Just because a show is fantastic doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone is watching it, or even knows it exists. Freaks and Geeks was never a prime time hit, not by a long shot. The show was a slow burn that went from barely watched with a notably terrible schedule time, to a cult classic that people love revisiting, nearly two decades after its one-season run. I’ve just finished watching Freaks and Geeks for the third time through from beginning to end on Netflix, and as someone who discovered it long after it received its walking papers I’ll admit that it makes me sad that I wasn’t one of those viewers who fought (albeit unsuccessfully) to keep this gem on the air.
Freaks and Geeks saw some critical acclaim, receiving an Emmy for Outstanding Cast in a Comedy Series, and was nominated twice for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series. The alumni of this once little known series have gone on to brighter, bigger, and much more appreciated projects over the years, but that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t do backflips for a revival, reboot, or a glimpse at what happened to all of those fantastic characters since the 1980s.
This diamond in the rough show ranked as number 25 on TV Guide’s list of the 25 Top Cult Shows Ever, so what really happened on set? What would’ve happened if there had been a season two? Did the actors love each other in real life, like we suspect by the number of projects they work on together today? Let’s find out all the deepest, darkest secrets, facts, and trivia from the set of Freaks and Geeks.
15. What Was (Probably) In Store For Season 2
There is some debate among the godfathers of Freaks and Geeks as to what would have happened in season two of the show. Paul Feig wanted Sam to discover the drama geeks and separate himself from Bill and Neal, and at the same time have Neal coping with his parents divorcing, and Bill with his mom marrying Coach Fredricks. There may have also been some plots around Sam growing tall (in real life John Francis Daley grew nearly a foot in the year following the show’s cancellation). Feig wanted to see some sort of event impact Lindsay and her parents’ trust while she was following the Grateful Dead. There were talks about Nick joining the army after high school, Daniel going to jail, and Kim Kelly getting pregnant. There were also hints of Bill becoming a sports all-star under the tutelage of his new step-dad.
14. The Show Was Doomed From The Start
Some will argue that Freaks and Geeks never really had a chance to be a successful series. The show was cancelled shortly after 13 episodes aired, and was the lowest rated show on NBC with an average of seven million viewers. TV has changed since that time, and more recent shows like Parks and Recreation that received half the number of viewers as Freaks and Geeks did are signed on for multiple season renewals. The show had been given one of the worst airing times available, Saturday night at 8PM where it aired directly against season 10 of Cops. To add insult to injury, Freaks and Geeks was never aired consistently, and was taken off the air for the World Series in October, and eventually put head to head against the popular series at the time, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. While the producers of the show created a website for Freaks and Geeks, NBC refused to air it, not wanting people to go to the internet instead of watching TV (because that worked!).
13. They Had A Prom Themed Wrap Party
The show decided to say goodbye in a way that was fitting for a cast of high school misfits and geeks. Instead of a common Hollywood wrap party, they had one with a 1980 High School Prom theme and went all out to keep everything authentic. Most people dressed in late-1970s/early-1980s formal wear, with the exception of Busy Phillips who wore her own junior prom dress. Paul Feig presented Judd Apatow with a promise ring, of sorts, and gave him a specially made class ring (Feig has a matching one too). They weren’t the only ones who took mementos from the set though; Linda Cardellini kept that legendary green jacket she wore on the show that transformed Lindsay from a mathlete geek to a Deadhead freak.
12. All Of The Show’s Money Was Spent On Music
Music is really important when you’re trying to set the scene for a retro show like Freaks and Geeks, particularly when so many of the characters are really into music. Because of this, a massive amount of the show’s budget was the purchase of the rights for music from the time including: The Who, The Grateful Dead, Van Halen, The Moody Blues, and Billy Joel. When the show was re-aired on Fox Family they subbed in cheaper songs, although Feig and Apatow wanted the music to be just right before the show was released on DVD. Eventually they found a distributor, Shout! Factory, who was willing to shell out the bucks to pay for the rights for the intended songs so fans could get their entire Freaks and Geeks experience as it was originally intended.
