“Steve Martin had the idea so I knew there was comedy gold in it somewhere,” says “Only Murders in the Building” showrunner John Hoffman on the show’s premise, which both honors and spoofs true crime podcasts. Hoffman was approached by Martin and executive producers Dan Fogelman and Jess Rosenthal to join the Hulu series, and they quickly dug into the question of how to make the murder mystery genre feel new. “How do we make the classic meet modern?,” they collectively wondered, and the answer was largely in the intergenerational casting of Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
Hoffman has experience writing for legendary comedic duos: he executive produces and writes for Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie,” which stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. “I don’t know what star I fell under,” he says of his good fortune in working with not only Fonda and Tomlin, but now Martin and Short also. To round out the core cast, they looked “in a completely different direction” and thought of Gomez. “I recognized a kindred spirit in Selena immediately,” Hoffman says, noting that like Gomez, he had also worked with Disney early in his career. He calls Gomez a “dry, witty, sharp, shrewd young woman,” and describes the first table read as “magic.”
“Only Murders in the Building” is a genuine murder mystery, as Martin, Short and Gomez’s characters are true crime podcast aficionados who stumble into a case of their own as they investigate the death of a neighbor in the Arconia apartment building in New York City. Beyond its premise, though, Hoffman emphasizes the “human comedy at the center of it all.” The show’s characters are “three lonely people that were isolated in their worlds,” he adds, noting how “the moments of connection are really what the show is about.”
In addition to his responsibilities as showrunner and co-creator, Hoffman co-wrote three of the 10 episodes from the first season. “We knew the end moments of episode ten and then we worked our way backwards,” Hoffman says of the process in the writers’ room, stressing that “mystery writing is very tricky.” He is particularly pleased with a pivotal scene between Martin and Amy Ryan in the finale, saying, “I’ve rarely had a better time writing anything.” He wanted to give these “incredible actors” “something that feels really complicated,” and he says, “The thrill for me was fulfilling in a certain way the brilliance of Steve Martin.”
The comedy has been renewed for a second season, and though Hoffman could not reveal much about the plot, he shared a few exciting teasers. The universe of the show “continues to get a little bigger” after the cliffhanger of the first season. “There’s famous and then there’s New York famous, and they have stepped into New York famous,” Hoffman adds, concluding, “It’s gonna be a real challenge for them to hold together.”
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