Creator of Hitler-centric sitcom looks back on writing the most controversial TV pilot ever

With 25 years of hindsight, I think I would have made the Goldensteins more aware of the situation. I’ve watched Saturday Night Live, and I love it. How do you feel today about it? It’s a problem child that at certain times gave me a lot of pleasure, so I certainly don’t think of it as a ball and chain. “Heil, honey, I’m home!” he shouts at his wife, who’s bustling around in the kitchen. Though few watched the pilot when it aired on satellite channel Galaxy, the series has gained notoriety for its, well, challenging premise — and for being available online, on YouTube:

But U.K.-based creator Geoff Atkinson (who went on to executive-produce the Emmy-nominated HBO series Getting On) says he meant no harm. It happened very quickly. What would it look like if you did it again? At the time, the channel wanted something fresh, and there was a sense of “As long as it’s original and something you can defend, you should say it.” I don’t think we entirely delivered. To know that whatever you’d given birth to hadn’t quite grown up in a way you wanted it to… it was like a problem child you brought up but was going to be around for the rest of your life. I don’t think the premise would be different. [Laughs]   I just like big, high-concept shows that take a risk. What were your goals in creating the show? Was portraying Hitler as a stereotypical sitcom   husband troubling to you? You need to laugh at them. Sounds a bit like   30 Rock, the idea of watching the behind-the-scenes comedy. We’ve got the same thing here with our government. [Laughs.]

Show Full Article If we were trying to make fun of what happened in the Holocaust, we’d deserve [the hate]. Everyone was aware of the sensitivities; the last thing we wanted was to offend. Well, I don’t think it ever broke to the point where it was front page news. I worried the argument would be “You can’t make fun of Hitler.” But he cries out for it. It’s perhaps easy to see why: The show depicted the Hitlers casually living next door to — brace yourselves — a Jewish couple, the Goldensteins. That’s what fascists want, to keep people in fear of them, when surely we should be debunking and destroying them. They’re aghast [at the characters making a show about Hitler] and then they start to laugh. In this strange world of what do the Goldensteins do given the man next to them is a monster who wants to kill them, I still think that works for a comedy, a dark comedy. Here, he reflects on the controversial conceit. People started looking over their shoulders. What do you think   is   comedy’s role in skewering politicians? So, in other words, no drunken conga line? There’s a genuine, dramatic tension there, and I don’t think we got that. Among the pilot’s high — low? When it aired, how often did you have to defend the idea? If you have a monster like that, and everyone says, “You can’t make fun of him,” then we’ve made him even more a monster. Their dilemma in 1938 is, should they leave Berlin? I always thought that was a possibility, to do the show within a show. We’d done the pilot, and when we were picked up to series, I had a sense something was not right. The slapsticky stuff made it… dumb. When they work, you can carry them off with a real flair. It was like flying into a storm. We could have underplayed the comedy with the Goldensteins and let the true drama come out a bit more. God, there are so many ifs and buts to all this, talking this through is like therapy. It’s like   The Producers. We just never got to that moment in   The Producers [below], when people realize you can laugh at this stuff. Maybe if we had a little longer [to write], we might have looked at things more. When did you realize that this wasn’t meeting your vision? ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did this even happen? — lights: The women gossiped behind Hitler’s back, the Goldensteins drunkenly crashed Hitler’s dinner with Neville Chamberlain, and Hitler even employed a thick New York accent. I’ve never thought that they should. The fact that he can be bothered to comment and say it’s rubbish means it’s working. Exactly. A man strides into his apartment and raises his right arm. What you wanted was a show that looked like a genuine ’50s show, you wanted the audience to question it but at the same time enjoy it. [Laughs] It was like Beverly Hills 91610   or whatever it is, so they’re all hanging out at the beach but obviously it’s 2000 years ago, so instead of surfboards, it’s donkeys. There’s a bit of me that wonders, does it help to make it as a making of, alongside the show? You mentioned doing a sitcom about Trump. Now, there probably would be headlines and certainly heads would roll. At one point when it was going a bit horribly, I was at home talking to my wife, and my son, who was 3 at the time, looked at me and asked, “Who’s Adolf Hitler?” And I said, “Oh my God, I can’t explain.” It was like running uphill, it just left an unpleasant taste in my mouth. They’re great and they’re also obviously provoking Trump. It seems like the right thing to do; as we speak, somebody’s probably writing a Trump sitcom. In a way, [comedies] make the government stronger. You were playing this game with the audience; you wanted them to dislike it and   then   like it. One was this, and the other was Jesus as a 16-year-old and he’s just been told the truth about what lies in store. It was fun, but it came at a price, and I wish I could do it again. It felt corny. I mean, it had to be brilliant to win over all the doubters, and there was a sense of mutiny on the ship. You could see the guy playing Hitler as himself, and you could have a much richer debate. I don’t resent it. We had to ape the American sitcom brilliantly — be American and not be American. I think if we got it right, it would have been fantastic, and I’d rather that than yet another sitcom about a 30-something couple that hasn’t really got that much to say. We stopped short of it. I never felt we were trying to belittle that at all. The man is Adolf Hitler — yep, that Adolf Hitler — and this is the opening of Heil Honey, I’m Home!, a British sitcom that aired for one episode before being canceled. But to not get it right, that was frustrating. It’s not clever, it’s not subtle, it’s not smart, it’s just dumb. One was to laugh at bullies. [EP] Paul Jackson went to the channel with the [Heil Honey] pitch, and they said okay. I’ve certainly never felt embarrassed by it because I know the motives were good. [Laughs] Another goal was looking at the sitcom genre. If as a result of it [being available online], Netflix phoned and said, “Okay, you can do six more episodes,” I would be the happiest person in the world. I would love to write a Trump sitcom. There were tensions backstage and people started questioning [the story], and it became more awkward. The series attempted to spoof American sitcoms of the 1950s like I Love Lucy while using 1937 Berlin as a backdrop. This show was staged like it was the 1950s. You could put the explanation and more of a defense into what they’re doing. Exactly. If a comedian could bring the government down, then it was probably not much of a government. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW. A version of this story originally appears in Entertainment Weekly’s Untold Stories issue, available to buy right here. What we wanted was satire. GEOFF ATKINSON: I’d been writing comedy a while, and I had two vague ideas that I’d written down for fun at the time. I have to say, I’m surprised you haven’t made YouTube take down the pilot of Heil Honey   or anything, considering how much you wish you could change. There’s an awful lot I’d do differently…
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