11. The Plots Were Based On Writers’ Real Life High School Experiences
When the show first came to be, Paul Feig had an interesting approach in the writing room. He had all of the writers fill out a questionnaire about their own personal experiences in high school. He asked them questions about the best, worst, and most humiliating things that ever happened to them while they were matriculating. He asked about their sexual “awakenings” and more. The writer’s answers were used to create the plot of the entire show. The major exception to this was that none of the writers had ever dated anyone with ambiguous genitalia, featured in episode 17. That particular plot line was inspired by listening to Howard Stern. Judd Apatow told Vanity Fair, “In a way, it was a ‘F*** you’ to NBC, like ‘Now we’re going to get really ambitious and aggressive with story lines that you would never approve if the show had a chance of surviving.’”
10. Seth Rogen Wrote Superbad On Set
Although Freaks and Geeks was about scholastic pursuits, it doesn’t mean that many of the cast members were achieving academic accolades while working on set. In fact, the production of the show led to several cast members dropping out of college. Jason Segel decided to skip out on his college application and act instead. Both Linda Cardellini and Busy Phillips dropped out for their roles. Unknown Seth Rogen dropped out of high school for the chance to play Ken Miller, although he lied during his audition and said that he was enrolled in correspondence school. This doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a lot of learning going on; on-set Feig and Apatow spent time mentoring James Franco on brainstorming and scene writing. Jason Segel and Seth Rogen created new improv jokes together when they rehearsed. Instead of focusing on high school studies, Rogen spent most of his free time on set penning the hit movie, and his first screenplay, Superbad, so I guess you can say it was time well spent!
9. Linda And Busy Were Told NOT To Lose Weight To Keep Things Real
Judd Apatow and Paul Feig wanted a sense of reality from their characters, noting that James Franco, “seemed perfect to be a small-town cool guy who wasn’t as cool as he thought he was”. When the pilot director, Jake Kasdan, said he cast Franco because he saw his “star” potential both Apatow and Feig didn’t really get it, but went along with it. Then all of the women in the office started talking about how handsome Franco was, proving them wrong. In another attempt at keeping the show “real” Apatow and Feig sat down Linda Cardellini and Busy Phillips for an awkward conversation about body image and their characters; both suggesting that neither actor lose any weight like many TV actresses do, because they wanted the pair to look like real high school kids. Fun fact: Linda and Busy share a birthday, June 25th (only Linda was born in 1975 and Busy in 1979).
8. Busy Phillips & James Franco Didn’t Get Along IRL
Casting for the show went on for weeks and weeks, and then by chance one day Linda Cardellini, Jason Segel, and James Franco all came in for the exact same session. Cardellini, was nervous about being a lead in a series for the first time, and remembers going into the bathroom and crying moments before clips from the pilot were shown. Perhaps she wasn’t as subtle as she had hoped since several other cast members, including Jason Segel, remember her running to the washroom for a quiet cry all of those years ago. But chemistry wasn’t always a home run on set, while James Franco and Busy Phillips played a couple on the show, it was reported they weren’t big fans of one another. Part of the root of this was Franco who had developed his own character backstory (unknown to anyone else on set), and pushed Busy onto the ground knocking the wind out of her during filming. Phillips ran to her trailer crying. Franco also improvised frequently onset and it didn’t always go well, like the time he threw milk on someone’s face (also not in the script). The duo confirm they’ve made-up now that they’re adults.
7. John Francis Daley Was The Same Age As His Character Sam
It’s quite common for shows to cast all actors around the same age as the characters they portray, or to opt for an entirely adult cast, but Freaks and Geeks split the difference. Some cast members were the right ages to really be in high school, whereas others were quite a bit older. The only one to be the precise age of his character was John Francis Daley who was 13 when the show began. Daley Jokes about his first onscreen kiss being his first real life kiss too, saying, “First onscreen erection too, but no one talks about that.” Daley adds, much like his character Sam Weir who didn’t want to change in front of other boys in gym class “I also didn’t have pubic hair”. Martin Starr and Samm Levine were just 16, Seth Rogen, Busy Philipps and Jason Segal were all 19 years old at the start of the show. The “older” members of cast were James Franco, who was 20, and Linda Cardellini who was 25 years old.
