woman who wants to feel a steely beard against her naked body. This is the Ford Expedition.” Like Burgundy, the scene ends with Tanner noticeably aroused. “I’m not proud of this,” he says, “but when you talk about the Ford Expedition, it’s unavoidable.”

Burgundy’s love of (and misinformation about) San Diego also originated in Tanner’s obsession with his Anaheim home. Like Ron introducing the city to Veronica, Tanner showed off Anaheim to a new salesman: “Anaheim — she looks pretty sexy at night.”

Burgundy and Tanner even share an obsession with modern jazz. While Tanner doesn’t play the jazz flute, he duets with flugelhorn master Chuck Mangione on an ode to his city: “Anaheim! I want to make love to you! Feel Anaheim’s lips pressed against my chest! Let’s get soapy in the shower ... and then, Anaheim, I rub my hands against your breasts!”

With so many comedic elements of August Blowout transplanted into Anchorman, it’s unlikely the screenplay will ever get made. Even so, those unproduced pages are largely responsible for the film careers of Ferrell and McKay. The script “really got passed around town,” Ferrell told The Hollywood Reporter years later. “That was a nice calling card for our tone and kind of set the table for us.” 


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