It's been well over a decade since MTV's cult hit The State left the air, but the cast members have more than made good on the promise of the surreal sketch comedy. One of the many successful projects that followed The State is Comedy Central's Reno 911!, which begins its fifth season tonight (10:30 pm/ET). TVGuide.com recently looked back on Reno's run with star Thomas Lennon, who created the series with fellow State alums Robert Ben Garant and Kerri Kenney-Silver.
TVGuide.com: What keeps the Reno deputies coming back for more?
Thomas Lennon: Good lord, we all wonder that. Why on earth has this show lasted for five seasons? Your guess is as good as mine.
TVGuide.com: Fine. I guess you guys are just doing it for the money at this point.
Lennon: Exactly. It is just for the cold, hard cash, because ain't nobody making more than the Reno deputies. Every year, Comedy Central gives Jon Stewart $15 million, and whatever is left we take and go out and improvise a couple of shows. Actually, I do have a theory why the show has lasted so long. It's pretty simple: While the characters are the broadest idiotic stereotypes that have ever been on television, there's also something very sincere about them. I really think people are legitimately interested in the tragic sex lives of these creepy, icky characters.
TVGuide.com: As a fan of the show, I suddenly feel dirty now.
Lennon: It's OK. I think there's a fascination out there, because there's not a show that has a more openly perverse group of main characters. In an upcoming episode, there's a rather long scene where we're trying to find out which deputy is sticking his wiener in the peanut butter that's in the break room at the station. I don't think there's any other show on cable or even network that is addressing those sorts of hard-hitting subjects.
TVGuide.com: Did making the Reno 911! movie change the approach going into the new season?
Lennon: The movie brought us pretty much terrible reviews across the board, but there were actually people who loved it and it brought some bigger names to the show this season. Christina Applegate did the show this season, and George Lopez now plays the mayor of Reno. So it upped the profile a bit.
TVGuide.com: Having worked with everybody for five seasons, has the improvisation process gotten smoother?
Lennon: I think the show turns out so funny because we never stop shooting. So I wouldn't say we've gotten better at improvisation, but we've gotten better at editing.
TVGuide.com: Is there anybody in the cast you'd really like to get rid of at this point, but you can't because they've been around so long?
Lennon: Well, there's a very startling cliff-hanger at the end of Season 5, and if we do kill someone off... I really probably shouldn't tell you, because I'd hate for them to hear about it from TVGuide.com.
TVGuide.com: So you're going to kill someone off?
Lennon: Not necessarily, but if we did, I'd hate for them to hear it from TVGuide.com.
TVGuide.com: Fair enough. If you looked back over all the shows, what would you say you can always expect from an episode of Reno 911!?
Lennon: I would say that in every episode, there's at least one moment that genuinely surprises you. It's because the show is unscripted. We have no real plan. There's no real agenda. Everything that comes out is weirdly some part of our subconscious that's very close to the surface. If we bothered to sit down and write these episodes, I honestly think it wouldn't have lasted one season.
TVGuide.com: David Wain appears in an upcoming episode, and various other members of The State have come on for guest spots. How has the group stayed so tight-knit?
Lennon: I guess we have this dysfunctional codependency. Honestly, The State has worked together on and off since we were 18. There's just a shorthand we have with each other. When we're working on a project, it would be tough to get an outside actor to come in and tell them, "Here's what we want you to do: We want Keri to feed you pudding and you're not wearing any pants. Then she reads you porno. Then she tries to wash your back, but you're too busy masturbating." There's a lot of people you would pitch that to who'd be like, "Can you explain that to me again? What's my motivation?" The great thing with The State is you don't have to explain it.
TVGuide.com: Is it ever strange to think about how important that show was as far as launching all of your careers?
Lennon: It is always a pleasant surprise for us to see how big an impact it made on fans of The State. I think we felt like the show was good, but I think the important thing about The State is that we made it at a time in our lives when none of us were second-guessing ourselves. We were totally naive and idealistic. All we did was fight each other on material all day long. I think that made it what it was. You probably can't write that stuff if you aren't 22 years old.
TVGuide.com: Some of this season's episodes of Reno begin with you literally jumping a shark. When will you know its time to hang up the shorts?
Lennon: I feel like with our characters, there's really no end to what can happen to them. Terrible things can always spring up.
TVGuide.com: So as long as you keep getting Jon Stewart's table scraps, you'll keep going?
Get the exclusive scoop on the seventh season of American Idol in the new issue of TV Guide, on newsstands now. Plus: Can Dr. Phil save Britney? Try four risk-free issues of TV Guide now!
Send your comments on this Q&A to firstname.lastname@example.org.