The Lost Projects of David Wain

Lost Roles is a weekly column taking a particular subject and exploring all of their movie and TV projects that came close to happening but didn’t for one reason or another. This week, we turn our attention to David Wain, whose new film Wanderlust opens tomorrow.

David Wain spent the early part of his career jumping from cult hit to cult hit as a writer, director, and actor on The State, Stella, and Wet Hot American Summer. Wain’s comedies never achieved much mainstream success until he signed on to replace the original director of Role Models and rewrote the movie’s script with his friends and frequent collaborators Ken Marino and Paul Rudd. Role Models became David Wain’s biggest commercial hit yet, effectively fusing his offbeat style with a more conventional narrative without losing any of the laughs. Tomorrow sees the release of Wain’s fourth film, Wanderlust, starring Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston. The movie was produced by Judd Apatow, another guy who made his fair share of little-seen cult hits before transitioning to being one of the movie industry’s preeminent comedy guys.

Let’s take a look at the various movie and TV projects David Wain has been involved with over the years that have yet to make it to the screen, including the parody of romantic comedies he wrote with Michael Showalter, the Comedy Central series that could have done for teachers what Reno 911! did for cops, and the long-in-gestation movie projects he has with The State and Stella.

The State on CBS (1995)


The State was offered the chance to renew their contract at MTV, where their sketch show was a big hit, in 1995, but instead, the group accepted an offer from CBS. The deal with CBS stipulated that The State would create a series of specials, and if the ratings to said specials were high enough, they would be given a weekly late night sketch show. CBS aired their first — and only — special, a Halloween show, in 1995 with very little promotion. CBS announced the special so late that it didn’t make it into TV Guide’s Halloween preview, and this was back in the pre-DVR days when TV Guide mattered. The State’s first special did about as poorly in the ratings as you’d expect, and CBS canceled the show a few days later. Instead of moving to another network, The State disbanded but continued to work together in a smaller groups.

For more info on The State’s rocky transition to network TV and subsequent breakup, check out this great 1996 piece from Details.

Cap’n Ricky… Also Featuring Karl (in development 2001)


David Wain was hired to direct this comedy from writer Mark Perez (Accepted) that followed “the zany adventures of Ricardo Brubaker aka Cap’n Ricky, who pilots the jungle boat ride at a run-down Florida amusement park.” It sounds like a project that’s equally commercial and weird, and it could have been a nice way for David Wain to move his sensibilities toward the mainstream. The project fell apart before production began. Wain referred to Cap ’n Ricky as a “great script,” but this one just wasn’t meant to be.

They Came Together (in development 2003)


After Wet Hot American Summer, David Wain and Michael Showalter wrote another screenplay with each other. They Came Together is a parody of 80s/90s rom-coms set in New York, but it was never produced. Wain and Showalter held a well-received reading of the script last month at San Francisco Sketchfest, with an impressive comedy nerd dream team that included Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio, Phil LaMarr, Erinn Hayes, Rachael Harris, and Michael Ian Black.

Publish or Perish (unsold HBO pilot, 2003)


David Wain and Michael Showalter created a show called Publish or Perish as a vehicle for Janeane Garofalo in 2003, but the pilot never made it into production. Garofalo worked well with these guys in Wet Hot and the episode of Stella she guest starred in, and it would have been neat to see them collaborate again. Little is known about the plot to this one, but based on the title, I’d guess that Garofalo was playing either a college professor or a publisher. The phrase “publish or perish” was memorably spoken by Garofalo in Wet Hot American Summer.

Wain also worked on two other pilots around this time: Middle Class Poverty, a 2004 show for NBC that starred Anna Tessler and Lauren Engel, and an untitled NBC show for Bobby Cannavale in 2005.

Teacher’s Lounge (unsold Comedy Central pilot, 2005)


David Wain was set to write and produce this prospective show from creators Matt Ballard and Chris Crockett. Teacher’s Lounge has nothing to do with the memorable The State sketch of the same name besides sharing the same subject matter: a dysfunctional group of teachers. A 7-minute mini-pilot for the show was produced independently and can be viewed below. Wain regulars Joe Lo Truglio, Michael Ian Black, and Mather Zickel starred, along with Andrea Rosen and Bobby Tisdale. It’s a shame Comedy Central didn’t go for this one, as it could have skewered education in much the same way that the other half of The State skewered policing for Comedy Central in Reno 911!

Seniors (in development 2007)


Jon Zack (Puss in Boots, Out Cold) wrote this comedy that David Wain signed on to direct in 2007. Not much is known about the plot, but Lily Tomlin was attached to star. Wain ended up leaving the project to rewrite and direct Role Models, which became his biggest hit to date, so I’m guessing he doesn’t regret abandoning Seniors.

The Station (unsold 2009 Fox pilot)


David Wain was hired to direct this pilot for Ben Stiller’s production company Red Hour. The Station starred Justin Bartha, John Goodman, Carla Gallo, Rob Huebel, and Jordan Peele and followed a group of CIA operatives at a secret outpost in South America. Fox passed on the show, prompting Ben Stiller to tweet, “I like to produce a failed pilot for Fox about once every ten years. Latest was the Station. Written directed and acted by a great group.”

Too Cool to be Forgotten (2010)


David Wain was “circling” this adaptation of Alex Robinson’s graphic novel about a 42 year old man with kids who is accidentally transported back in time to his high school days. Wain made Wanderlust instead. Two years later, Too Cool to be Forgotten is still in development, but David Wain doesn’t seem to be involved.

Cartoon Show (unsold IFC pilot, 2011)


David Wain and Ken Marino signed on to write and develop this animated show that was created by Aaron Augenblick and Chris Burns. Cartoon Show was about a group of iconic cartoon characters who each week put on a variety show together. The set-up sounds pretty similar to Comedy Central’s Drawn Together, just swapping out the reality show for a variety show. IFC elected to not pick up the series.

A Stella movie (development ongoing)


Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and David Wain, the three members of Stella, have long wanted to make a Stella movie. In the summer of 2009, Showalter and Black said they were working on a script, but no news has come in since then. Maybe someday we’ll get to see a Stella movie, but it doesn’t look like it’s close to happening right now, with a Wet Hot American Summer follow-up seeming like what’s next for these guys.

The State Movie


Since disbanding in the mid-90s, the eleven members of The State have continued to work with each other in various combinations, but they haven’t all starred in and created a movie/TV project since the original MTV show. When asked about a State film in 2009, David Wain had this to say:

“There’s always internal development of various State-related projects because we’ve always stayed friends and always kept working together. The logistical and scheduling hurdles of a large-scale project like that are tough, but I would never say never. We did do an hour of brand new material on stage in San Francisco this past January.”

It would be pretty great to see The State reunite for a full-length film, but given the busy schedules of everyone in the group and that the group is split between LA and NY, I wouldn’t count on it happening any time soon.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

The Lost Projects of David Wain