‘Hacks’ co-creator Lucia Aniello explains Season 2’s less is more approach and teases Season 3 surprises [Exclusive Video Interview]

After a breakout first season with three Emmy wins, “Hacks” co-creators and executive producers Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky felt the pressure to bring it for Season 2 — and not necessarily from others.

“I think we just really felt in this industry, everyone’s always taking shots on goal and getting a movie made or a TV show made is, like, a miracle. And having something cut through is an even bigger miracle, so it was like, ‘Oh, my God, we actually have this show that people are watching and really loving and connecting in a way that felt really honestly special,'” Aniello tells Gold Derby at our Producers Guild of America Awards nominees panel (watch above). “I think when you have something like it, it’s just, like, we better not blow it. We just want to continue to make everyone feel the same way or hopefully like it even more. … And I think because we learned so much from making Season 1, it felt a little bit more like we could make some improvements.”

For the sophomore installment of the HBO Max comedy, Aniello, Downs and Statsky took Deborah (Jean Smart) and Ava (Hannah Einbinder) on the road as the former workshopped her stand-up material. They also bucked the trend of shows expanding their episode order after a successful first season. Instead, “Hacks” went from 10 episodes to eight, purely for story reasons. “We’ve been really exceptionally lucky with everyone at HBO Max and our studio, Universal, where they really say, ‘What do you want to do this season? What is the story? How do you want to tell it?'” Aniello shares. “We just felt like we wanted to re-establish the world the first episode, the relationships, the Vegas of it all, but then we really wanted to get them on the road. It just felt like exciting and it is the thrust of the season. It also didn’t feel like you wanted to see them on the road exponentially.”

After Deborah cracks her new material in the sixth episode, they head to Los Angeles to pitch her TV special. “It also feels like in the story, once she figures it out, you want her selling it, you want her back in L.A., and there’s a lot of fallout in her personal life from what that results in,” Aniello continues. “It didn’t feel as much as ‘the gang’s in every episode and the gang’s all here’ because a lot of the gang is back in Vegas, a lot of the gang is back in L.A. That’s how we approached Season 2. It’s different than Season 1 and it’s different than Season 3.”

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Another sign that you’ve got a hit show on your hands is when you have an uptick in guest stars. Laurie Metcalf, Susie Essman, Ming-Na Wen, Harriet Sansom Harris and Devon Sawa were among those who dropped by in the second season, and “Hacks” took up four of the six Best Comedy Guest Actress slots at the Emmys, with Metcalf winning. Aniello — who won directing and writing Emmys for Season 1, sharing the latter with Downs and Statsky — says they’re thoughtful when it comes to guest casting and never want it “to be such a celebrity that feels like it takes you out of the show.”

“We hope that they are able to exist in our playground in a way that isn’t distracting and is only additive. And sometimes we write towards certain people because we’ve heard they like the show, and sometimes they say yes and sometimes they say no. And then sometimes we write without having any idea if they like the show, like Laurie, and we wrote that part for her and she luckily had a relationship with Linda Lowy, our casting director at HBO Max, and she said, ‘Hey, there’s this part. It says, ‘Think Laurie Metcalf.’ Would you be interested?’ And she said, ‘Well, let me read it.’ That’s how that happened,” Aniello reveals. “Sometimes the universe says, ‘Here you go, sweetie.’ Other times, like Devon Sawa, we didn’t write that for anybody in particular. And he read for it and was so fantastic. That was a more typical casting route. It really can happen in any way. We have some really great guests also in Season 3 in ways that I think are going to be surprising.”

Season 3 is currently in production and picks up a year after the events of the Season 2 finale, in which Deborah fires Ava so she can carve her own career after they successfully launch the special. “Deborah… the success of the special has given her newfound relevance, cultural cachet. She’s more famous than she has been in a really, really long time. I think she did something kind in a lot of ways and also in a way that’s self-protective in letting Ava go. The newfound relevance kind of throws that into question whether or not she feels like she really can be without her,” Aniello teases. “[Ava’s] doing great. She’s actually doing fantastically well as well.”

As are fan favorites Jimmy (Downs) and Kayla (Megan Stalter), who quit the latter’s father’s firm in the finale. “Oh, you know, they’re there,” Aniello says. “They’ve struck out on their own. They do have their own firm. They’re starting their own little operation and they like keeping it nimble. Or so they think.”

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