Ron Burgundy, his salon-quality hair gleaming on a drizzly late November evening, alighted from the stretch limousine in front of the Barnes & Noble in a shopping mall.
Dapper in a glen plaid polyester suit, brown ribbed turtleneck and dark-green leather jacket, Burgundy strode into the store, stopping to hold aloft some merchandise. “Free Legos for everyone!” he cried to the hundreds of people crowding the aisles and leaning over the railings on the levels above.
They were here – some had arrived as early as 5:30 a.m. to secure a place in line – to get an autographed copy of Ron Burgundy’s memoir, “Let Me Off at the Top! My Classy Life and Other Musings.” As the book-jacket copy helpfully points out, Burgundy is America’s most trusted and beloved news anchor.
Of course, he is also fictional.
A creation of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, and brilliantly inhabited by Ferrell in the 2004 movie “Anchorman,” Ron Burgundy is a 1970s white male in all his entitled, chauvinistic and jazz-flute-playing glory. And millions of fans have embraced the conceit.
Their passion turned a movie that performed decently at the box office into a catchphrase-spawning sensation on home video and ushered in a new type of smart-silly comedy that in its wake spurred the careers of comedic talents like Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen. And on Dec. 18, nearly a decade later, there will be a sequel: “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.”
The new film follows Burgundy and his indomitably moronic news team (played by Paul Rudd, David Koechner and Steve Carell) from San Diego to early 1980s New York, at the dawn of the 24-hour news revolution. Ferrell and McKay, the film’s co-writers (McKay once again directs), train their brand of absurdist satire at a more ambitious set of targets: race, media jingoism, infotainment and conglomerates owning news outlets.
The creators and the studio have also upped the ante on the movie’s promotions and marketing tie-ins, all with an offbeat flair. There is, for example, a limited edition of retro Jockey underwear (the packaging on one style reads, “Don’t act like you’re not impressed,” a line from the first movie). And, most notably, the commercial production arm of Funny or Die, the comedy website founded by Ferrell and McKay, created dozens of ads in which Burgundy cluelessly shills for the Dodge Durango from Chrysler.
All these efforts have raised expectations not just at the box office but also among an expectant fan base that had been taken by surprise with the first modestly budgeted film. The history of actually funny comedy sequels, however, offers a cautionary tale. “Analyze That,” after all, was no “Analyze This.”
Ferrell and McKay understand the predicament they face in pleasing fans who want both change and familiarity.
“People have taken ownership of these characters,” McKay said. “If you give them something too different they’re upset. It’s this weird almost no-win situation.”
So they decided to not play it safe and delivered a nearly two-hour comedy even more stuffed with plotlines, slapstick and news team brawls than the previous one.
“I don’t think we can help ourselves,” Ferrell said.
“Anchorman” represents the Ferrell-McKay oeuvre in its purest distillation: a heightened form of silliness riffing on American archetypes and self-importance that also slyly traffics in some bigger issues.
“There’s always a very distinct yet subtle political message you can pick up in there,” said Adam Goodman, the president of the Paramount Film Group, which is releasing “Anchorman 2,” and who was a senior executive at DreamWorks when it brought out the original.
“The heart of what they do is satirical,” said Koechner, who plays the bigoted, sexist and homophobic – though likely closeted – sportscaster Champ Kind.
Both Ferrell and McKay share this broad subversive streak. The partners grew up imbibing early “Saturday Night Live,” Steve Martin in his white-suited Wild and Crazy Guy guise, Monty Python and David Letterman.
Their influences may be de rigeur for a generation coming of age in the 1970s and early 1980s.
“But I don’t think there’s an enormous precedent for their specific style,” said Apatow, who produced both “Anchorman” movies and who credits the original with directly leading to his getting to make “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”
Ferrell and McKay were at first dead set against making sequels to any of their movies, particularly when there were other original stories to tell. But as more and more people clamored for an “Anchorman” sequel, their reticence disappeared.
They knew there were not many comedy sequels and even fewer good ones. So they looked for lessons from two films they considered among the more successful: “Wayne’s World 2” and “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.” “They played with the formula they had,” McKay said.
The two men seriously considered making “Anchorman 2” a Broadway musical before settling on the 24-hour news world. They forced Ron Burgundy to confront a bunch of new issues: parenthood; a black woman for a boss (and love interest); even a journalistic conscience.
Still, it took a few more years before Paramount gave the go-ahead. The budget granted – about $50 million, twice the original – was lower than the two men had sought.
“Everyone who’s worked on this movie has taken a cut to be with us, a pretty big one,” Ferrell said.