Proving that it’s never too late to get publicly pissed off when you feel like you’ve been fucked over, a war of words has broken out between comedians David Cross and H. Jon Benjamin and Adult Swim executive vice-president and creative director Mike Lazzo over the 2009 Paid Programming pilot, “Icelandic Ultra-Blue,” written by Cross and Benjamin.
The old wound was reopened on February 12, when Cross participated in a Reddit AMA and was asked if there was a project that he’d worked on in the past that he wished more people knew about:
“Uh… yeah! Gosh. Yes. ‘Icelandic Ultra-Blue.’ It was actually called Paid Programming. Adult swim completely and totally ripped off the idea - we did it for Adult Swim. Jon Benjamin and I did it. It’s really funny. And the idea that I pitched to Lazzo, in his office, standing in front of him, back in 2008? I wanna say? was to do a fake infomercial that would air at 4 in the morning, and it would be called Paid Programming so that the viewers wouldn’t know it was fake, and it starts out very realistically, and then subtly devolves into this crazy nonsense.
But it would really fuck with people’s heads.
Let me make it clear - I think the people who had the concepts for Too Many Cooks didn’t rip us off. I think Adult Swim was the one who ripped off the idea. And they actually aired it once - it aired at exactly the time I pitched, in that exact way, and they didn’t pick up the show, which I guess makes us a couple years ahead of our time?
So fuck Mike Lazzo. He’s a thief.
But go to Youtube, and see if you can check out either ‘Icelandic Ultra-Blue’ or Paid Programming or even Wikipedia it. Because it’s really, really funny.
I think you’ll like it.”
Not that this is the first time Cross has expressed his dissatisfaction with the way “Icelandic Ultra-Blue” was treated by Adult Swim: he’s been bringing it up in interviews pretty much since its initial airing, including his 2010 interview with The A.V. Club.
At the time, Cross described the program as “something with Jon Benjamin that I fucking loved that I can’t believe didn’t get picked up by Adult Swim, especially because the budget was, I think, $50,000 an episode,” after which he added, “I am adamant, I have no doubt in my mind that it would’ve been very successful and very funny,” calling the network “just crazy for not picking it up.” In addition, when asked if his and Benjamin’s participation was supposed to have been a secret, Cross replied,
“This guy at Adult Swim totally fucked us, because he announced it at—it wasn’t Comic-Con but it was one of those cons. Dragon Con maybe? I don’t know. They just didn’t know what to do with it. He blew it, so unfortunately you won’t get to enjoy it this way. There’s no recognizable people in it—they’re all actors we got from Central Casting. The only sense you get of Jon and I is that you hear our voices at one point.”
Benjamin wasn’t any more thrilled about the “Icelandic Ultra-Blue” experience than Cross, expressing similar annoyance to the A.V. Club in an interview the following year. “It’s one of the things I’m most proud of, and it was an abject failure,” Benjamin said, adding,
“I’m perplexed why. I have to say that Adult Swim—who was very difficult to work with on that project—at least semi-committed to it, though there were a lot of hiccups. The guy who runs Adult Swim kind of announced it at one of those Dragon-Cons, or whatever. David and I were like, ‘The one thing we didn’t want to do is make it like any other show,’ meaning like, ‘David Cross, the comic genius, makes another show!’ You know, use the celebrity to get the show going. We were insistent on not doing that. The people who go to Dragon-Con are the ones who are going to discover this show on their own, and I felt strongly that discovery is such an important part of TV and nerd culture. It would have been so great if it had worked. To their credit, they did run the show at 4:30 a.m.; they didn’t advertise it at all. Adult Swim watchers, at least from what I was sent, were furious. ‘What the fuck is this? Dude, I’m high, and that’s supposed to be an Aqua Teen rerun. They’re selling out!’”
Neither of the above quotes involved the calling-out of Lazzo by name, but it’s possible that Cross felt more comfortable about getting specific after the success of Too Many Cooks led a pleased-as-punch Lazzo to muse to The Wall Street Journal about how “a 4 a.m. time slot liberates thinking and creativity,” adding that “sometimes when you have large budgets and staff, you can flatten the creativity and overwhelm the idea.” Then again, maybe it’s coincidental that Lazzo seems to be taking credit for coming up with the idea of putting an absurd but relatively inexpensive program onto the Adult Swim schedule in the wee hours of the morning.
Either way, Cross’s decision to name names in his Reddit response inspired Lazzo to issue a Reddit response of his own:
“Dear David Cross
Jesus Christ Man. What a shit thing to say. Like I could ever need your thinking, certainly the most awesome thing I’ve ever read concerning myself.
Dude if you told me to air Icelandic at 4am, congratulations, I might offer you a job in Programming, perhaps even Development. However if you are under the impression that you invented any sort of baffling late night television then I must rescind any offer of a Development staff position. You might be too stupid. Overall, I’m in a good position to hook you up. I’ve been making unusual television at Turner (TWX!) almost thirty years. When I was much, much younger I remember Bill Tush airing many commercial parodies on WTBS at, let’s see, 4am. Uh-oh. I ripped the shit out of that. Late night informercials. Fuck yeah. Original! Steal that shit! My idea!
If your dumbfuck program – which we have aired repeatedly for years and is not too bad actually and good luck producing it anywhere else – was really all that good, we’d probably still be making it. I’m just one thief among many in the building, none of whom seem the least bit shy about telling me to get right on with any genius David Cross concept. Unfortunately, you’re just too expensive for your amazing 4am brain creations. Also it seems you’re a totally delusional dick. But look, it’s not too late. Recently I’ve been thinking about what we could program at 1am. Maybe you and that other Mike Lazzo expert, Megh Wright, can come up with another fresh parody idea I can steal. How about a showbiz crybaby series with some ignorant cut and paste commentary?
Love your now total enemy!
This, perhaps unsurprisingly, resulted in a joint response from Cross and Benjamin via Cross’s official Facebook page, which in turn resulted in Lazzo offering a further retort. At that point, Benjamin - apparently having made note of Lazzo’s seemingly out-of-nowhere decision to drag Megh Wright, deputy editor of the comedy website Splitsider, into the fray - decided to do her a solid and email her not only a letter addressed to “America and Mike Lazzo,” but an actual copy of the “Icelandic Ultra-Blue” budget.
As of this writing, there has been no further response from Lazzo, but we’re continuing to check Reddit on a regular basis, just in case.