6. Kaley Cuoco Was Considered For The Role Of Sam’s First Crush
It’s hard to imagine anyone but the lovable nerds and outcasts we know portraying all of our favourite characters, especially since the majority of the cast was unknown when they cut their teeth on this series. Can you imagine Kaley Cuoco on Freaks and Geeks? Probably not, but the Big Bang Theory blonde bombshell auditioned to play Sam’s first crush, cheerleader Cindy Sanders. Jesse Eisenberg was runner up to play Sam Weir and Shia LaBeouf auditioned to portray Neil Schweiber. It was Samm Levine’s William Shatner impression that landed him the role (not because it was a good impression, but because it was something awkward and off-putting, just like Neil would do). Although Shia didn’t land a lead in the show, he can be seen in one episode where he plays the injured school mascot. Lauren Ambrose was a frontrunner to portray Lindsay Weir, a role that Busy Phillips also auditioned for, although much like the producers we have to agree that Busy is a much better Kim Kelly.
5. Despite The Show Being About Life In Michigan It Was Shot In California
Fans of Freaks and Geeks know that the show takes place in a fictional suburb of Detroit – Chippewa, Michigan. The show wasn’t filmed anywhere near its implied setting. It was filmed in sunny California. The camera crew used grey and green tinted lights to achieve the natural coloring in a Midwestern area, and they tried to avoid shooting outside whenever they could. The pilot of the show was filmed in a real school, however when the show was picked up by the network they built sets to match the original pilot school, filming the rest of the season on the school sets. The primary school set was simply just one “t” section of a hallway, which was constantly changed, altered and redressed to make it feel like different sections of the school. The extras walking down the hall would need to wait at the end of the hallway quietly each time they walked by the camera since there was nowhere for them to go that wouldn’t cross the camera’s path.
4. The Series Finale Was Filmed In The Middle Of The Season
The writing was practically on the wall for Freaks and Geeks from the very beginning. Thanks to their crummy time slot, spotty scheduling, and lack of network support the cancellation was looming. NBC had originally ordered 13 episodes of the show, and Feig wanted a finale that could close the series for real and would be easy to build on should the show get picked up for an unlikely second season. That’s why the finale “Discos and Dragons” was filmed mid-way through the season to make sure the show could really end with a solid goodbye. When NBC ordered up five more episodes, the finale was pushed forward by a few weeks. Three of the five additional episodes never aired on NBC, but on Fox after the show went into syndication.
3. The Show Featured Many Stars Who’ve Now Made It Big
Judd Apatow and Paul Feig were resistant to the network planting in “big” stars to increase ratings (this is known as stunt casting), and turned down an opportunity to cast Britney Spears as a waitress in one episode. But even though Feig and Apatow said no to these guest spots, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t stars before they were famous on Freaks and Geeks. If you keep an eye out you can spot Jason Schwartzman provide the Freak Gang with some fake IDs, or watch them fight against rival school jerks including Gilmore Girls’ own Logan (Matt Czuchry). Rashida Jones made an appearance for an episode, and Lizzie Caplan also had a brief arc on the show. Towards the end, when it was apparent that the show was on the chopping block Ben Stiller agreed to play a small role in the 17th episode to help them avoid cancellation, but unfortunately by the time the episode aired it was too late.
2. Linda And Jason Dated IRL
In the show Lindsay Weir reluctantly agrees to date fellow freak and drummer Nick, but it’s out of guilt and obligation more than anything else. It turns out that Jason Segel was much more charming to Linda Cardellini than Nick ever was to Lindsay, and managed to successfully court an older lady, since Linda is quite a bit older than he is. If you watch the show closely you can see the sparks between the pair. The two took their romance off the air when the show was cancelled, having dated for several years. Some believe that infamous nude breakup scene in his film Forgetting Sarah Marshall was inspired by Segel’s own relationship with Cardellini, but he’s since squashed those rumours. Jason Segel said, “I was still very much a child [then], and this was more an amalgamation of a lot of different relationships and breakups I’ve had. People are bound to talk, but she was a great girlfriend.”
1. You Can Catch Them Together In Other Projects
Even though we can’t return to the halls of William McKinley High School, we can still see many of the actors, writers and creators from Freaks and Geeks work together in other fantastic projects. Before Freaks and Geeks Jason Segel and Linda Cardellini had a small role as a couple in the film Dead Man on Campus. Paul Feig and Judd Apatow teamed up again to produce the 2011 hit movie Bridesmaids. The film Knocked Up reunites Martin Starr, Seth Rogen, and James Franco, as do other films like Pineapple Express, and This is the End. Fans of Cardellini and Daley can catch them on their two very separate TV series ER and Bones. If these fan bandaids won’t work for you, consider re-watching Freaks and Geeks again, much like a fine wine it has aged very well.