”By the white mane of Phil Donahue!… By the back acne of Brett Somers!… By the toe fungus of Nipsey Russell!”
On an unseasonably cold spring morning in a defunct health club in downtown Atlanta that’s been temporarily converted into a movie set, Will Ferrell is trying to come up with an absurd exclamation. Not just any ridiculous interjection will do — this one needs to be bizarre and preposterous enough to come out of the mouth of Ferrell’s blow-dried, self-mythologizing, mustachioed anchorman, Ron Burgundy, which is a high bar to clear as these things go. Ferrell and three of his costars from Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues — Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, and David Koechner — are filming a scene in which their news team learns that its new broadcast on the 24-hour Global News Network has scored huge ratings, and Ferrell is ad-libbing some ”alts” for Burgundy’s exultant reaction.
Director and frequent Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay, who also directed the original 2004 Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, calls out a new idea: ”By the buck knuckle of Elliott Gould!” Ferrell picks it up: ”By the buck knuckle of Tony Danza!” Rudd chimes in: ”By the buck knuckle of Bert Convy!” A buck knuckle, in case you don’t know, is the male equivalent of camel toe. There’s a moment of silence while everyone thinks, and then McKay yells out another suggestion: ”By the bedpan of Gene Rayburn!” ”There’s the T-shirt,” Carell says, laughing.
This may sound like an inordinate amount of deliberation to put into a relatively inconsequential line, but in the world of Anchorman, these sorts of things are kind of a big deal. Though it grossed an unspectacular $85 million in its initial release, Anchorman — which introduced the world to Ferrell’s pompous, sexist, jazz-flute-playing ’70s San Diego TV newsman — went on to become one of the most beloved comedies of the past decade, and quite possibly the most quoted. All of the film’s cast members have heard lines they might have ad-libbed on the fly repeated back to them endlessly by fans or seen them emblazoned on a T-shirt or a coffee mug: ”Milk was a bad choice.” ”You are a smelly pirate hooker.” ”I love lamp.” ”I have a nickname for my penis: It’s called the Octagon.” Ferrell remembers seeing an Anchorman reference pop up in one particularly unlikely place: ”Someone sent me and Adam a photo of a troop transport carrier in Baghdad, in the days when the Iraq war was still pretty nasty. Ron Burgundy’s face was stenciled on the side and it said, ‘Stay classy, Baghdad,”’ he says. ”That was one of the craziest.”
Now, a full decade after the first film was shot, Burgundy and his on-air team — blustery sportscaster Champ Kind (Koechner), imbecilic weatherman Brick Tamland (Carell), and ladies’-man field reporter Brian Fantana (Rudd) — are finally back in action. The sequel is set a few years after the original, in the late ’70s and early ’80s. It finds Burgundy — who has lost everything and been reduced to announcing the dolphin show at SeaWorld — getting a shot at redemption when he and the gang are brought into the new world of 24-hour cable news. ”When you read about the early days of CNN and Fox, they actually were plucking local news guys from around the country,” says McKay, who co-wrote the script with Ferrell. ”The idea that Ron Burgundy would suddenly be on this national stage always seemed hilarious to us.”